Why Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns All-Star selections may pay long-term dividends

The way Anthony Edwards sees it, the Minnesota Timberwolves shouldn’t have to leave any of their three max players at home when they head to Indianapolis for NBA All-Star weekend.

They have occupied first place in the Western Conference for the majority of the season, have yet to lose more than two consecutive games and have the best defense in the league by a wide margin.

So why couldn’t he, Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns all get invited to the party?

“Last year, didn’t Memphis have two players and they were No. 2, right?” Edwards asked on Thursday afternoon, referring to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. representing the Grizzlies last season. “It’s only right we should have one more because we are No. 1 in the West and they were No. 2 and had two.”

When the All-Star reserves were announced on Thursday night, it became apparent that the coaches who selected the seven bench players for both conferences did not subscribe to Edwards’ math. The Timberwolves had two players named to the game for just the fifth time in franchise history, but it wasn’t the pair that many expected.

Edwards is the obvious choice, a dynamic young star who is built for the All-Star Game and the face of the team’s rise to the top of the West.

As the NBA on TNT crew read off the reserves one by one, they got down to the last name. At that point, it was a very real possibility that the team with the best record in the West was only going to have one All-Star.

Then Ernie Johnson held up the card and said, “From the Minnesota Timberwolves … Karl-Anthony Towns.”

Towns is having an excellent season, averaging 22.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, has missed only one game and has been on an offensive tear of late, including his 62-point game against Charlotte. His 52/44/87 shooting splits are absurd for a guard, let alone a 7-foot power forward. And his willingness to move from his preferred position at center to accommodate Gobert has been a critical component of the Wolves’ success.

Even with all of that in mind, it was clear on Wednesday night after he scored 29 points to lead the Wolves to a win over the Dallas Mavericks that he was preparing to be disappointed when the reserves were announced.

“All-Star could go a lot of different ways,” he said with a smile. “I’ve seen in my career with the voting and being announced, getting in and out. I’m happy about today. We’re No. 1 in the West. We got a good win today. We’re finding ourselves in a really good position in the season. I think that should be the main focus and happiness we find in the season.”

Many around the league expected that Gobert would be the teammate to accompany Edwards to Indy. He is the pillar of a defense that is more than 2.5 points per possession stingier than the second-place team. He is the unquestioned leader in the race for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. His return to the dominant form he had in Utah has galvanized the Timberwolves and changed the perception of a trade that was widely panned last season.

Defense has no place in the All-Star Game, but for those who believe the teams should be rewarded for on-court success as well, Gobert is a worthy option. Few expected fans to vote for a player whose game is not built around offensive highlights that run on social media, but the reserves are selected by the league’s coaches. Gobert has been selected by the coaches three times, a sign of respect for the impact he has on a game.

Gobert has always focused more on team success than an individual accolade like All-Star, but he made it clear this week that he would have enjoyed returning for a fourth time.

“It’s cool recognition of what you bring to the table as a player, as a leader, how you contribute to winning,” Gobert said. “And it’s part of your legacy, so it’s cool recognition.”

The way things shook out may have come as a surprise, but the Wolves could still benefit from it. They would have much preferred all three of their stars to be selected. They believe all three are worthy of selection and they know how much it means to them. If any franchise knows what it feels like to be disappointed, it is the Timberwolves. Now they need to handle it in the right way.

The results are likely to produce a very happy Towns and a very motivated Gobert. That can be good for the Timberwolves on both fronts.

Wolves coach Chris Finch and Towns have spoken often this season about the sacrifices Towns has made to help make this unconventional lineup work.

“He’s an all-NBA player that we asked to move positions, and he’s still adapting,” Finch said at the start of the season. “And all credit to him. It’s not easy. He’s been great about it, and I know it’s at times been frustrating, but he’s learning a little bit more every day and we’re learning a little bit more every day how we can still use him to the full effect.”

Towns has heard for most of his career that the big stats he produces do not impact winning. Now here he is, with raw stats not as eye-popping as they have been in his best individual seasons, but on a team that has been the best all season long. He has done it while seeing Edwards rise as a star from his time with Team USA in the summer. He has seen Gobert put the doubts many had about him last season in the rearview and become a fan favorite at Target Center.

Towns is close with both of his star teammates. He has welcomed Gobert to the organization with open arms and has been among the most willing passers to Gobert while others were hesitant at different times last season. He also has embraced Edwards’ meteoric rise to stardom, promising to be a good veteran for the youngster as he finds his way in the league.

Even as Towns seemed to indicate he was prepared to not hear his name called on Thursday night, it probably would have stung him to be left behind had Edwards and Gobert attended the league’s showcase event. Instead, he heads to Indianapolis knowing that the league’s coaches appreciate the way he has adapted to his new role and are acknowledging the impact he is having. He wasn’t slighted, he was stamped.

And Gobert? This will be just another disrespect that he will use as fuel, just like when the Clippers openly laughed at his missed free throws on Jan. 14, only to watch him go 4 of 4 down the stretch to help close them out. Gobert is keenly aware of those who doubt him. When last season did not go as planned, he spent the summer honing his body and preparing to bounce back, which he has done this season.

Gobert does not need any more motivation as he pushes the Timberwolves to heights they have not reached and achieves the deep playoff run that so far has eluded him. But he just got some.

When the Wolves return from the Feb. 18 game, they will have a 27-game sprint to be the No. 1-seeded team in the West. With a validated Towns and a ticked-off Gobert, the wind could be at their backs.

(Photo of Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns: David Sherman / NBAE via Getty Images)

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