Who Has To Step Up In Ant's Absence?

Photo Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves were facing off against the Chicago Bulls in what looked like a must-win game as the team continues to fight for playoff seeding. However, with just under four minutes left to play in the first quarter, Anthony Edwards collapsed to the floor after rising up and rifling a pass to Mike Conley in the corner.

Edwards landed on Nikola Vucevic‘s foot, rolling his right ankle. You could hear him scream as he was laying on the court grabbing at that ankle. He yelled “timeout, timeout” while slapping the floor in pain. After what seemed like an eternity, Ant was helped up and hopped off the floor and into the tunnel. He was unable to put any weight on that right foot.

Fans feared the absolute worst because it looked like the fate of their season was hobbling out of the gym. However, after being ruled out for the remainder of the game due to a right ankle sprain, Ant returned to Minnesota’s bench in the fourth quarter.

After a double-overtime loss in Chicago, Minnesota’s next contest came less than 20 hours later in Toronto. The Wolves listed Edwards as questionable to play against the Raptors, which gave some fans hope. However, they ultimately ruled him out – missing his first game since Dec. 28, 2021.

In Toronto, it was obvious from the get-go that the Wolves heavily missed Edwards’ threat level on the offensive end. Minnesota went 5-for-23 (21.7%) from deep in what ended up being a 122-107 loss – their third straight.

After the game, a lot of the Timberwolves faithful felt doom and gloom. They tagged Edwards as “out indefinitely.” That led most to believe that he would miss significant time, and possibly not return this season. However, we got some good news from Shams Charania of The Athletic as he said “Edwards is expected to be evaluated day-to-day on a return.”

Is that incredibly positive news? Of course. However, we saw the Wolves label Jordan McLaughlin as “day-to-day” with an injury that ultimately kept him out for 30 games this season, so the possibility of Edwards still missing a good chunk of time is real.

I’m not here to be negative and look for the worst possible outcome. However, with there only being ten games remaining in the regular season, and Minnesota sitting two games under .500, what needs to happen for the Wolves to keep their season alive without Ant in the mix?

Bench Mob Getting Their “Lick Back”

Heading into the season, I believed that the Timberwolves have the best depth in all of the NBA. While the team has looked good on paper, a lack of consistency has been a struggle for everyone on the roster.

Well, excluding Ant.

Over the last three games, we’ve seen the bench rotation really struggle to generate offense. Aside from Naz Reid’s combined 51 points this past week, the Wolves have only had one player score double-digit points off the bench during one game in that span – Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s 12 points in Chicago.

Defense hasn’t been that much of a concern at all for the bench. Rather, Minnesota has run into roadblocks offensively lately. Now the Wolves are down their two best scorers, and there is no better time for Jaylen Nowell to return to the lineup.

Nowell has missed the last 10 games as he has been battling with tendinopathy in his left knee. It’s been an up-and-down season for Jaylen. Still, the Wolves greatly miss his ability to check into games and provide instant offense – something they are lacking even more without Edwards. Hopefully, Nowell will be able to return within the coming games. The Wolves bumped him up from out to doubtful ahead of Saturday’s game in Toronto.

With there only being less than a month left in the regular season, it’s unlikely we will see much (if any) drastic improvement from any one player. However, it’ll be crucial for Chris Finch to get better execution from his bench while Edwards is out.

Jaden McDaniels Is Their Silver Lining

Speaking of improvement, we have been witnessing McDaniels’ game blossom into a much a more confident shooter, scorer, and all-around player. His improved play will be an important factor if the Wolves can stay afloat without Ant.

“Slim,” as he prefers to be addressed, has always been able to defend at an extremely high rate. However, his propensity to foul at a high rate and still-raw offensive game has kept him from reaching that next level. We’ve been seeing McDaniels’ offense develop throughout the entire season. But his largest leap has occurred in recent games.

Not only will the Wolves need McDaniels to keep up his higher level of play, but the opportunity will grow in Ant’s absence. Jaden will now be one of Minnesota’s top options on the offensive end.

Return of the KAT

Wolves fans everywhere have been sitting on edge, eagerly awaiting Towns’ highly-anticipated return. It’s been just under three months since KAT went down with a right calf strain. After most of that time spent in the dark, the team recently (somewhat) provided clarity on Towns’ return timeline.

All that really meant to me is that the plan is been confirmed; Towns will return sometime this season. He’s been getting closer by the day. According to a recent tweet, all that’s holding him back from returning is the medical staff clearing him to play.

Even when Ant was in the lineup, Minnesota’s offense has clearly missed another scorer after they lost D’Angelo Russell at the trade deadline. Certain guys have done a solid job picking up the slack, like Conley and Reid. However, it’s obvious how vital KAT is to the success of this team.

Minnesota is currently eighth in the West, owning a 34-36 record with 10 games remaining in the season. While Edwards’ absence is not seeming to be that long, it still couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Timberwolves. It’s going to take a full team effort if they hope to make the playoffs for the second time in as many seasons.

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