Sure, you are what your record says you are, but during a COVID-19 pandemic, could we do that in spurts? The Minnesota Timberwolves are 20-44, but they’re 9-8 since March 31 and riding a four-game winning streak into tonight’s home game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
This was posted by StatMuse a few nights ago, and the T-Wolves have since upended the Golden State Warriors 126-114, improving to 10-6 when Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell play together, even though the latter has been coming off the bench since April 5. Russell has been thriving in the sixth man role, averaging 18.7 points per game and 5.6 assists on 46/41/83 shooting splits and doing so in only 25.8 minutes per game. April 5 wasn’t only the beginning of him regularly coming off the bench, but Russell had been out the prior two months following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
Roster scratches, both COVID-related and otherwise, have greatly affected the team. Wolves leader Karl-Anthony Towns missed 22 of a possible 64 games so far this season, but the team has done better as of late, which obviously is mainly attributed to his presence. The Wolves are 4-18 without KAT this season and a much better 16-26 when he’s active. In fact, on their 9-8 stretch, two of the losses were games Towns missed. Towns is also again putting up video game numbers, averaging 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.3 blocks while putting up shooting splits of 49/39/86.
But even though this season is ending, the back portion of the 2020-21 campaign highlights that the Timberwolves may actually have something worth building out. Towns and Russell are both signed through at least 2023 and will bank around $30 million each until Towns gets an additional $36 million for the 2023-24 campaign, the final season of his current deal. Malik Beasley, who has become a 20-point per game scorer in Minnesota and might actually return this season, will make around $15 million per year the next two seasons, with a team option worth over $16 million for 2023-24. Ricky Rubio ($17 million next season) and Juan Hernangomez ($14.5 million over the next two seasons) are also locked in for the short-term but are tradeable NBA contract pieces more than anything else at this point.
But starting with 2020 first overall pick Anthony Edwards, Minnesota may eventually be onto something.
Rookie of the Year candidate Anthony Edwards is averaging 22.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.7 steals in his last 32 games. Naz Reid, who is under contract through 2023, including a team option, is averaging 11 points and 4.5 rebounds while improving his shooting splits to 52 /35/72 following his rookie season. 2018 first-round pick Josh Okogie is a steady defensive backcourt presence locked in until 2022. And 28th overall selection in this past year’s draft, Jaden McDaniels, is an intriguing 20-year-old stretch four averaging 6.8 points and 3.7 rebounds while hitting 37 percent of his threes.
If the Timberwolves actually stay mostly healthy, maybe they could be building a playoff contender (gotta start somewhere) in the not-so-distant future. They’ll probably have to in order to avoid sudden trade requests, and in this league, the next one is always around the corner. You just don’t want it to come from your star, and the best way to avoid that is simple: Win.