While the uber-athletic sophomore Anthony Edwards has become a nightly fixture in the league’s highlight reels, the Minnesota Timberwolves have generally flown under the radar this season.
That may not be ideal under normal circumstances, but in the ever-chaotic landscape of today’s NBA, the lack of attention seems to be exactly what this young team needed to get their act together and re-enter the playoff conversation.
Following a three-game losing streak that bridged 2021 and 2022, the Timberwolves have gone 13-6 since. This strong stretch was highlighted by a five-game winning streak that only came to a halt in their most recent outing versus the Sacramento Kings and their newly acquired NBA All-Star Domantas Sabonis.
Minnesota’s resurgence has brought them all the way up to seventh place in the Western Conference standings with a 29-26 record and they are surprisingly only five games behind the fourth seeded Utah Jazz.
Although they have managed to stay away from the mainstream media discourse and the scrutiny that comes with it, their impressive season has not gone completely under the radar. Karl-Anthony Towns was just recently rewarded with his third NBA All-Star team selection following in recognition of his per-game averages of 24.3 points, 2.1 threes, 9.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, one steal, and 1.2 blocks.
The All-Star nod ended a two-year drought for Towns who has missed several games during the past couple of seasons due to various injuries. It was a well-deserved accolade for the 26-year-old center, though it is interesting to note that his statistics, despite their gaudy appearance, are actually notably below his career-highs.
On the surface, this might be perceived as a regression for most players, yet it is the complete opposite in this context. This Timberwolves team is the most talented one that Towns has played on since their 2018 edition which paired him with Jimmy Butler and led to what remains his only playoff appearance in the NBA. Butler’s time in Minnesota came to a notoriously messy end a few months later and Towns was singled out for his immaturity among other things.
Four years later, the tables have turned for the first overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft and he has welcomed his new responsibilities with open arms. Towns now finds himself as one of the veteran leaders of this up-and-coming Timberwolves team that is knocking on the door of their first postseason berth since the departure of Butler almost four years ago. His willingness to dial back his numbers for the greater good has helped set the tone for them this year and allowed his teammates to thrive.
The lower scoring and assist totals of Towns are directly correlated to the major roles that Edwards and D’Angelo Russell have played for them on offense. The 20-year-old Edwards has built off his successful rookie year and catapulted himself into the All-Star game “snub” discussion with nightly averages of 21.9 points, 3.1 threes, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.5 steals.
His skillset has tremendous depth and is especially remarkable when taking into consideration his age. The ability of Edwards to blend his cratifness with his otherworldly athleticism is reminiscent of the elite shooting guards of the previous era. It seems to be only a matter of time before he takes another leap and reaches that level.
Meanwhile, the pre-existing friendship of Towns and Russell–acquired from the Golden State Warriors in a midseason trade two years ago–has carried over to the basketball court. They have finally managed to evade injuries and play with one another for an extended period of time over which they have established a deadly two-man game amongst themselves.
This partnership has helped Russell put up his best passing season since his lone career NBA All-Star appearance in 2019 when he was still with the Brooklyn Nets. The left-handed guard is averaging seven assists per game along with 18.8 points and 3.6 rebounds, though he still has a ways to go in terms of his efficiency.
The potential that this trio has flashed is a rare positive sign for one of the league’s most tortured franchises and it will be fascinating to see how the rest of this season plays out for them. Even a first round appearance will qualify as a success for this team given how much they have struggled over the past few years with the exception of that 2018 run. Just a few postseason games would be a major stepping stone for them and something to build on moving forward.
Beyond this year, they still have a long way to go with regards to the rest of their roster. Patrick Beverley is a perfect stop-gap measure for them at the moment, but it is difficult to expect more from him given that he is already 33 years old. On the other hand, their athletic forwards Jarred Vanderbilt and Jaden McDaniels have shown tantalizing upside though they are still raw in the context of the NBA.
Minnesota has quite a few things going for them, which is stunning given that they have traded away two of their recent lottery picks–Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins–who were Towns’ contemporaries and have blossomed into NBA All-Stars elsewhere.
The hope is that this franchise, which has a storied history of fumbling situations with top shelf talent, finally gets its act together with their latest batch of stars. The Timberwolves have been blessed with more than their fair share of second chances and it’s about time that they finally made good on one of them.