As the face of the franchise for the NBA's most frequent loser, Karl-Anthony Towns has endured a lot more downs than ups over six-plus tumultuous years with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Emerging from the fog of their most recent setbacks on and off the court, the two-time All-Star center Towns and the Timberwolves have some fresh reasons for optimism in 2021-22 after two abnormal NBA seasons due to the pandemic.
Anthony Edwards is at the top of that list.
“I’m ready for whatever, man. It’s just my second year. I’m still learning. I don’t know a lot. I don’t know anything, really,” Edwards said at the beginning of training camp, as boyishly confident and cheerfully unconcerned as ever. "All I do is go out there, grab a ball and play and have fun. So whatever there is for me to learn, I’m ready.”
Edwards was speaking in response to a question about the Timberwolves taking a more systematic approach to a defense that has long been one of the NBA’s most vulnerable. Whatever the skill or task on whichever end of the floor, the first overall pick in the 2020 draft is oozing with the energy and talent to take his game to the next level.
One of only 11 players in the league to participate in all 72 regular season games last season, Edwards came off the bench to start and frequently deferred to Towns and D'Angelo Russell on offense. Down the stretch, with both Towns and Russell back from extended absences, he didn't.
“But they’re still killers,” Edwards said. "They’re still the best at what they do, so us three together, it’s going to be really, really good.”
That's what the Timberwolves, whose all-time winning percentage (.394) is the worst among the NBA's 30 active franchises, are banking on.
“I’m going to continue to put this organization first every step of the way, and hopefully along the way I can find a lot more wins and a lot more chances in the Western Conference to win a Finals,” Towns said. "Or even just give me a chance to be in the playoffs and let me rock.”
The roster stayed largely intact over the summer, but the Timberwolves initiated yet another shakeup last month with the firing of president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas. Owner Glen Taylor is also in the process of selling the team to Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez.
Then there's head coach Chris Finch, who was hired by Rosas eight months ago to replace the fired Ryan Saunders and has only 41 games on his resume.
“I love that guy already. I usually don’t judge coaches that soon because I’ve had a lot of them in a short period of time,” Russell said. “But from everything I’ve seen, everything that I’ve heard, his supporting cast, the staff around him, it’s been great. The comfortability is there. I can feel it.”
The most significant offseason acquisition the Timberwolves made was the trade for Patrick Beverley, one of the NBA's most intense defenders who will be the primary backup point guard to Russell. Beverley, as the only player on the roster older than 27 at age 33, will also supply a badly needed dose of leadership as a veteran with plenty of playoff game experience.
“We’re preaching accountability," guard Malik Beasley said. "That’s the main thing we need.”
Beasley has given Minnesota a reliable 3-point shooter since being fetched in a February 2020 deal with Denver, but he has only played in 51 games so far due to the coronavirus and other factors.
Last season, Beasley served a 12-game suspension from the NBA due to a felony gun charge that required him to spend four months in jail during the offseason. Between those punishments, he injured his hamstring and missed the final six weeks of last season. Healthy again, Beasley will complement Edwards as another viable off-the-ball option for Russell to distribute to.
“I feel like my level of compete will be higher. I’m ready to continue my journey," Beasley said. "The biggest part for me was mentally and off-the-court issues. Now I’m stronger in my head, and it helps me get through different things.”
4 ON THE FLOOR
The power forward spot has been in flux for several years, but the production from Jaden McDaniels as a rookie was one of the few bright spots from last season. Jarred Vanderbilt and newcomer Taurean Prince will also be in the mix at the position.
McDaniels has a slender frame — listed at 6-foot-9, 185 pounds — that frequently puts him in strength mismatches on defense, but his reach can go a long way.
“Sometimes they try to bully me or things like that,” McDaniels said. “I just feel like using my length is a big part of that.”