Minnesota Timberwolves’ power forward Karl-Anthony Towns last played on Nov. 28, 2022 before injuring his calf against the Washington Wizards in a 142-127 blowout loss.
Now, 49 games have passed and the current No. 7 seeded Wolves are hoping for their alpha to return prior to the start of the postseason. Will he recover in time before the playoffs commence?
Recent reports noted that Towns, 27, has performed some limited activities in recent days and could be nearing a potential return somewhere within Minnesota’s 12 remaining games. There has been no news on whether the former 2015 No. 1 overall pick has begun playing 5-on-5 in practice — usually the final hurdle before a player returns to game action.
When Towns was on the floor, the Wolves were below average, going 10-11. Of their 11 losses, all but two were by nine points or more. Towns was also in the midst of his worst season since his rookie campaign, boasting 20.8 points to go along with 8.2 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and a 32.5 percent connect rate from the 3-point line — all career-low numbers. He made up for it with a career-high 5.3 assists per night as a result of working to keep Rudy Gobert involved, and an improved on-court demeanor.
In his absence, Minnesota has gone through a roller coaster ride of a season. They endured chemistry issues, moved on from D’Angelo Russell and acquired point guard Mike Conley Jr. from the Utah Jazz in a deal that has left all parties happy.
Now, the Wolves are 4-6 in their last 10 games, and despite this sub .500 achievement, have held on to the No. 7 seed in a Western Conference that has seen incalculable fluctuations over the last couple of weeks, setting up for a wild final stretch.
The most obvious areas where Towns will provide an instant upgrade are scoring, playmaking and rebounding.
When the Wolves score 120 or more points in a game, they are 15-6. Towns was the vanguard of the No. 1 offense in the NBA in the 2021-22 season. While his minutes are likely to be limited — including talks that Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch may bring the former All-Star off the bench — Towns could very well exceed the 10.9 points per game from Jaylen Nowell that lead the second unit.
All things considered, Minnesota ranks a pedestrian No. 14 league wide with 34.8 bench points per contest. His ability to command a trap on the block will open up outside opportunities for his teammates who all shoot 35 percent or better from distance, save Naz Reid and Jordan McLaughlin.
Additionally, the Wolves are 22-10 when they record more than 25 assists in a game. This accounts for nearly 63 percent of their wins compared to only north of 28 percent of their losses. The contrast is stark. In that selfsame 32-game span, they out-assisted their opponents 30 times. Also, 11 of those 32 games came before Towns’ injury, showing his crucial impact in such shortened time.
Towns’ ability to make impressive reads and find cutters is remarkable for a player his size, and he’s only gotten better with age. Even if not 100 percent, Towns would ideally serve as a model decoy to open the offense up.
Lastly, an injury to the lower extremities usually affects players most in their jumping ability. This can kill a player’s productivity in the outside shooting department as well as their tenacity on the glass.
While it would be foolish to assume Towns is guaranteed to corral the most amount of rebounds during his time on the floor in a potential return, his talent and size alone will help a Wolves bench that only has one player — Naz Reid (4.9 RPG) — grabbing more than 2.6 boards per night.
When it comes to playoff continuity, this may present an issue for coach Finch. Conley Jr. and Gobert have a good thing going, and the former’s arrival has done wonders for the offense. Introducing a second pick-and-roll partner to the equation may shake up the offense.
Also, will Towns be willing to take a backseat to 2023 All-Star Anthony Edwards, should he round into form in short order? Time will answer all these questions, and more. But one thing is for certain: Minnesota has a better chance with KAT on the floor rather than off, even if he isn’t a full 100% come postseason time.