There’s no way around it -- the Minnesota Timberwolves had a very, very strange 2020-21 season. Injuries, suspensions, COVID-19 outbreaks, a coaching change -- it all added up to a 23-49 record, the sixth-worst mark the NBA.
That being said, Minnesota finished the campaign by going 9-7 in its final 16 contests. Sure, that brought the team’s lottery odds down (the Wolves need to get lucky and land a top-3 pick in the 2021 draft, otherwise the selection goes to Golden State), but it did instill confidence that Gersson Rosas and the front office might be on to something.
As the NBA playoffs continue, Bally Sports North heads to the podium to distribute 2020-21 season awards for the Timberwolves:
MVP: Karl-Anthony Towns
Due to a wrist injury and, later, a COVID-19 diagnosis, Towns was limited to playing in 50 of the Wolves’ 72 games this season. Still, he was their best player. Although Towns didn’t shoot 3s at a clip of 40% or better for the first time since 2016-17, he still finished with a respectable 38.7% mark and led the team in scoring (24.8 PPG). Towns tallied 33 double-doubles and finished two assists shy of a triple-double three times, including a 41-point, 10-rebound effort in a win over Phoenix on March 18. When the 1-2 punch of Towns and his buddy, D’Angelo Russell, were both on the floor this season, the Wolves went 13-11. You can build around that.
Rookie of the Year: Anthony Edwards
“Ant” should be named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, so of course he’s our choice here. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 draft was learning on the fly during this first season, playing in all 72 games and averaging 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals per contest. The best thing about Edwards’ rookie season is he improved all year long. Edwards improved his 3-point shot, as he logged a 30.6% clip over his first 30 games but drained 36.5% over his final 24. Edwards, who was named the NBA’s Western Conference Rookie of the Month in March and April, logged 26.8 points per game and shot 41.4% from 3-point range in the last nine games of the season. That’s growth.
Unsung hero: Ricky Rubio
Much was made of the Wolves trading for Rubio on the night of the 2020 NBA draft, bringing the No. 5 overall pick in ’09 back to Minnesota. Rubio struggled mightily to start the year, averaging 6.0 points and 6.3 assists over his first 24 contests while shooting a measly 35% from the field. However, he turned things around. During the Wolves’ 9-7 run down the stretch, Rubio averaged 9.4 points on 42.1% shooting and 5.3 assists in 25.9 minutes. Rubio’s most important role, however, was that of a mentor to Edwards. The rookie claimed Rubio was “the best leader I’ve been around all my life” in March. That was the steady veteran presence the Wolves were hoping to find in Rubio.
Biggest surprise: Jaden McDaniels
As far as Wolves rookies go, Edwards gets all the headlines. But let’s not forget about McDaniels, who Minnesota drafted No. 28 overall. McDaniels, one of the top high school recruits of his class, slipped in the NBA draft due to inconsistent play at Washington. But during his rookie campaign with the Timberwolves, McDaniels consistently improved. In the 38 games coached by Chris Finch, McDaniels averaged 7.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, scoring in double figures 11 times in that span. He’s still raw, but McDaniels showed some serious potential in Year 1.
High point: Wolves beat Utah 116-111 on Dec. 26
Two games, two wins. Minnesota improved to 2-0 after a five-point win over Utah in late December, giving playoff-hungry fans some hope that the Towns-Russell duo could take them to the promised land. However, the injury bug hit right afterwards. Towns was shelved with a wrist injury and later COVID-19. When he was ready to return, D’Angelo Russell had to undergo knee surgery and missed nearly two months. But for one night, the Wolves were healthy and 2-0. That’s as good as it got.
Poor Yuta Watanabe. With five seconds left on the shot clock, Edwards caught a pass from Jordan McLaughlin on the wing. He stepped past a defender, took three dribbles and launched himself at the rim from the edge of the paint. Edwards kept rising, rising and rising up until he was head and shoulders above the defender Watanabe, and the Wolves rookie slammed it down with force. Even worse for Watanabe? He was whistled for the foul. This is what announcer Kevin Harlan meant when he once said “with no regard for human life!”