Karl-Anthony Towns

Wolves Have No Plans To Shut Down Towns, Wiggins

Even after winning their last two contests, the Timberwolves remain 5.5 games out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference with just 15 left to play, meaning their hopes of making a postseason push are minuscule. Nonetheless, the club has no plans to shut down its two highest-paid young players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, both of whom are dealing with injuries.

“We’re a competitive basketball team,” head coach Ryan Saunders said today, reiterating that the Wolves don’t intend to tank down the stretch, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Towns, who missed Sunday’s game against the Knicks, is battling right knee inflammation, while Wiggins has been sidelined for Minnesota’s last two games with a left quad contusion. Saunders said today that both players will go through shootaround and warmups before the team determines their availability for Tuesday’s game vs. Denver (Twitter link via Krawczynski).

As we noted on Monday when we discussed Zach LaVine‘s injury, this is typically the time of year when lottery-bound teams take an extra-cautious approach with minor injuries, both to preserve the health of their most valuable players and to potentially improve their draft standing. However, Towns in particular has plenty of incentive to remain in the Wolves’ lineup for the season’s final four weeks.

Towns’ new five-year, maximum-salary extension, which goes into effect for the 2019/20 season, currently projects to be worth about $158MM. However, its projected value would increase to nearly $190MM if KAT earns a spot on an All-NBA team. The big man would have virtually no chance of earning All-NBA honors if he sits out the season’s final month.

We pointed out in February that the Anthony Davis saga in New Orleans could create a clearer path for Towns to snag a spot on an All-NBA team, and his recent numbers suggest he’s motivated to do so — he has posted an impressive 35.1 PPG, 14.1 RPG, and 3.4 APG on .597/.489/.776 shooting in his last seven games (34.1 MPG).

Wolves Optimistic Karl-Anthony Towns Avoided Serious Injury

The Timberwolves are optimistic that star center Karl-Anthony Towns avoided a serious knee injury in the team’s game against Washington on Saturday, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

Towns underwent additional testing that included an MRI on Sunday, with all indications pointing toward him escaping significant injury, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic adds.

Towns exited Saturday’s game early with clear pain in his right knee, limping to the locker room and missing the overtime period. Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said the big man was able to walk around after the game after undergoing initial evaluations.

“He’s just had initial evaluations, but he was walking around so there’s really no info at the moment,” Saunders said postgame, according to NBA.com.

While the MRI results have yet to be released, Minnesota is listing Towns as questionable to play on Sunday against the Knicks — a sigh of relief for Timberwolves fans and the entire organization.

Towns has averaged 24.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks on 52 percent shooting with Minnesota in his fourth NBA season.

Karl-Anthony Towns Hurts Knee, Will Have MRI Today

Karl-Anthony Towns will undergo an MRI today to determine the severity of a right knee injury he suffered last night, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

The Timberwolves‘ star center left Saturday’s win over the Wizards in the fourth quarter, appearing to tell trainers, “It just popped.” There was no contact on the play, which happened as Towns took an awkward step on an inbounds pass.

Interim coach Ryan Saunders said he doesn’t believe it’s a major injury such as an ACL tear, and sources told Krawczynski that Towns assured a couple of Washington players that he was all right. He was able to walk around the locker room after the game.

A serious injury to Towns would doom any flickering playoff hopes the Wolves still have and might wipe out next season as well. It would also continue a terrible run of luck for the franchise, as Krawczynski points out. Ricky Rubio, Al Jefferson and Zach LaVine all suffered similar non-contact injuries at critical times, and LaVine’s may have affected Minnesota’s decision to send him to Chicago rather than Andrew Wiggins.

Towns posted his second straight All-Star appearance this season and accepted a five-year extension that could pay him up to $190MM. He has been playing at a higher level since Jimmy Butler was traded in November and reached 40 points last night for the third time in five games.

The Wolves were already finishing out the season short-handed before Towns limped off. Robert Covington may not be able to return from a bone bruise, Luol Deng is sidelined with an aching Achilles tendon and Wiggins is sitting out with a quad contusion.

