Karl-Anthony Towns is finally back after a nearly four-month absence following his calf injury in late November. And now that Anthony Edwards has returned from an injury scare, this Wolves team finally appears to be at full strength just in the nick of time with the playoffs around the corner. The Wolves had some nice wins against the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks toward the end of March. However, no win probably felt as satisfying and significant as Minnesota’s win over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.
With the Timberwolves now at full strength, beating the defending champions was a massive step for this team. Aside from playoff positioning, the Warriors’ game was crucial for the Wolves. It served as a test, proving that they have what it takes to go into a place like Oracle Arena for a primetime matchup and get a big road win against a quality Western Conference opponent.
The game came down to the wire. The Warriors were up 96-95 with under 20 seconds left in the game and had possession of the ball. However, with four fewer seconds or so on the shot clock than the game clock, the Wolves had a chance to try and put up one more solid defensive possession to get the ball back and give them a chance at a game-winning shot. And thankfully for the Wolves, SloMo shined during that defensive possession, making arguably the biggest play of the game.
Anderson came out on the perimeter to guard Steph Curry and helped cause Curry to pick up his dribble. Curry made a pass back to the top of the perimeter to Draymond Green. Anderson then switched onto Green and broke up an attempted pass to Klay Thompson, coming up with a huge steal for the Wolves. SloMo found a trailing KAT in transition for a wide-open three to seal the win.
While Anderson’s steal may be his best play of the season for the Timberwolves, it should only serve as a further representation of what he has brought to the team this season. It also represents the significant role that SloMo could have on even a full-strength Wolves squad.
Throughout the season, Anderson has established himself as a vital rotational player for the Wolves. He offers the team a level of versatility that makes him a key piece to this team in multiple ways.
For one, Anderson’s size and ability to handle the ball allow him to play in different lineups for the Wolves. At 6’9” and with a 7’3” wingspan, SloMo brings a staggering presence nearly every time he is on the court that offers the Wolves size down low. However, Anderson’s proven ability to handle and distribute the ball at a high level allows the Wolves to move him around and play him at either guard or forward, depending on their matchup.
In their game against the Hawks on March 22, the Wolves started Anderson at shooting guard. He played alongside Mike Conley at the point and Minnesota’s anticipated frontcourt starters: Jaden McDaniels, Towns, and Rudy Gobert.
This allowed the Wolves to match up well with Atlanta’s 2-5 starters: Bogdan Bogdanovic, DeAndre Hunter, John Collins, and Clint Capela. Bogdanovic, 6’6”, is the shortest among those four players, so the Wolves would have been hard-pressed to find another guard to match up well against this taller Hawks lineup. The Wolves didn’t have to surrender any size with Anderson, though.
Chris Finch can easily plug Anderson in at the 3 or 4 positions, especially considering that he has played at the forward position most of his career thus far in the NBA. Anderson can move well laterally on defense. He can also occasionally stretch the floor and also put the ball on the floor for a drive to the rim or to run an offensive set. Therefore, he’s a tough matchup for slower or bigger forwards.
The possibility for Anderson to be played at nearly any position from 2-4 provides the Timberwolves with a much-needed ability to adapt to different matchups in the playoffs. They may have to play against a dynamic small-ball lineup against the Warriors, or a bigger lineup against the Denver Nuggets or Los Angeles Clippers. However, the Wolves can counter-attack with a multitude of lineups due to Anderson’s ability.
Anderson’s capabilities as a defender also make him a vital piece of this Wolves team. Even at full strength, defense has always been a question for the Wolves. Despite having all-defensive caliber players in McDaniels and Gobert, Edwards or Towns’ defensive lapses can sometimes offset their play. However, Anderson could serve well as a solution to that problem. Anderson’s long wingspan and savviness as a defender oftentimes make him a tough matchup for any wing to go up against. He does an effective job at switching when needed through screens and puts himself a lot of times in the best position to contest an opponent’s shot or deflect the ball for a steal.
Anderson is averaging 1.2 steals per game this season. With a 112 defensive rating, he serves as one of the better wing defenders in the league this season. For this reason, the Wolves could use Anderson in a situation like in Sunday’s game against the Warriors. Down by two with less than 10 seconds to go in the game, the Warriors had the ball, so Finch substituted in Anderson for KAT. The Wolves would then force another late-game turnover against the Warriors to seal the win. The capability to plug in Anderson for Minnesota’s closing defensive lineups offers another way that SloMo could serve an important role even with the Wolves at full strength.
Anderson could ultimately also serve in his intended role from the start of the season as Minnesota’s primary man off the bench. Coming off the bench this season, Anderson still provides the Wolves with roughly 6.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.0g assists per game in 21 minutes, in addition to good defense. Anderson could match up on the post and play in a more traditional role against backup forwards. Or he could serve as Minnesota’s primary distributor coming off the bench. Anderson’s 58.1% true shooting percentage marks the highest of his career so far. Between his efficiency and versatility as a point-forward, Anderson could be one of the more important bench players for any team in this year’s playoffs if the Wolves make it.
Regardless of the many ways that he can be used, the team recognizes Kyle Anderson’s significance to this team. His versatility on offense and defense, and his continuous stability and leadership as a veteran for this still-young Wolves team, make SloMo a key part of this Wolves team. At full strength, Anderson gives them an added boost off the bench that could be played late in games. Or he can take a starting role if a starter gets hurt. Anderson has been Mr. Reliable for the Wolves all season. Hopefully, that won’t change as the Wolves make their playoff push.