Towns Credits Kentucky for Success
Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns has been a force through his first 12 games in the league, averaging 15.8 points on just over 50 percent shooting from the floor while hauling in 10.7 rebounds and swatting away 2.4 shots a night. Those are All-Star numbers, and they’re coming from a kid who just turned 20 years old a few days ago.
Plenty of No. 1 overall picks have stepped into the league and had an immediate impact, but few have been this instantly awesome from day one. According to Towns, his experience at NCAA powerhouse University of Kentucky has had a lot to do with his easy transition.
“It feels like I already played a full professional season having been at the University of Kentucky,” Towns told Basketball Insiders. “Put that with the amount of away games we had there and we were also never home, so I transitioned well into the NBA with the travel and everything. It just has come easier for me than for a lot of people.”
Most rookies raise their eyebrows and shake their heads knowingly when asked about the speed of the pro game and the strength of veteran NBA players. Towns just smiles pleasantly. His breezy tone of voice is no different than if he were talking fondly about his favorite Thanksgiving dishes.
But watching Towns—his impeccable footwork, his size, his defensive stamina, his shooting range—makes his easygoing answers to questions about adjusting to NBA competition completely understandable.
“It’s hard for me to say that I’ve struggled with the speed of things because in college I was blessed to go up against such great talent, like a lot of the other seven or eight players at the top of the draft,” he said. “In college, we were one of the fastest teams pace-wise so the quickness of the game really hasn’t affected me at all.”
Offensively, he’s being given the opportunity to show off a more versatile array of skills that there simply was no place for at UK with all the swing talent they had there.
“I’m shooting a little bit more,” Towns said. “I’m more at those free-throw line extended jump shots that people didn’t really see me take in college, and that’s been the biggest difference. I’m seeing things differently, getting the ball higher and getting the opportunity to take some more jump shots.”
In fact, 26.5 percent of his offensive attempts this year have been from 16 feet or beyond, according to Basketball Reference, and he’s shooting 47.5 percent from that distance. A big man with that kind of range is a frightening thing for opposing defenses, especially when he can do even more damage from in close, where he’s shooting 63.8 percent.
His nearly two-and-a-half blocks per game on the other end also prove that the “old man strength” so many rail-thin rookies before Towns have griped about doesn’t necessarily hold the same sway over a kid that’s seven feet tall and 244 pounds.
“As far as strength, that’s something else that’s just a testament to my time at Kentucky,” Towns said. “I was able to get much stronger there, so I’ve been able to play my game now that I’m here.”
While he gives a ton of credit to his college choice for preparing him for the NBA, another reason he’s gotten off to such a hot start is the veterans the late Flip Saunders put around him over the course of the offseason. Andre Miller, Tayshaun Prince and especially Kevin Garnett have had a tremendous impact on the rookie so far.
“When you talk about a mentor like KG, for me, [he] just teaches me a lot of the knowledge that he possesses,” Towns said. “That’s a lot more valuable than any of the shots that I might shoot in the gym. His experience, his talent, his ability to do things that so many people in this game have never figured out how to do, having him here to teach me those things is a blessing.”
When it comes to Garnett, nothing, not even practice, comes easy, but so far Towns has shown a great appreciation for that.
“He’s very intense,” he said. “He wants perfection, but that’s what we all strive for. We all want to be the greatest at our craft and he pushes us. He knows what it takes to get to a plateau many of us can’t even begin to understand how to reach. He knows how to get us there.”
While Towns admits that he still keeps in touch with a lot of his former Kentucky teammates almost daily, he already has formed what he calls a “brotherhood” with his new teammates in Minnesota. Thanks in large part to his contributions, this core looks like the start of something special, and that isn’t lost on Towns.
“I’m with such a great group of brothers right now,” he said. “It’s very much a whirlwind. Every day you’re in a new city, but I’m along for the ride right now. I’m having a bunch of fun.”
Of course he is. Work always is fun when you and your coworkers are humming along on all cylinders. Obviously the Timberwolves have some growth to experience yet, but Towns is one of those generational draft picks that completely turns around the fortunes of a franchise. His incredible start proves that.
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