How The AD Saga Could Impact Wolves, Towns

The trajectory of Karl-Anthony Towns‘ 2018/19 season significantly changed when the Timberwolves finally found a taker for Jimmy Butler, sending him to Philadelphia in November. Prior to that trade, Towns had been just okay by his standards, averaging 19.9 PPG and 10.8 RPG on 45.9% shooting in 13 contests. Since Butler’s departure, the former No. 1 overall pick has boosted those averages to 24.6 PPG, 12.7 RPG, and a 53.3 FG% in 46 games.

While Butler’s departure helped boost Towns’ numbers, it may be another player’s trade request that ultimately has a greater impact on the 23-year-old and his team, as Dane Moore of 1500 ESPN observed this week (via Twitter).

When Towns signed a five-year, maximum-salary contract extension with Minnesota last fall, a decision Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic recently revisited and explored in more detail, the two sides agreed to a condition that will determine how much the deal is actually worth. If Towns earns a spot on an All-NBA team this spring, his new contract will have a starting salary worth 30% of the cap. If he doesn’t, his 2019/20 salary will be just 25% of the cap.

As our early maximum salary projections for 2019/20 show, that difference projects to represent a gap of more than $5MM next season. Over the course of the five-year contract, Towns would earn a projected $189.66MM on a 30% max, as opposed to $158.05MM on a 25% max. For a Minnesota team that’s also on the hook to a long-term max contract for Andrew Wiggins, that difference isn’t insignificant — it could help determine whether or not the Wolves can make certain moves in the coming years.

So what are the odds of Towns making an All-NBA team this season? Well, he’ll be considered a center, and there are two centers who look like locks to be named to All-NBA squads — Nikola Jokic has been an MVP candidate in Denver, and Joel Embiid has been the best player on a Sixers club that looks like a legit contender in the East. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Towns beats out either player for a spot on the First or Second All-NBA Team.

Of course, there’s one more big man who would typically be a perennial lock for an All-NBA slot: Anthony Davis. That brings us back to AD’s trade request. Davis believes he should be considered the “best player in the league,” as he said on Wednesday night (link via Martin Rogers of USA Today), but the extent to which his public trade request has devastated the Pelicans won’t be lost on voters.

Based on his pure numbers (27.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 4.1 APG, and 2.5 BPG), Davis obviously has a strong All-NBA case, but he’ll likely be blamed for the dysfunction in New Orleans and penalized accordingly for it. His minute restrictions down the stretch will reduce his overall numbers, and he’s unlikely to play more than 65 games. Plus, the Pelicans are on track to be a bottom-four team in the West. And on top of all that, some All-NBA voters may consider Davis a forward, which would split his votes between two positions. There are a lot of factors working against him earning one of the three center spots.

It’s still possible that voters will name Davis to an All-NBA team, but I’m somewhat skeptical. And if AD doesn’t make it, that opens the door for another center to grab a Third Team spot. Towns would be a prime candidate for that slot, though he’d face stiff competition from Rudy Gobert and Nikola Vucevic, both of whom are having excellent seasons.

Gobert’s impact on the defensive end of the court could give him a leg up on Towns, but only if All-NBA voters weigh his defensive contributions much more heavily than All-Star voters did — Gobert didn’t earn a spot on the Western Conference All-Star team this month.

As for Vucevic, he isn’t scoring quite as much as Towns this season, but his numbers across the rest of the board match up pretty favorably with the Wolves’ young star. If Vucevic helps push the Magic into the postseason, perhaps he’d get the edge over Towns. If not, I could see voters being swayed by KAT’s more impressive scoring numbers.

It remains to be seen whether Towns will ultimately be named an All-NBA player, but it’s a subplot worth watching the rest of the way, since voters will be making a $30MM+ decision. If KAT does earn a spot on an All-NBA roster, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Davis’ trade request indirectly helped get him there.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Towns Says He’s “Lucky To Be Alive” After Car Accident

Karl-Anthony Towns, who was involved in a car accident last Thursday that sidelined him for the Timberwolves‘ last two games, has passed all the necessary tests and been removed from the concussion protocol, the team announced today (via Twitter). As a result, he’s expected to play in Minnesota’s game against Sacramento on Monday night.

