Karl Anthony-Towns would certainly want to put last season behind him.
After missing time due to injury and dealing with COVID-19 in more ways than one, Towns enters this season with a renewed focus coming from what he has described as a “holistic journey”.
In the same vein, the Minnesota Timberwolves are looking to put a turbulent season and tumultuous offseason behind them.
With a full training camp under Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch, the team hopes to build on the positives of last season and immediately put the exit of president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas well behind them.
On paper, the talent on Minnesota’s roster may see them compete for a playoff spot, but realistically speaking, they are more likely be headed for the play-in. In fact, the Timberwolves were involved in the game that inspired the play-in. Towns and co. ended their playoff drought after defeating the Denver Nuggets back in 2018.
Their season fortunes hinge on Towns, who when healthy is up there with Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid as one of the NBA’s best big men. His ability to affect the game in multiple ways has made him a popular choice as a player teams dream of building on.
Last season, however, was a difficult one for the New Jersey native. During the early stages of the pandemic, Towns lost his mother Jacqueline Towns after she succumbed to COVID-19. Then on January 15, he too would have his own bout with the virus. COVID-19’s effects vary and for the two-time All-Star, he lost 50 pounds as he was working his way back.
The physical aspects of the disease are very much talked about but the mental aspect of how the disease has affected many is worth talking about as well. Towns opened up about experiencing a panic attack prior to his return and it is certainly understandable because of what the former Kentucky Wildcat went through.
He returned and eventually finished the season with averages of 24.8 points (on .486/.387/.859), 10.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.1 blocks, numbers within his career averages, but are remarkable taking into consideration his circumstances at that time.
Towns’ close friend D’Angelo Russell would also want to move on from his own forgettable season. Russell played in 42 games last season and hasn’t played in more than 50 games since 2018-2019. The 2019 All-Star averaged 19.0 points, 5.8 assists, and 1.1 steals, numbers also within his averages but should be higher in his first full 82-game season with Minnesota. The talent is there, and the only thing that remains is how he will put it all together in teaming up with Towns and Anthony Edwards.
The Timberwolves had four players averaging at least 19 points a game last season. Aside from Towns and Russell, the other two were Edwards and Malik Beasley. As the top pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, his averages of 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists were solid numbers considering the midseason coaching change and the changes in both his role and the players he played with. The former Georgia Bulldog can operate out of the pick-and-roll and can finish on a variety of moves. With a more stable environment in place, he could have more nights like this.
Beasley dealt with off-court issues that led to his 12-game suspension last season. Among the aforementioned players, it is him that will likely have a different role in 2021-2022, as Towns, Russell, and Edwards will take on a lion’s share of the touches. Operating off the bench could be better for him production wise, as it would allow him to play alongside at least one of the three rather than all at the same time.
Among the other players in the roster, the most intriguing one would be Jaden McDaniels. McDaniels had a strong finish to last season as the team went into developmental mode. Pairing him with Towns would make for a modern frontcourt that could cause headaches for NBA defenses, especially once McDaniels figures things out.
Minnesota’s offense has not really been the problem, as last season they were in the top-10 in the league in getting to and making their attempts at the free throw line. Moreover, they averaged 10.5 offensive rebounds, which not only made them ninth in the NBA last year, but also gives them extra possessions. It’s the defensive side of the ball they need to work on.
Having Towns certainly helped them become among the top teams in blocks and steals last season, but they still gave up 117.7 points on 48.2 percent shooting, both among the worst marks in the league last season.
The Timberwolves will have to work on shutting down teams as they will likely jostle with the Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, and the San Antonio Spurs. Among those, perhaps the Grizzlies and the Pelicans will offer the stiffest competition, with Memphis looking to build on last year’s postseason appearance. On paper, Minnesota is the more imposing team, but putting paper onto action is another matter altogether.
Championship aspirations may be more of a pipe dream for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but with all the tragedy and turmoil now behind them, the Timberwolves can now focus on building towards that.