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Minnesota Timberwolves End of the Season Report Card: Power Forward Edition

Let’s unveil the grades for Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyle Anderson, and Naz Reid and take a look ahead to their possible futures.

NBA: MAR 17 Timberwolves at Bulls Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Multiversal storytelling has become more commonplace in Hollywood over the last five years. The Spider-Verse franchise, the MCU, and this year’s Oscar winning film Everything, Everywhere, All At Once all contain stories featuring a reality full of infinite universes with infinite variations of individuals.

This got me wondering. Maybe, there is a Minnesota Timberwolves multiverse, a Timber-Verse if you will, full of unique possibilities:

“The Steph Curry” Timber-Verse:

There is a version of the Timberwolves somewhere out there where the team drafted Steph Curry, and the greatest shooter of all time lifted the team to heights it had never seen before. Steph Curry and Kevin Love become an elite shooting tandem that redefine the importance of the three point shot for the whole league!

... *whispers* ... There’s also a Steph Curry in the Timber-Verse where the team drafts him, and his career is completely ruined by the likes of Kurt Rambis and David Khan and basketball fandom in general is robbed of watching this generational talent succeed at the highest level.

“The No Illegal Joe Smith Deal” Timber-Verse:

For the Gen Z readers out there, back in the early 2000’s, the Timberwolves attempted an under-the-table deal to sign a journeyman NBA player, got caught, and lost first five round picks as an initial punishment (this number was later reduced). The big problem? Kevin Garnett was twenty-five years old, and because of this deficit, the team entered into his prime missing key draft capital (or trade assets) that could have solidified the team around KG. These assets could have lifted the 03-04 Wolves to greater heights (beating the Lakers in the Western Conference finals?), or possibly, could have done just enough to solidify a better core around The Big Ticket and compelled him to stay in Minnesota for his whole career.

Huh, why does the feeling of the Timberwolves’ lost draft capital during the epoch of a franchise-making talent give me a pit in my stomach? Eh, no reason I’m sure.

“The Run it Back in 2022” Timber-Verse:

There’s a lot of discussion about what this version of the Timberwolves could have looked like, but there are a few elements that would have been real interesting: The return of Pat Bev, Walker Kessler mixing with the team (specifically, a Jaden McDaniels, Jared Vanderbilt and Kessler front-court on defense!), the trade deadline with D’Angelo Russell and maybe most importantly, the team having a full cache of assets heading into the offseason.

Multiverse talk is especially fresh on the brain when imagining the next step for the franchise. The Rudy Gobert trade and new CBA have this team heading for an inflection point: Do you attempt to roster-build with the current core and risk all the penalties that could incur as a luxury (and then some) team, or do you shift focus on the younger part of the core and make moves that set the team up for deeper success three to four years down the road?

The three players we are looking at today would each have a unique place in versions of these futures, so let’s look ahead at what the Timber-Verse may have in store for them.

To the grades.

Important reminders:

1. These grades are roles-based, so the stats I’m looking at for each player are different.

2. There will be three major components of the grades: Regular season (70%), playoffs (25%) and extracurriculars (5%)

3. The extracurricular category is a new one that takes into account things that happened on and off the court that wouldn’t be captured by numbers: Awards, injuries, locker-room problems, etc… One extra way to quantify things that happened this season that would otherwise be missed.

Karl-Anthony Towns Final Grade: 68% (D+)

When you look at advanced statistics, it is pretty shocking to see that this season is demonstrably the worst of his career. His first twenty games were marred by trying to find a way to fit in next to Gobert, and the last ten were in the midst of returning to form after a major calf injury. All these factors lead to Towns having a career low PER, VORP, and Win Share Per 48.

In the postseason, he had an elite three quarters against the Los Angeles Lakers and about three halves of good basketball against the Denver Nuggets. The rest of the postseason? To borrow from Towns’ own words, the rest was flush-worthy.

The questionable fit next to Gobert, the injury-riddled season, and another subpar playoff showing have left the franchise and fans with one big question:

The Big Question: Can Karl-Anthony Towns live up to his supermax contract?

This is where the idea of the Timber-Verse comes in handy. If the franchise projects the answer to the question with a definitive “yes,” he’s viewed as an essential part of your core and he stays.

If they would ultimately project no, there is no better time than the present to move on. Here’s a glimpse of how these two futures would shape up:

“KAT is Part of the Core” Timber-Verse

Ownership and President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly immediately come out and squash any talk or whispers of Towns being on the trading block. The first revealing domino in terms of personnel moves is being willing to let Naz Reid walk in free agency*.

*It still may be worth signing him as a potential trade asset, but if you truly believe Towns is part of the core of this team, there is no evidence that a Reid/Towns combo can share the court and be effective. For the season, Towns and Reid had a -7.6 net rating when they shared the floor together. This team would not have the financial flexibility to pay up for a good backup big long term.

Speaking of questionable fit, the team would probably only have one last season to see if there is any potential in the Gobert/Towns lineup. Once again, the financial situation is huge here - it’s very likely this team does not make the Gobert trade to begin with if the details of the new CBA came out last summer. The Timberwolves would have to finish next season as a top three team in the West to justify any type of cap shenanigans (like filling out the rest of the roster with all vet minimum guys) to try to keep the two bigs together.

Mike Conley, Kyle Anderson, and every other non-rookie or minimum contract will need to be off the books in order to have any chance at squeezing those four under the second apron.