Speaking today to reporters, Towns said the accident could have been a lot worse than it was, suggesting that he was “lucky to be alive” (link via ESPN.com). In KAT’s estimation, he beat long odds to survive the crash.

“The accident could have went — I’d say I had a five percent chance of making it out alive,” Towns said. “I hit the five percent mark. I’d say four percent was to be seriously injured, and one percent was to be minorly injured — and I came out in the one percent.”

As Towns explained, the car he was traveling in had to suddenly come to a full stop to avoid a separate accident in front of them. His car was then hit by a semi-truck, which Towns estimated was traveling at about 35-45 miles per hour.

“It could have been much worse,” Towns said. “In all honesty, I probably should not have made it out like I did.”

At 28-31, the Timberwolves are probably a long shot to make the postseason this year, but the team has to be relieved that its franchise player didn’t suffer a more serious injury as a result of Thursday’s accident. The two-time All-Star signed a maximum-salary contract extension last fall that will go into effect this July and keep him under contract for five more years.

Northwest Notes: Exum, Wolves’ Search, Middleton, Towns

Jazz reserve guard Dante Exum will miss at least two more weeks due to a bone bruise on his left ankle, Tony Jones of The Athletic tweets. Exum hasn’t played since January 5. He was averaging 7.4 PPG and 2.7 APG with the second unit in 39 games. Exum signed a three-year contract with an annual base salary of $9.6MM over the summer.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves have yet to contact any potential executives or coaches as possible replacements for GM Scott Layden and interim head coach Ryan Saunders, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Saunders, son of former Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, was elevated when owner Glen Taylor fired Tom Thibodeau. Taylor is expected to use the rest of the regular season to evaluate Layden and Saunders, Krawczynski adds.
  • The Thunder showed a lot of interest in Bucks swingman Khris Middleton prior to the 2012 draft, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. Middleton tore the meniscus in his right knee in early November of his final college season with Texas A&M and it affected his play, causing his draft stock to tumble. He was selected in the second round by Detroit with the 39 overall pick.
  • The Trail Blazers are in a better spot than they were last season entering the stretch run, an Associated Press story notes. They were sixth in the West a year ago at the All-Star break but held the fourth spot this season. Moreover, the Blazers picked up some reinforcements this winter by signing center Enes Kanter and trading for guard Rodney Hood.
  • It wouldn’t be surprising if Nuggets forward Trey Lyles signs his $3.7MM qualifying offer, Mike Singer of the Denver Post opines. Lyles’ production has fallen off recently and he may not even stay in the playoff rotation, Singer continues. The Nuggets are thin at the power forward spot, which would increase the odds of them extending the qualifying offer and making Lyles a restricted free agent. However, he’s a poor 3-point shooter and will probably have a tough time attracting an offer sheet, Singer adds.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns has entered the league’s concussion protocol after being involved in a car accident on Thursday, Michael Scotto of The Athletic tweets. The Timberwolves’ star big man will not play against the Knicks on Friday. That will end his streak of 303 straight starts.

LeBron, Giannis Draft 2019 All-Star Teams

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo drafted their teams for the 2019 All-Star Game on Thursday, officially finalizing the rosters for this year’s contest. James and Antetokounmpo were chosen as captains because they were the All-Star starter from each conference with the most fan votes.

Both James and Antetokounmpo first had to select from a pool of starters, then from a list of reserve players. The starters, which consisted of eight other players, were voted on by the fans, players and media this season. The reserve players were voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches.

James drafted Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden as starters, choosing Durant as his first selection. His reserves were Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal and Dwyane Wade.

