Karl-Anthony Towns

Minnesota Timberwolves will enter offseason with critical decisions to make

Minnesota Timberwolves will enter offseason with critical decisions to make

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we'll be examining the impact of the NBA's current on hiatus on each team in the league. Today, the Minnesota Timberwolves are up.

Past installments: Chicago Bulls | Golden State Warriors | Cleveland Cavaliers

With the third-worst record in the NBA at the time of the suspension of regular season play (19-45), the Minnesota Timberwolves have some critical decisions to make.

Gersson Rosas is completing his first year as the head of basketball operations in the Twin Cities, and extended a vote of confidence to young head coach Ryan Saunders mid-season. But is Saunders the right man to continue the rebuild? And can the Timberwolves build a winning team around former All-Stars Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell? Or will Rosas need to explore trading one of the two for several assets?

Roster Evaluation

Rosas worked for the ultra-aggressive Daryl Morey in the Houston Rockets’ front office, and he made several trades in his first year on the job in Minnesota — moving Andrew Wiggins, Dario Saric, Jeff Teague, Robert Covington, Gorgui Dieng, Jordan Bell and Shabazz Napier off the roster while acquiring Russell, Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangómez, James Johnson, Evan Turner, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman.

Russell and Towns are good friends, and there is potential for them to form a lethal pick-and-roll combination. Towns averaged 26.5 points and 10.8 rebounds over 35 games in an injury-riddled season, and can be effective rolling to the basket or popping out for 3-point shots. He’s one of the top scoring centers in the NBA.

Russell averaged 21.7 points and 6.6 assists in the 12 games he played for Minnesota, but concerns persist about his shot selection and willingness to be a facilitator in half-court sets.

Still, Towns and Russell figure to be the offensive mainstays for whoever is coaching the Timberwolves next season. The bigger concern is finding three other starters who can effectively complement the high-scoring duo.

Rookie Jarrett Culver was a major disappointment, averaging just 9.2 points on 40.4% shooting from the field and 29.9% from 3-point range. Culver was the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft after leading Texas Tech to the NCAA championship game, but he failed to show any consistency at the offensive end, and only started 35 of the 63 games he played.

Beasley played well in 14 games with the Timberwolves, averaging 20.7 points and hitting 42.6% of his 3 point attempts. But he’ll be a restricted free agent at season’s end, as will Hernangomez.

The Timberwolves also like the potential of rookie big man Naz Reid and defensive-minded second-year swingman Josh Okogie.

Offseason Decisions

Start with the coaching staff, where the Timberwolves have strong feelings for Saunders, who is the son of former head coach and front office executive Flip Saunders. Still, it’s been a bumpy start for one of the league’s youngest head coaches, and Rosas might decide to bring in a more experienced leader to help develop the players he’s added to the roster.

The Timberwolves would love to bring Beasley back after his strong showing as a starter, but with so few impact players available on the free agent market, he could get an offer sheet higher than what the organization is comfortable paying. Rosas will have some money to spend on free agents this offseason with only $75.3 million in guaranteed contracts on the books, but he’ll have to be careful not to get drawn into long-term commitments for players who don’t fit well with Towns and Russell.

Minnesota is currently owns the third-best lottery odds in the upcoming draft and could be in position to add a wing scorer like Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball to play alongside Russell in the backcourt. They might consider drafting a power forward like NCAA Player of the Year Obi Toppin to help Towns up front.

The Timberwolves also have an additional first round pick acquired from the Brooklyn Nets that figures to be somewhere in the the 15-17 range.

Outlook

Rosas spent his first year on the job evaluating the coaching staff and the talent on the roster, and already has made a number of moves to try to re-shape the team in the style of play he favors. The problem is both Towns and Russell can be very stubborn when it comes to shot selection and team play, and it will be interesting to see if their personal friendship makes them more willing to sacrifice individual numbers for team success.

The Timberwolves need to land an impact starter with their high lottery pick and hopefully pick up a couple high-character veterans in free agency who can help on the court and in the locker room. Bringing Beasley back as a starter at shooting guard or small forward would be a good first step, and the Timberwolves are counting on Culver to bounce back from a shaky rookie season to be a more consistent contributor going forward.

It’s always a plus to have a pair of young former All-Stars on your roster to build around, but the Timberwolves clearly have a lot of work to do to become a playoff team again.

Check back in on Wednesday, when we examine the Atlanta Hawks.

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Karl-Anthony Towns reveals mother is in medically-induced coma in emotional video

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USA Today

Karl-Anthony Towns reveals mother is in medically-induced coma in emotional video

Karl-Anthony Towns joined a chorus of NBA players calling for people to treat the novel coronavirus pandemic with utmost seriousness in an emotional monologue posted on Instagram late Tuesday evening.

In the video, Towns revealed that his mother, Jacqueline Cruz, is currently in a medically-induced coma due to complications after testing positive for COVID-19 (Cruz's positive test was confirmed by ESPN through the Timberwolves organization):

 

According to Towns, Cruz and his father, Karl Towns Sr., were admitted to the hospital early last week and tested for COVID-19 after exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Towns Sr. was released under a mandate to self-quarantine, but Cruz’s condition has deteriorated over the course of her stay. Multiple rounds of medication proved unsuccessful in keeping her fever down, and just when Towns and his family thought she might be turning a corner, things “went sideways.”

