In any single aspect you want to look at to summarize the 2022-23 Minnesota Timberwolves season, at the very least, a semblance of context is required. Hopefully throughout this sequence of articles, a little bit is provided on different scrutinized areas of a mind-numbing season.
The near-year-old trade that brought Rudy Gobert to Minnesota requires all of that and a little bit more. In a year of the Wolves’ rotation that served more as a revolving door as opposed to a continuous, chemistry-filled unit, the dialogue around the “Twin City Towers” is understandingly more hostile than it was a year ago. Stepping closer to one end of said dialogue extreme is the idea that it’s time to move on from the pairing entirely.
Over the next few minutes, I’ll make the case for both sides.
POINT: It’s Time To Move On
The Gobert trade was made out an obvious need that was put on display in the Wolves playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies that would end up as the conclusion on their 2021-22 season.
On the heels of Brandon Clarke grabbing seven fourth quarter offensive rebounds in a come from behind game five win for the Grizzlies that would springboard them to a series win, it was clear that front-court reinforcements were needed.
Karl-Anthony Towns has never been an elite defender. Yet even in a season that he found himself having success as a little more of a switchable perimeter defender as opposed to a pure rim protector, he was exposed in getting drawn in and ceding offensive boards in getting caught out of position defending shots.
The Walker Kessler pick was initially seen as something that could quell those issues in more matchup-based scenarios, but the Gobert move took that up to a ten and showed the interior was more of a priority internally and the clearest perceived path to optimizing the Wolves’ playoff lives to later in the summer.
But the fit with Towns and Gobert on the floor was clunky on the offensive end. Gobert was perhaps a little gimpy after his summer in which he logged 244 minutes for the French National Team at EuroBasket. It had little to do with overarching issues when the two were on the floor together.
In fact, it was sizably different than when others were on the floor together.
In 529 shared minutes during the season, Gobert and Towns had a net rating of +0.43. It’s better than a negative one, but typically two all-star caliber players sharing the floor needs to yield better results. More shocking, however, was the product when both of them were off the floor. In 91 minutes that both of them were off the floor, the Wolves as a team had a net rating of +9.91, according to PBP Stats. Drastic and problematic.
(NOTE: Stats above are coming from regular season games in which BOTH players were healthy and in the lineup)
The basketball reflected something similar as well. Euphoric highs that showed this team could be viable long term, and catastrophic lows that evened the highs out, namely a full strength loss to the tanking Portland Trail Blazers at the end of the season, who sat eight players.
This Kyle Anderson game-winning layup attempt— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 2, 2023
The Wolves suffer a DEVASTATING loss in the Western Conference playoff race against the Blazerspic.twitter.com/GQdEB8l78W
The Wolves were 14-13 with Gobert and Towns together in the lineup in the regular season, pretty much a direct reflection of the team’s record.
The elephant in the room beyond even the basketball is the money and the resources tied up in the pairing. Towns is set to make 36 million dollars next year, the last year of his rookie max extension he signed before the 2018-19 season. After that, his supermax, inked last season kicks in to the tune of 50 million. Pair that with Gobert’s 41 million dollar salary next year, that peaks in 2025-26 with a 46 million dollar player option, and that’s a LOT tied into, while bearing a small sample size, a statistically ineffective frontcourt.
While frequently talked about, a Towns trade is the quickest and probably most sensical way into navigating out of the impending conundrum that faces the Wolves when the second luxury tax apron awaits under the new NBA collective bargaining agreement. Jack Borman broke this down recently. Towns, at minimum, would be able to get a couple intriguing players back, and perhaps more of an ability to lean into the defensive side of the ball with a starting group of Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, and Gobert intact.
All in all, in terms of purely going on what you saw, there is not a lot to get the pom-poms out for heading into the season, specifically in how it pertains to the growth of Edwards. The results haven’t been there, and in a results-oriented business with a heft tax pending, sometimes appropriate measure need to be taken.
COUNTERPOINT: Give It More Time
The trio of Mike Conley, Gobert, and Towns played 124 total minutes together, roughly a tenth of what Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and veteran guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played together for the world champion Denver Nuggets (1,257 minutes together).
Perhaps if the Wolves’ trio played a few more minutes together, the opinion around the core wouldn’t be so unfavorable. The Conley acquisition infused a breath of fresh air in Gobert’s game, and was more effective in melding Towns and Gobert together. He took less volume and was a much more willing passer.
Pure absurdity from Mike Conley pic.twitter.com/dpfkgw9IHk— Tyler Metcalf (@tmetcalf11) March 21, 2023
In the 124 minutes together, Conley, Gobert, and Towns put forth a 7.94 net rating, which is incredibly strong. For context, with D’Angelo Russell on the floor with both bigs, a -2.94 net rating was put forth.
“Of course they were better with Conley, he played well with a lot of different lineups!”
With Conley on the floor and Gobert and Towns off, the Wolves posted a -14.14 net rating in 101 minutes.
A competent, situationally smart floor organizer is exactly what the starting five needed. His empty corner pick and rolls with Gobert would open the floor up, and put the defensive stalwart at ease on offense. The Wolves will need to decide what happens with Conley at some point, but he’s proven to be a critical cog in any sort of imminent success moving forward.
These empty-the-corner actions between Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert have been lethal since Conley got to Minnesota pic.twitter.com/XmTkLD1KwP— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) April 8, 2023
Immediate members of the Timberwolves’ current, intact core hardly played together, but when they did, they were effective. What is the real cost-benefit of moving on from that right now? The trade return of Towns and Gobert are at all-time lows, and the dreams of prying Scoot Henderson away from the Portland Trail Blazers are just that.
KAT’s 53-game absence has been well-documented. But what about the ongoing back spasms that clearly impacted Gobert upon the return of Towns, and was the main domino to fall in his confrontation with Kyle Anderson? Were either of them completely healthy in a promising postseason that took place without two key pieces in Jaden McDaniels and Naz Reid?
Seriously, think about it. From October through the end of April, how many games do you genuinely think Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns were at least at 90% or better healthwise for? I think it’s less than five. No, you can’t ask for that in every game of an 82-game season. But you can bank on one more year bringing you a little bit more than what you received availability-wise.
*Furiously knocks on wood*
A lot of resources have been put into the current double-big experiment that sits in the Wolves’ starting five. It would almost be reckless to throw that away in the name of fear of the second apron, and in the name of 124 minutes in playing with a lineup the way it was intended.
No hypothesis goes proven or unproven with a limited sample size. There comes a point where you just need to see a little bit more in almost every single aspect, and it even includes performance.
Production-wise, it’s a make or break year for the pairing, and time to cede the face of the franchise to Anthony Edwards, who in turn has to be more willing to get Gobert going on pick and rolls.
Continuity is one of the most important aspects of being a successful team, even when it makes a lot of sense to just move things along; just ask the team that sent the Wolves packing and hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy.
What’s the Verdict?
What is your attitude towards the "Twin City Towers"?
This poll is closed
It’s Time To Move On
Give It More Time