Antetokounmpo drafted Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Paul George and Kemba Walker as his starters, selecting Curry with his first pick. He drafted Khris Middleton, Nikola Jokic, Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin, D’Angelo Russell, Nikola Vucevic, Kyle Lowry and Dirk Nowitzki as his reserves.

James later traded Westbrook to Team Giannis in exchange for Simmons, making an effort to repair the relationship of Westbrook and Embiid.

The 68th NBA All-Star Game is set to commence on February 17 at Spectrum Center, featuring 26 of the best basketball players in the world.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, Nuggets, IT, Rubio

It’s possible that the Timberwolves will stand pat at the trade deadline as they look to push for a playoff spot in the West, but doing so would mean forgoing an opportunity to “leverage existing assets for future gains,” writes Britt Robson of The Athletic. As Robson points out, unless the Wolves have a plan for how to re-sign and incorporate veterans like Derrick Rose, Anthony Tolliver, and Taj Gibson, who are on expiring contracts, it might make sense to explore the trade market for possible deals.

Elsewhere in the Northwest, the Nuggets are another team whose trade deadline outlook remains cloudy, as Nick Kosmider of The Athletic details. The odds of Denver making a major move appear slim, but the club has a number of trade exceptions at its disposal that could be used to acquire a rotation player – perhaps a Wayne Ellington type – without going into the tax. Of course, with Isaiah Thomas potentially on track to return down the stretch, the Nuggets may simply view IT as their de facto deadline acquisition, Kosmider notes.

Here are a few more notes from around the Northwest:

  • Speaking of Isaiah Thomas, after a weekend report suggested that the Nuggets were optimistic the point guard would make his debut with the team before the All-Star break, head coach Mike Malone pushed back on the idea that there’s a set timeline, per Sean Keeler of The Denver Post. “Don’t believe everything you read,” Malone said. “I don’t know where these leaks come from, but (with) Isaiah, there’s no timeline. There’s nothing (that has) been set about February, this, that or the other thing. You’ll see him when he’s ready to play.”
  • Plagued by injuries at the point guard spot so far in 2019, the Jazz got a boost when Ricky Rubio returned to the rotation on Monday, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. Dante Exum and Raul Neto remain sidelined, likely until at least next week, but Utah has made a nice run while short-handed, winning eight of 10 games to move into playoff position in the West.
  • Derrick Rose played a big part in helping Karl-Anthony Towns get through the Jimmy Butler “mess” earlier in the season, according to Kentucky’s John Calipari, who coached Towns for one season in 2014/15. According to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Timberwolves team members say that Towns’ locker room presence receded as Butler became more frustrated and unhappy during his final days in Minnesota. “There was a dogfight, and Karl’s not one to get into that. So, he stepped back,” Calipari said. “Things happen. There are power struggles all the time in [the NBA]. If a guy can bully you, he will bully you. And that’s what Jimmy did to Karl. C’mon, that’s the league.”

Wolves Notes: Covington, Jones, Dieng, Towns

During Jimmy Butler‘s final, acrimonious weeks in Minnesota, his ability to communicate with young Timberwolves players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins was called into question. Tasked with leading the club, Butler instead berated teammates in practice, questioning their desire to win and their ability to take criticism.

By comparison, new forward Robert Covington, acquired in the deal for Butler, seems to have a better sense of when to talk to teammates and when to lay off, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune.

“I know how to read it,” Covington said. “Emotions are flying and everything like that. That’s just part of my character. … I pick the right moments and that’s when I approach guys. I would never want to sit up here and rub people the wrong way because not a lot of people will typically react the right way.”

While Covington has gotten on Towns a little, encouraging him to bring more of a “defensive mindset” to his role, it doesn’t seem to be negatively impacting the relationship between the two, according to Hine, who notes that Covington and Towns are constantly talking and making fun of each other in the locker room. The duo has helped the Wolves win seven of nine games since trading Butler.

