The first half of this year was the season from hell. Nothing was going right for the Minnesota Timberwolves and the most logical outcome was that the Wolves were facing yet another extended rebuild. Karl-Anthony Towns was hurt and then contracted COVID-19, a gutting turn of events for Towns after his unimaginable tragedies in the past year. The Wolves were a disaster on the court, getting blown out routinely by 20-30 points in the first half.
The team’s other “max” player seemed to have no interest in being here nor in playing competitive basketball, while Anthony Edwards was having a rookie campaign befit his youth, rawness, and predilections towards inefficient offense. Meanwhile, the sale of the team was hanging over everything, as it was easy to imagine how a new owner could view the dismal state of affairs and conclude that a fire sale was needed. Losing the pick to Golden State with one of the worst records in the NBA would have dumped a ton of salt in the gaping wounds.
But things are different now. With a new coach, a healthier roster, and an ascendant Anthony Edwards, the Wolves are heading into the offseason with a fair dose of optimism.
Of course, the improved play after the All-Star break does not fully address all the pressing problems with this team. The defense has remained a problem, it is unclear how Malik Beasley fits into the fold, and the Wolves have limited recourse to address the roster. The Warriors may still end up with the 4th pick if the lottery shakes out in their favor.
However, the Wolves have found joy again and it is coming from Anthony Edwards. Ant’s infectious personality won over the Wolves’ fans early on, but he has quickly become a media darling around the NBA and has begun to attract national attention for his off-the-cuff and guileless responses. It has been a breath of fresh air, a sense of fun that the Wolves have not been able to bottle since the early days of Ricky Rubio’s career or the first season of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine playing together.
That feeling of promise is the most beguiling of senses in the NBA. It is far more rewarding to imagine the rise than meet the expectations. And now the Wolves are heading into the offseason built on dreams of the future.
While Ant is unlikely to win the Rookie of the Year, that matters much less than how clearly he has established himself as a rising superstar in the second half of the season. Those of us watching Ant’s growth see an impossibly talented 19-year old who has quickly figured out how to iron out his early problems dealing with NBA bigs at the rim, while removing some of the most inefficient shots from his portfolio. There were games at the tail-end of the season where he was simply unguardable. Watching the playoffs, Ant’s skill set and offensive dominance are akin to the most important players in the league that are driving wins.
Normally, this rapid ascension could threaten the established stars on the Wolves roster, but their wildly different personalities could alleviate any tensions. Both KAT and Russell see themselves as the maestro, pulling the strings on the court to achieve the best possible result. That is not Ant, he is the locomotive barreling through the defense, which both KAT and Russell see themselves as guides for. KAT and Russell’s more cerebral attitudes are diametrically at odds with Ant’s infectious joy, which gives them cover to be their real selves while continuing to serve as leaders on the team.
The other puzzle pieces on this team still need to fit together and there is no telling what the future holds. This summer could fizzle out or the Wolves could find themselves in a position to dramatically increase the talent on this roster.
Heading into this last season, we thought that Ricky Rubio would be the proverbial run that ties the room together, serving as the glue that held the bench and starters together. He may still fit that role behind the scenes, assuming that he remains on the team. But this roster is now built around the meteor that is rising within. Regardless of what happens in the coming months, it feels like it will be fun wherever the Timberwolves go.