It’s an interesting time to do so, but The Ringer dropped a large feature on the NBA’s top 100 players this week, and the Minnesota Timberwolves still have three of the top 50 in the league.
Karl-Anthony Towns comes in at 25th, Rudy Gobert 34th and Anthony Edwards 46th.
It’s a far cry from the preseason hype machine that many across the Association were on board with — a majority of people believed the addition of Gobert and a significant Edwards leap would put this squad in the 50-plus win range and Western Conference contention. ESPN’s list of the best 100 players released in September reflected that optimism: KAT ranked 13th, Gobert 18th, Ant 25th, and D’Angelo Russell snuck in at 93rd.
At this current juncture the Wolves are in the play-in game hunt. That alone is bound to depreciate some value from the roster on an individual level, because winning cures all, and Minnesota is not doing enough of it. But let’s take a look at each of those players’ cases individually, and diagnose why their play justifies or refutes their latest ranking by The Ringer.
Karl-Anthony Towns (13th to 25th)
Towns’ calf injury keeping him out of the lineup for the last couple weeks doesn’t help his standing, but it also hasn’t hurt him — Minnesota is 3-5 in his absence, indicating the issues plaguing the squad aren’t simply KAT’s game nor his vibes.
The three-point shooting hasn’t been there for Karl this year. He’s posted a 32.5% clip from beyond the arc so far on 5.6 tries, easily his worst mark since 34.1% in 2015-16, when he attempted just 1.1 threes per contest. That’s not a number you see from the “greatest shooting big man of all time”.
Where KAT has made a real jump is his playmaking. His passing out of double teams in the post is very fun to watch, as well as the synergy he found with Gobert, finding the Frenchman on quick rolls and alley-oops. He’s averaging a career-best 5.3 assists while showing no increase in turnovers.
Defensively, playing the power forward spot is relatively new for Karl. His inability to nimbly navigate screens is an issue against opponents with more speed and shooting. Add that to the career-spanning doubts about his prowess as a rim-protecting center, he won’t get the benefit of any more chances on that end of the floor.
How can Towns launch himself back into the top 15 or 20 by season’s end? Returning from the calf strain at full strength and taking initiative to be the offensive hub regardless of the personnel he’s surrounded with could draw the attention of talking heads. And the bottom line is that his play must translate to getting the team in the win column.
Rudy Gobert (18th to 34th)
What’s working for Rudy? He’s third in the league in rebounding, cleaning the glass at an ever-consistent rate. That’s really about it. Chris Finch has had a heck of a time integrating Gobert’s towering presence into the swing, drive and kick offensive system he wants to flow into. The Wolves are also just not shooting well enough from deep to make Gobert’s life easier inside, nor guarding the ball cleanly to let Rudy sweep up the leftovers in the paint.
The identity crisis on both ends of the court leaves Gobert really playing four different games at once: helter-skelter scramble defense (a la Jarred Vanderbilt), solid, stay-in-front, drop coverage defense, paced and spaced flow offense and systematic set-driven offense. It’s really, really hard to be productive in every single style.
Gobert needs to convert better around the rim when he gets the chance if we want to see him back in the top 20 at the finish line. His field goal percentage is uncharacteristically low. If he can be trusted with the ball on the move, everything opens up around him. The thing about Rudy is that most of his skill and talent revolves around his teammates playing well and delivering passes disguised as gift baskets.
Anthony Edwards (25th to 46th)
The aforementioned leap for Ant hasn’t been a linear one. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance similar to last season, where he gets going from deep and turns on the jets to acrobatically finish at the rim, but they often have come in too-little, too-late situations. Everyone expected him to come out blazing and back up the then-sensible ranking of 25th best player in the NBA.
But he’s just not been as dominant as we’d hoped. He’s more reactive than proactive in his on-court assertiveness. The injury to Towns was supposed to be Ant’s chance to take over as a true, nightly alpha — his backcourt mate has actually been the more consistent talent during that stretch.
It’s no question that media and fans across the entire league want Edwards to be that dude. But he’s just not showing it on a consistent basis to warrant that preseason ranking, and 46th feels just about right for a 21-year-old guard that still has lots of learning to do.
D’Angelo Russell (93rd to unranked)
D’Lo being on the initial ESPN list was surprising to begin with — most analysts don’t care for his game and the Wolves’ biggest non-trade headline last offseason was whether he deserved to be on the roster to open 2022-23.
Kevin O’Connor, the main proprietor of The Ringer’s top 100 list, doesn’t strike me as a guy who might have a Russell stan burner account on Twitter, so it’s not too shocking to see the Wolves PG omitted here. But you can’t really deny Russell’s been playing better as of late; in six games since Towns went down, he’s averaging 24.5 points, 5.5 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 55/45/80.
Russell climbing back up into the top 100 is a tall task, as his doubters won’t likely be convinced by really any stretch of strong play to be his new status quo. But all in all, it’s a great sign that he’s shooting the ball better because the Wolves are completely devoid of that ability on the rest of the roster right now.