“Her lungs were extremely getting worse and she was having trouble breathing and, you know, they were just explaining to me that she had to be put on a ventilator and she was getting worse,” Towns said. “I talked to her before she went there, told her I loved her, every day I always told her how much I loved her. She was telling me things that I didn’t want to hear, so I dismissed some things she was saying because it wasn’t something I wanted to hear.

“It’s been very difficult for me and my family to say the least. She’s the head of our household, she’s the boss. She’s been in a medically induced coma since that day I haven’t talked to her, haven’t been able to obviously communicate with her, I’ve just been getting updates on her condition.”

Towns ended the video on an optimistic note, saying he and his family will continue to fight the virus, win and rejoice when they do. He hopes his story can be instructional and inspirational for others.

“Wanted to make this video so that people understand the severity of this disease is real. This disease needs to not be taken lightly, please protect your families, your loved ones, your friends, yourself, practice social distancing, please don’t be in places with a lot of people,” Towns said. “It’s deadly, it’s deadly.

“We’re gonna keep fighting on my side, me and my family, we gonna keep fighting this. We gonna beat it, we gonna win. I hope my story helps, I hope my story gives you the correct information. You know, send my love to all your families, I’m praying for every single one of you guys.”

Gut-wrenching. Towns’ strength and resolve are commendable, and his message essential: Take this seriously. Hopefully, his family's story will have a happy ending.

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What to watch for: Karl-Anthony Towns is back, Timberwolves visit Bulls

What to watch for: Karl-Anthony Towns is back, Timberwolves visit Bulls

A returned Karl-Anthony Towns and the stumbling Minnesota Timberwolves roll into Chicago losers of their last six — can the Bulls take advantage? The game tips off at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Timberwolves’ last five games (0-5)

  • Jan. 20 — L vs. Nuggets: 107-100

  • Jan. 18 — L vs. Raptors: 122-112

  • Jan. 17 — L at Pacers: 116-114

  • Jan. 15 -- L vs. Pacers: 104-99

  • Jan. 13 — L vs. Thunder: 117-104

Storyline(s) to watch

Of the Timberwolves’ (15-28) 28 losses, 17 of them have come as a result of two rather lengthy losing streaks. The first — an 11-gamer from Dec. 1 to Dec. 23 — marred a surprising 10-8 start to the season and dropped them to the bottom of the Western Conference. Minnesota now rides into Chicago in the midst of a six-game winless stretch and losers of 20 of their last 25. 

Last week, the team shipped its starting point guard Jeff Teague to Atlanta, a signal of a shift towards development. Like the Bulls, the Timberwolves have implemented a sparkling new offensive system this season, and to similarly underwhelming results: Minnesota owns the league’s 22nd-rated offense (105.9 points per 100 possessions) and though they jack the third-most 3-point attempts per game in the NBA (39.3), they convert at the second-lowest clip (32.4%). On a team-wide basis, just about their only above average skill is running — they start Robert Covington in the power forward slot, rarely play two bigs together and rank seventh in the NBA in PACE

For the Bulls (16-29), this one kicks off a three-game stretch of relative reprieve. Currently 3-8 in the month of January, their next three opponents — Minnesota, Sacramento, Cleveland — own a cumulative record of 42-88, as of this writing. Zach LaVine watch continues: He’s averaging 28 points per game on 59.6% shooting in four career games against the team that drafted him and 30 points per game this January.

Player to watch: Karl-Anthony Towns

Towns missed an extended 15-game stretch from mid-December to mid-January with a sprained left knee, but returned last week. In three games since, he’s averaging 22.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4 assists per contest on 43.1/28.6/89.5 shooting splits — but that's a small sample size compared to the gaudy 26.5 points, 11.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists (51.4/41.8/79.6) averages he registered in 23 games before injury. He’s good.

 

Questions persist in regards to his defense, but Towns remains an absolute juggernaut of an offensive center, and his impact is immense. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Timberwolves score a whopping 14.1 points per 100 possessions more with Towns on the floor rather than off, sport a 54% eFG% with him (compared to 47.6% without) and he drastically (positively) impacts their volume and efficiency at the rim and from 3-point range. He can create from anywhere on the floor, and against the Bulls’ currently undermanned frontcourt, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him feast.

Matchup to watch: The Rooks

Coby White and Jarrett Culver were picked one spot away from each other in the 2019 draft (Culver no. 6, White no. 7). Now, they’ll square off for the first time.

With the aforementioned trade of Teague, the Wolves seem to have opened up a permanent spot and role in the starting lineup for Culver — a well-timed development. In the month of January, he’s averaging 14.5 points and 5 rebounds on 45.7% shooting (31 minutes per), and has scored in double-figures in 11 of his last 12 games. While the playmaking still needs some molding (0.57 assist:usage ratio), these are great strides for a player who got off to a clanky shooting start to the season.

White has had his ups and downs, as well, but has yet to be given the rein Culver has gotten recently (23.6 minutes per game in January). Still, he’s a candidate to break out on any given night, and while Culver’s defense is renowned, White outweighs him in pure scoring ability. If they find themselves across from one another, it adds another layer of intrigue to what should be a competitive matchup.

Injury report

No new official developments for the Bulls, but Otto Porter Jr. was at practice yesterday (sans boot) fielding rebounds for teammates. He’s still not cleared for any basketball activities as of yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. 

Jim Boylen: “It'd be wrong of me to give you a timetable on that [Porter’s return]. He's improving and what we're hoping for is as he gets his shoes back on and gets on the floor those juices start flowing and hopefully he can be back sooner rather than later. So, we'll see how it goes, we will not take a chance with him but we're excited about his progress.”

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