While the Minnesota Timberwolves are suffering an underwhelming season so far, Anthony Edwards and his emergence as an All-Star are some of the few bright spots. The team struggles to involve off-season acquisition Rudy Gobert offensively. Gobert is not the defender they hoped he would be, they play too much iso-ball and lack defensive effort. Most importantly, however, Karl-Anthony Towns has been injured for most of the season.
Despite all these issues, the Timberwolves managed to stay afloat, currently holding the 8th seed in the West with a 32-32 record, under Edwards’ leadership. The youngster has made the anticipated jump into stardom, and the Timberwolves are now officially his team. That poses the question if Towns is now expendable Minnesota.
If worse comes to worst, and they have to break up the team, Towns seems the most likely player to be traded. The Wolves cannot give up Edwards, and it will be difficult to interest teams in Gobert and his massive contract, so that only leaves Towns on the market. We have not reached that point yet, though, and with the Timberwolves determination to win in the near future, the answer is simple. Towns is not expendable right now.
Edwards currently averages 36.4 minutes per game and has not missed a single match yet. His usage rate is in the top-15 in the entire league and would probably be higher if he had played the entire season without Towns and D’Angelo Russell. Russell, like most of his teammates, never quite figured out how to get Gobert involved offensively, but he helped Edwards carry the scoring load. In light of the first issue, the Timberwolves made a bold move at the trade deadline, trading Russell’s shot creation for Mike Conley’s playmaking and experience playing with Gobert. This trade solved some of their issues, as Conley somewhat managed to unlock Gobert offensively and get Jaden McDaniels involved more as a scorer, but it also brought up new problems. There is still a scoring gap to be filled, and the answer is not to expect Edwards to do even more.
Edwards has been carrying a lot for a 21-year-old who is still growing as a player all season long and seemed up to the challenge. But after playing a number of games without Russell and Towns, the exhaustion is starting to show. It is not just because he has to play many minutes and carry the scoring weight mostly by himself, but also the fact that defenses are making his life hell. The Golden State Warriors, for example, threw Donte DiVincenzo and Jonathan Kuminga at him at the same time to make sure that the ball would not spend much time in his hands. Teams know that the Timberwolves are beatable as long as someone other than Edwards has the ball. This type of defensive attention will teach Edwards a lot, but if the Timberwolves want to win now, they need someone to disrupt that rhythm.
They need a secondary scorer and some additional firepower, which are two things that Towns can provide as one of the best shooting big men in the game. Towns can easily put up 20 points a game and draw a significant amount of defensive attention away from Edwards. As a versatile scoring talent, he can improve the Timberwolves front court production right away when he returns. Naz Reid deserves a lot of credit for the numbers he has been putting up in Towns’ absence, but Towns can add another dimension to their big man game as a post-up threat. Reid is more comfortable on the perimeter and Gobert mainly scores off lobs and put backs, so having someone who can go to work in the paint will change the way teams have to guard the Timberwolves.
Plus, Edwards, McDaniels, and Reid are all still young and could use an All-Star veteran next to Conley who can guide them and make the game easier. Especially, Edwards and McDaniels need every chance to grow their game and develop, but since the Gobert trade there is also a lot of pressure on the team to win now.
None of that might happen this season due to the uncertainty of Towns’ return date. Another factor is the time it will take to figure out how to incorporate towns into lineups as he gets back into shape after the injury. Whenever he does return, however, he will be coming back to a team that is now firmly in Edwards’ hands. His role might be lesser than when he was the franchise’s sole centerpiece, but he is still not expendable if they want to win soon. Somebody needs to take a part of the offensive load off Edwards’ young shoulders, and it seems that without a major trade, Towns is their best option. The Timberwolves simply cannot afford to wear out Edwards, who already has so much responsibility on both ends of the floor and is the key to their success.
Of course, there are still a lot of uncertainties. If Towns cannot stay healthy, or if they simply cannot make all the pieces click, none of this matters, but for now Towns is still an important puzzle piece on this team.