Here’s more from out of Minnesota:

  • While Tyus Jones and Gorgui Dieng have been frustrated at times this season due to their limited roles, both players have excelled since Butler’s departure, says Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Within the same story, Krawczynski reports that there’s still no definitive timeline for Jerryd Bayless‘ return to action, though it’s not clear if he’ll have a role in Minnesota even once he’s healthy.
  • In a separate story for The Athletic, Krawczynski explores how Towns is adjusting to his new role as the Timberwolves’ leader, with current teammate Derrick Rose and former teammate Kevin Garnett weighing in on the subject. “He’s not always going to get things right,” Garnett said. “He’s going to have to speak up, voice his opinion. It doesn’t always have to be from a confrontational standpoint. KAT has good leadership skills because he works hard. It’s whether he wants to vocalize those, which is his next challenge as a leader, to me.”
  • While the Butler drama is in the rear view mirror, head coach Tom Thibodeau remains under the microscope, as Frank Isola of The Athletic details. Thibodeau’s long-term hold on Minnesota’s head coaching job is still tenuous, but he has done an excellent job with the new-look Wolves so far.

Butler, Covington, Saric Debut For New Teams

Four days after the Timberwolves and Sixers first agreed to a blockbuster Jimmy Butler trade, and two days after that deal was officially completed, Butler made his Philadelphia debut on Wednesday night while Robert Covington and Dario Saric made their first appearances as members of the Wolves.

Butler had a fairly quiet first game for the Sixers, posting just 14 points and four rebounds in 33 minutes as his new team lost to the Magic, 111-106. Despite the loss, head coach Brett Brown and the 76ers weren’t discouraged, pointing out that getting everyone on the same page in the wake of Butler’s arrival will take a little time.

“I mean, it’s hard,” Brown said after the game, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com. “He comes in, and he’s trying to do the right thing. You’re trying to put in some plays this morning at shootaround. He’s trying to figure everybody else out, [and] they’re trying to figure him out. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take time. I think, in general, you sort of see what you have in him, and it’s incredibly exciting.”

Things went better in Minnesota, where Covington and Saric combined for 22 points and 10 rebounds en route to a 107-100 win over New Orleans. As Patrick Reusse of The Star Tribune writes, Covington got an early taste of Tom Thibodeau‘s tendency to ride his starters hard, playing a game-high 41 minutes for Minnesota. “As Thibs said, ‘Being out there on the court is the best way to learn about your new teammates,'” Covington told reporters with a smile after the game. Meanwhile, Thibodeau suggested after the game that Covington’s defensive effort made it easy to give him a major role immediately.

“I knew we could use him right away because he brings so much defensively,” Thibodeau said. “And he goes so hard … if you go hard enough it’s going to make up for a lot of things, including being new to a team.”

Here’s more on the Sixers’ and Timberwolves’ new additions, and how each team is being impacted by the changes:

  • Time is on the Sixers‘ side as they adjust to the arrival of Butler, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. With the start of the playoffs still five months away, the team has plenty of time to work out the kinks, and Butler is confident that’ll happen before too long. “How tough will it be? Nah, it’s not hard at all,” Butler said. “So far we all get along. I think that’s the first thing — we all want each other to be great. We’re all talking about where we’re supposed to be and what we see out there on the floor. I’m telling you, it’s coming sooner rather than later. We’re going to be just fine.”
  • In an interesting piece for HoopsHype, Alex Kennedy goes behind the scenes on Butler’s first couple days as a Sixer, sharing details on how the 29-year-old and his new Philadelphia teammates found out about the trade on Saturday. Kennedy also reports that the 76ers held a team dinner on Tuesday night in the hopes that Butler, fellow newcomer Justin Patton, other recent additions like Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala, and the team’s incumbent players could all get to know each other a little better.
  • With Butler no longer on the team, Karl-Anthony Towns is ready to lead the Timberwolves in his own way, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN.com, who writes that Towns is hoping for a looser environment in Minnesota. “All those teams I was on that were successful were the ones that everyone had love for each other and had fun,” Towns told Andrews. “Things that seem minuscule — joking around, laughing, conversing, all those things that seem childish — that is what builds camaraderie.”