What has KAT Gotten Himself Into With the Minnesota Timberwolves?

Updated: March 18, 2019
Karl Anthony Towns

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a franchise in recent history that has been as miserable as the Minnesota Timberwolves. Countless mistakes, free agency swings and misses, and draft selections gone wrong have haunted the fanbase and the franchise. The Wolves were found in 1989, and have been massive under achievers. That statement holds true in 2019, a whole 30 years after the creation of the franchise.

The Wolves are currently 30-35 with a net rating of -0.3. I think it’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing this team in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Although Minnesota is in a less than favorable position, there’s a voice that tells the fans not to give up and continue to have faith. That voice comes in the form of fourth-year center, Karl-Anthony Towns.

Towns is already a magnificent player. He’s a force to be reckoned with offensively, which has been true ever since he first stepped on the NBA hardwood, displaying his unique skill set and ridiculous talent level for such a big human being.

Karl is essentially a player that can succeed in a variety of offensive schemes, this makes KAT extremely valuable and allows him to function as an elite contributor. He’s a magnificent post player, averaging right around one point per possession over his four-year career. He can be a dominant force inside and it’s remarkable how dangerous Towns has been down low, even with Minnesota’s subpar floor spacing in his time as a Timberwolf.

To go with his inside presence, the versatile and extremely skilled big man is also an efficient shooter from beyond the arc. Towns, for his career, is averaging 3.1 attempts from three-point land, hitting 39.2 percent of them. In his 2018-2019 campaign, both of those marks are considerably higher — Towns is hoisting 4.7 shots from deep, with 40.1 percent finding their way through the basket.

With how good and impactful the two-time all-star has been, there’s still plenty of untapped potential. The biggest glaring weakness in his game is his defense, but he is improving in that category. It’s fair to call him an average defender, which, granted, isn’t what most teams are looking for in a center, but it’s a big step forward from the days in which he was either clueless or acting like a deer in headlights, running anywhere and everywhere without much of a plan.

Despite an increase in shots from beyond the arc, Towns can probably do even more from long distance. Even with the cramped spacing that the Wolves had to deal with last season, head coach Tom Thibodeau refused to put Towns into more of a three point shooting role. This season, Tom Thibodau was excused after 40 games of service and Ryan Saunders took over. And since the coaching change, Towns has been on an absolute tear.

Ever since the arrival of Saunders, Towns has been a completely different player. The big man is putting up 27.7 PPG/12 RPG/3.7 APG on a ridiculous 67.7 TS% in the 23 games in which Saunders has taken over as the head coach. Oh, and he’s doing that in 32.2 minutes per game.

During that 23-game stretch, KAT has been attempting 5 three pointers per game, with a really good 43.5% accuracy. That’s better, but you can still get more out of him from beyond the arc. Give your only star player on the team the ultimate green light to shoot from three, get him somewhere close to Brook Lopez’s 6.5 attempts from long range. Although Towns has been a juggernaut on the offensive side of the floor, there is still plenty of potential there just waiting to be unlocked. He’s already a star, and he possesses all the tools and skills to make a jump to the superstar tier.

Recognizing the type of talent that the franchise has in their hands, the Wolves extended Karl-Anthony Towns in the 2018-2019 preseason rather than waiting for the upcoming offseason. It’s a five-year extension worth $190 million.

Karl has been a terrific young talent throughout his 4 year NBA career and is more than worthy of such a deal. Currently, the Wolves’ starting center is 23.3 years old and has already two all-star nods and an all-NBA third team selection under his belt – truly fantastic accomplishments. Stars with plenty of potential get paid, there’s no other way around it, and Towns certainly wasn’t an exception. What was different from other young players that inked their second contract extensions, however, is that Karl didn’t, or wasn’t able to negotiate a player option for the last season of that deal, something which has the chance of backfiring big time.

