Karl-Anthony Towns Revival Means Everything for Timberwolves Future

Nov 18, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) passes the ball against New Orleans Pelicans guard Dyson Daniels (11) and center Jonas Valanciunas (17) during the first half at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, NBA fans. Welcome to your new alternate reality, one where the Minnesota Timberwolves are the best team in the West. Yes, you read that correctly.

Karl-Anthony Towns puts Wolves on his back

On Sunday morning, the Wolves woke up in 1st place in the Western Conference, after yet another win on Saturday night, this one a furious 4th quarter comeback victory in New Orleans, led by Karl-Anthony Towns.

Of late, KAT has been the Wolves’ best player and that’s a far cry from how he started the season. The similarities and differences in Towns’ first six games this season vs his last six games is fascinating.

Most of his numbers are nearly identical, almost eerily consistent through 12 games: including minutes, field goal attempts (and 3pt attempts), rebounds, assists, blocks, turnovers, fouls, etc. But for whatever reason, Karl has flipped the switch as a scorer.

Related: NBA Insider: Minnesota Timberwolves are Serious Title Contenders in 2023-24

KAT flips scoring switch

He’s averaging exactly 10 more points per game and shooting over .200 points better from the field, including 3 pointers. Towns’ cumulative game score, over the last six games, is over 11 points higher than what he did during his first six.

First 6 Games32.316.
Last 6 Games34.226.71016.80.5942.75.50.4854.30.9238.830.

And do not underestimate Karl-Anthony Towns’ good play. This cannot be chalked up to just “another hot streak”. KAT has been one of the most consistent offensive big men in the league, for most of his career. His revival over the last half-dozen games is a sign of what we will likely see from him for the majority of the 2023-24 season, going forward.

3 reasons why Karl-Anthony Towns play will make or break Timberwolves future

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ future depends on Karl-Anthony Towns, when viewing it from both a near-sighted and far-sighted lens. Without a doubt, Towns’ performance through the rest of this season will shape the future of this organization in a way that no other player on roster can. Let me explain.

1. Deep Playoff Run? Only if KAT is great…

First, let’s focus on the now because the Minnesota Timberwolves are the #1 team in the West and that is historic, just in itself. But without Towns suddenly finding his A-game recently, there’s no way they win as many of their last six games as they have.

Anthony Edwards has cooled off, Jaden McDaniels can’t stay out of foul trouble and Rudy Gobert doesn’t offer anything reliable on offense. If KAT hadn’t balled out, who knows what they’re record would be in their last six games, but it wouldn’t be 5-1.

Which serves as a good reminder for Wolves fans like me. This team is not going on a deep playoff run without Karl-Anthony Towns playing at the top of his game.

Yes, Anthony Edwards is the superstar and Rudy Gobert was the key to fixing the defensive woes of Wolves teams past. But without Karl, they do not have the offensive scoring depth to compete with the most elite teams in the NBA, for a seven-game series.

Related: Timberwolves are Bill Simmons’ Sleeper; Top-5 in His NBA Power Rankings

2. ‘Play Big’ Philosophy Dependent on KAT

Remember, the Minnesota Timberwolves are in the middle of an experiment that much of the NBA still believes is ludacris. When most of the league was figuring out how to go smaller, Tim Connelly dropped into Mayo Clinic Square and decided the Wolves were going to go bigger.

karl-anthony towns minnesota timberwolves future rudy gobert anthony edwards
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

He traded the future for Rudy Gobert in the biggest risk investment that any GM before him has ever felt comfortable enough or had permission to pull off.

Year 1 was nearly an absolute disaster. A failed year 2 would be a serious hit on Tim Connelly’s flawless basketball operations resume and push other NBA teams away from trying their own big men experiments.

In the same breath, the polar opposite will happen if the Timberwolves remain a top team in the West for the entirety of the season and then make a deep playoff run. Connelly would be hailed as a genius, Chris Finch would be viewed as the next Phil Jackson and teams across the NBA would be trying to copy what the Wolves figured out.

3. KAT’s days in MN are probably numbered

OK, I left this one for last because something feels a little bit wrong about typing star players out of town, when the team they play for looks championship caliber, but Towns’ situation is special.

In summary, the Wolves currently have a whole bunch of future cash committed to player payroll next season and beyond, as Anthony Edwards’ max extension hits the books, along with Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels’ new contracts.

Related: Rudy Gobert Was Right About Draymond Green Ejections

Oh, and Karl-Anthony Towns’ super-max contract, worth $49 million per season, is also scheduled to kick in next season, too. All of that money totals over $275 million, which is $134 million over the 2024-25 salary cap ($142 million).

Max contracts finally coming back to bite Minnesota Timberwolves

But more importantly, it’s just a few million dollars short of the NBA’s “2nd Apron” tax bracket, which brings with it all sorts of financial penalties that Glen Taylor and Marc Lore aren’t going to pay AND roster sanctions that Tim Connelly isn’t going to want to work around.

Yes, they could deal Gobert but he has less time left on his max deal and, at 31 years old, won’t be worth nearly as much as a good Karl-Anthony Towns. And that’s the point.

KAT’s trade value will take a significant hit because of his $49 million super max salary, unless he is widely accepted as one of the best bigs in a league where more teams are going to be experimenting with more bigs in their lineup (assuming the Wolves start a trend because they play so well this season).

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