Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined ‘indefinitely’
All-Star center suffered a calf strain in Monday’s loss to Washington.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Over the past seven seasons, a Karl-Anthony Towns absence has all but guaranteed a Minnesota Timberwolves’ defeat.
That’s not to say Minnesota has been great with the big man on the floor; the Wolves have won 44.5% of their games with Towns. But that number dips to 26.5% when he’s off the floor. Of the 64 games Towns has missed in his career, Minnesota has only won 17.
In that sense, Tuesday’s news that Towns is sidelined “indefinitely” with the right calf strain he suffered in the third quarter of Monday’s loss to the Wizards would appear to be a major hit to Minnesota’s chances of success during the 2022-23 season. The Timberwolves said Tuesday that Towns will be re-evaluated in “several weeks.”
A source confirmed multiple media reports that the hope is Towns could return to action in the next four to six weeks — a timeline that would see Towns back on the floor sometime in January — but that’s not a guarantee.
Regardless of his exact return date, Minnesota, currently on a three-game losing skid, now must find a way to dig itself out of its current rut without one of its best players.
“We’re going to have to look at what our options are with who else is available at that point,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said immediately after Monday’s loss. “We’ll just have to figure that out.”
But for perhaps the first time in Towns’ career, the Wolves are more than equipped to manage. While Rudy Gobert’s fit alongside Towns has at times looked questionable through 21 games, his presence means the Timberwolves will still have an All-NBA center while Towns rehabs.
And Minnesota is still stocked with enough talent outside of Gobert. Anthony Edwards has shown the ability to take over any game on a given night. Jaden McDaniels is a premier defender. Naz Reid deserves a spot in an NBA rotation and will again be Minnesota’s backup center in Towns’ absence.
The fact is, Minnesota’s starting lineup failed to establish any sort of consistent rhythm through the first 21 games of this Two Bigs experiment. The guards have suggested the mere presence of the two makes transition defense — a major issue so far this season — a struggle because the Wolves are so inherently slow. Edwards noted early that he prefers smaller lineups that space the floor and don’t clog the lane.
Those are all excuses that don’t forgive the poor effort and intensity with which Minnesota has performed through large portions of games. But there have also been numerous times in which the Wolves just don’t seem to match up well enough with their opponent.
That shouldn’t be as much of an issue with Kyle Anderson almost certainly starting at power forward. He is a better defender in general than Towns, and a much more natural fit to defend other perimeter players that often occupy the power forward spot.
The presence of McDaniels, Anderson and Edwards should allow Gobert to play whatever is the most favorable matchup for him to be able to control the paint defensively rather than being strung out onto the perimeter. It’s not unlikely that the Wolves will be a better defensive team given who is currently available.
The offense may come as more of a struggle. Towns is as gifted a scoring big man as you’ll find in the league.
Edwards will have to adjust without the natural spacing a player like Towns — Minnesota’s best shooter — provides him. But the absence of the big man will put more of a scoring onus on the guard. That responsibility may be just what he needs to seize ownership and bring his best basketball on a more consistent basis. So often, Edwards’ offense is what fuels the other parts of his game.
Still, he alone cannot pick up the scoring slack for Towns. Other players such as D’Angelo Russell, Jaylen Nowell and even Gobert will need to expand their offensive presences. But the absence of Towns and his usage should clear the runway for McDaniels to be a more heavily featured part of the offense. That’s a possibility that has intrigued many for a while now.
Minnesota’s offense had grown noticeably sticky over the course of 21 games. The likes of Towns, Russell and Edwards often struggle playing off the catch, which prevents any flow from developing within possessions. Removing one of those players from the equation could help lubricate the offense.
While the Timberwolves may not be a better team without Towns, they might be suited to play well in his absence. They’ll need to in order to keep their season afloat while he recovers.
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