The mystery of Karl-Anthony Towns’ calf injury continues. Towns has missed 47 games and the public hasn’t been privy to his recovery progress. There has been speculation about his health and a possible abundance of caution returning from this injury. Still, the Minnesota Timberwolves have yet to give any sort of practical timeline. The team has said that KAT is beginning to participate in basketball activities. However, no one outside of the team had seen him take the court, in practice or otherwise.
But all that changed over the weekend.
A video that Towns shared a video on Snapchat began circulating on social media this weekend. The short clip shows him going one-on-one against a Timberwolves staff member. Although he doesn’t appear to be going full speed, he is on the court, playing basketball. That’s huge news.
What do we make of this? Is this a sign that return is on the horizon? With just 14 games left for Minnesota, Towns remains out against the Atlanta Hawks. The Timberwolves could certainly use the reinforcements to help make a run to the postseason. However, the team has been underwhelming in the 21 games that Towns played this season. Their 10-11 record to start the season left fans anxious about the overall outlook for the new-look super-sized Wolves team. Questions about fit still loom large as Towns and Gobert’s story together remains largely unwritten. If Towns comes back this week, are 13 games enough for him and Gobert to figure it out? Are 10 games enough? Five?
These are the difficult questions that the Timberwolves organization has to face. They have to weigh the long-term health outcomes for KAT, the current team chemistry, and the undeniably awkward fit when Towns and Gobert began the season.
Finch has said all season that it takes 20-25 games for a team to find offensive cohesion. By the time the playoffs roll around, Mike Conley will have 24 games under his belt in a Timberwolves uniform if he plays every game. According to Finch’s timetable, the Wolves should be rounding into form to begin their playoff (or play-in) run. Small tweaks like Austin Rivers or Jaylen Nowell returning to the lineup shouldn’t affect the overall offensive growth, but adding Towns into the mix is no small adjustment. When KAT comes back, that 20-25 game countdown essentially starts over.
It is certainly possible that, by just being around the team, Towns has been able to see how he fits into things. Simply through basketball osmosis there is going to be some inherent chemistry that exists when he rejoins the group. But watching and participating are vastly different. If Gobert and Towns had better statistical or eye-test indicators that they were starting to figure things out, I would have more confidence about smooth re-integration.
The Wolves will likely rest their laurels because the starting unit showed signs of quality minutes to begin the year. The starting group of D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, KAT, and Gobert looked pretty good with a +5.4 net rating, as per Cleaning the Glass. They were primarily getting it done on the defensive end by posting an impressive 104.4 defensive rating. Although he’s not a lockdown defender, Conley looks engaged on that end of the floor. His contributions likely won’t move the needle significantly for better or worse, and the Wolves should be able to maintain defensive competence upon Towns’ return.
I’m not questioning whether or not Towns should return to action this season necessarily. But in a tightly contested Western Conference, the Timberwolves need every bit of consistency they can get to make it to the playoffs. Ultimately, talent is the most important aspect of the NBA, and the Wolves are a more talented team when Towns plays. Chemistry and fit issues can be disastrous for even the most gifted teams.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Gobert and Towns pairing works, so unanswered questions from this season will carry over into the offseason. If KAT comes back and doesn’t fit in right away, it might start to feel like it’s time to panic. The Trade KAT Brigade will become even louder once he becomes trade-eligible in the summer. Granted, if he doesn’t play, those who think he should be moved will likely be just as boisterous.
As it stands, the Wolves are operating with limited information about two of the most important pieces on the roster. Gobert and Towns have 21 games together and Edwards has 10 games as the standalone offensive engine. Towns coming back should help make Edwards’ life easier because defenses will have another premium offensive option to focus their attention on. But how much useable data can a handful of games after a long-term injury provide to the Wolves?
I don’t have the answers for when KAT will come back, how he will look when he comes back, or if he even should come back this season. All I’ve got are questions. It’s up to Towns and the Timberwolves organization to provide the answers.