Anthony Davis, a player that was in a relatively similar situation during the 2015 offseason, inked a five-year, $145 million deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. Most importantly, he was able to negotiate a player option for the last season of that contract, which seems like it will be exercised, unless he’s traded first.

Could the Pelicans have been more successful during Davis’ tenure? Of course. While a lot of questionable decisions put shackles on the future of the team, injuries played a huge role in the underachieving during the present. Had the injury bug not hit as hard and as frequently, Davis still might believe in the Pelicans franchise and would possibly still want to be part of the Pelicans future. But those are all hypotheticals. At the end of the day, the Pelicans weren’t able to construct a great team around AD, and that player option will give him plenty of leverage over his own future.

If Davis was able to get a player option, why couldn’t Towns? One would think, given the shape of the Timberwolves franchise at the moment, that Towns could have received one if he wanted one.

The decision to agree on that deal without getting a player option has the chance of turning out very poorly for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 draft. The team around Towns, is less than desirable, to put it lightly. Towns is gambling that things will improve considerably over course of his contract.

This is the first season that started Andrew Wiggins’ extension, which he signed during the 2017 offseason. The team owes Wiggins $146 million through the 2022-2023 campaign. After receiving the extension, Wiggins, frankly, has not only been a disappointment, but has also been very inconsistent. He was once considered a prospect that had the chance to become one of the better players in the league, but he has stagnated ever since and hasn’t really added anything to his game since being drafted. Right now, it would be a miracle if he somehow got legitimate all-star consideration. I’m out on Wiggins, and so are a whole lot of people. And rightfully so. He’s essentially dead money that no team will ever want to touch.

These two contracts make up more than half of the T’Wolves’ salary cap. It’s already difficult to move from there, and when taking a peek at the rest of the roster, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

Drafting has never been the Wolves’ strong suit. If you were to sit down and count how many times the franchise missed out on a player, it’s more than likely that you would lose count of that. This is a team that took two point guards (Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn) ahead of Stephen Curry in the 2009 draft. There are no real promising players on the Wolves right now (other Karl-Anthony Towns, obviously). Josh Okogie, 20, has shown flashes, and there definitely is a chance that he develops into a 3&D-ish type of wing as he progresses. Tyus Jones, 22, most likely projects to be a backup point guard, with a best case scenario of being a lower end starter. Solid, but not great. Keita Bates-Diop, 23, is long and lanky and can certainly become an impactful defensive player, but his offensive game is as nonexistent as Ben Simmons’ willingness to shoot three pointers.

A chunk of the remaining players on the roster are veterans that either have expiring contracts, or soon to be expiring contracts. Robert Covington is the best player out of that bunch, but how far can a team get with Robert Covington as their second-best player?

There’s no other player on the roster that could realistically turn into a star player and be the support that Towns oh so desperately requires. The worst part is that there is almost no way out of this mess.

There are three ways to essentially get better: through trades, free agency signings or via the draft. Unfortunately for the Wolves, none of those things have gone particularly well for the franchise.

Minnesota has never been the most attractive destination for free agents. The cold weather combined with the small media market is not a good recipe for being a major destination. Being under .500 and missing the playoffs will certainly not help, either. When it comes to trades, the track record of the current front office isn’t ideal, so it’s hard to trust the same management group going forward.

Rebuilding through the draft seems like the most reasonable and most logical option, but then you would be opening up a whole different discussion surrounding the team’s all-star center. Towns isn’t the type of player that is good enough to help drag a team to the playoffs (especially in the Western Conference), but he’s also too good for the Timberwolves to be a team that will embrace tanking.

This is a dilemma that Wolves management will be forced to somehow solve. While it’s possible to get out of this situation, it would require a masterful job by the front office and a whole lot of luck. And those things haven’t been on the Wolves’ sidefor the vast majority of their 30-year existence. We might be seeing KAT be stuck in an Anthony Davis situation in a couple of years, but without any leverage until the final year of his deal.

KAT should’ve definitely demanded that player option, huh?

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1 year ago