Otherwise, Gobert will be traded at fifty cents on the dollar at either the upcoming season trade deadline or during the off-season next year. With smart financial maneuvering, the team will be able to be a little more creative to piece together a roster around Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels and Towns.

“It’s Time to Move On” Timber-Verse

Through the draft, free agency and trade deadline next season, the franchise and fans alike entertain various Towns trades. The new league year begins on July 1st, and that date officially would mark a ticking clock of a year where Towns’ contract would be most movable. In this universe, the team could technically run it back next year, but the closer they get to the start of the new league year next year, the harder it will be to move his contract as it jumps from $36 million per year to $49 million.

Whether come draft time (prayer circle for Scoot Henderson!) or next season’s trade deadline, the team is actively listening to every trade offer and jumps when they believe there is one of requisite value.

The franchise’s social media team begins their work on a “Thank You KAT” video, Gobert sticks around as the team’s defensive anchor, and every roster building decision begins to be shaped towards three-to-four years down the road when Edwards enters his prime.

Kyle Anderson Final Grade: 90% (A-)

Anderson wins my regular-season roles-based MVP and the final “A” range grade. Watching the playoffs this season has just been a reminder of the importance of a team that has at least seven to eight guys that you can trust and Slow-Mo is the epitome of a guy that fits all over a championship roster. While Anderson’s production did take a step down in the postseason, the team would not have made it without his contributions when Towns went down with an injury.

The Big Question: If the franchise shifts focus to the Edwards and McDaniels window, can Anderson be a part of that?

Now this is a hard question. Anderson will be thirty years old at the start of next season, while Edwards will be twenty-two. Fast forward to five years when Edwards is in his prime, it is reasonable to question whether or not Slow-Mo will still be getting regular minutes in the league. But, those five years from now till Ant’s prime aren’t inconsequential - he needs players around him to develop. Let’s look through the lens of the Timber-Verse again to see what Anderson’s future with the team might look like:

“The Championship Caliber Role Player” Timber-Verse

Players like Anderson don’t grow on trees, and in this universe, the team decides that his unique skill set, leadership ability, and flexibility make him a perfect piece to help Edwards and McDaniels develop over the next three to four years. This compels the team to offer Anderson a two year extension at a similar price to what he’s making now, realistically with a slight pay bump closer to the top of the mid level exception. The catch? This can’t realistically be done with both Towns and Gobert on the team. To keep a player like Kyle Anderson around, you are going to have to sacrifice elsewhere.

“The Championship Caliber Trade Asset” Timber-Verse

This reality is actually quite an easy one to picture and probably what I would project as being the most likely outcome for Anderson ending his tenure with the Wolves. With pending luxury problems on the horizon, Anderson’s $9.2 million expiring contract and unique skill set could get the Timberwolves a pretty decent return in a trade - probably a first round pick and maybe even a player with potential on a rookie contract to develop (similar to Nickeil Alexander-Walker this season).

Anderson would still go down as one of the best free agent signings in franchise history; a player that raised the floor for the team, and was rewarded by being traded to a contender for a chance to win a title before his career is over.

Naz Reid Final Grade: 83% (B)

Reid’s role completely changed in my eyes by the end of the season. Rather than viewing him strictly as a “backup big,” I began to view him through the lens of being a “microwave scorer” off the bench, having an offensive prowess that felt akin to the best sixth man scorers across the league. During the last month of the season, he averaged 27.9 points per thirty-six minutes, the best mark on the team and 13th in the league during that stretch. Check out the rest of the names on this list!

Just from the eye test, when Naz came into the game, he was using his quick decision making to either punish smaller players in the post, or space the floor with his shooting and quicker first step on bigger defenders.Like microwave scorers across the league, some of the sheen of his offensive game is tarnished by defensive lapses (specifically being foul prone). The question going forward for Reid becomes the following:

The Big Question: Is Naz Reid a starting caliber player in the NBA?

This becomes the question for the Timberwolves franchise because they are probably going to have to pay him as one. In a great salary cap overview for the franchise, Dane Moore conservatively estimates Reid’s contract taking up 9% of the Timberwolves cap should they re-sign him; this would make him the fifth highest paid player on the team. As an astute reader, you probably know the caveat that needs to follow: The Timberwolves can’t realistically do this with Gobert and Towns. So that leads us back to the Timber-Verse:

“Naz Reid: Discount KAT” Timber-Verse

The team signs Reid to a contract this offseason with the plan of moving on from Towns in the near future. The amount of money spent on Reid’s contract is justified by his minutes played and expanded role on the team as he gets a chance to continue to develop alongside the Edwards and McDaniels pairing. If Reid continues to improve the way he has over the first four years of career, Reid has a chance to get rewarded with a future contract that would time up well with Gobert coming off the books in the 25-26 season, and he earns the title of being a “core asset” for this team.

“Naz Reid: The One Who Got Away” Timber-Verse

Since I did mention above a universe where the team does re-sign Reid for the sake of trading him before the barrage of the second apron penalties can hit, there is another potential eventuality that Timberwolves fans need to prepare for: Reid has played his last game in a Wolves uniform and is the first true cap casualty of the Gobert trade. Some might refer to this reality as the darkest timeline, but with all the versions of the Timberwolves multiverse before us, experience tells us to prepare for the worst even while hoping for the best.

Journeying through the multiverse is not for the faint of heart, so I must end with a final warning: Do not look too long into the vastness of Timber-Verse - it gives neither knowledge or truth and many fans have wasted away pondering the franchise “what-ifs.”