Reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns is clearly the Timberwolves best player, but he’s also developing into a true leader for the rest of the young Wolves.
Karl-Anthony Towns hates losing.
A blue-chip prospect and ESPN’s number 1 player coming out of St. Joseph’s in New Jersey, Towns led his high school team to three straight state titles (yes, he actually graduated after only three years). And, he was named a Parade and McDonalds All-American as well as the Gatorade National Player of the Year.
At Kentucky, his team won 38 straight games before losing in the Final Four to Wisconsin. It was a disappointing loss indeed, but his single season at the college level netted him first-team All-SEC, SEC Freshman of the year and consensus second-team All-American honors. But none of that mattered.
When asked after the game against Wisconsin what the loss takes away from the season, Towns understandably replied, “In our minds it takes away a lot. We just wanted to finish strong. We’re competitors. We challenged ourselves this whole year to just be the best we could be. Tonight we just – I think it just hurts us a lot knowing that we couldn’t bring it back to Lexington.”
And when another reporter asked Towns to put his feelings into words after suffering the loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four, a dejected Towns replied, “Just disappointed. I think that’s the way we’re all going to feel tonight and for the rest of our lives. Disappointed.”
Thirty-eight game win streak and a trip to the Final Four be damned. Karl-Anthony Towns hates losing.
The Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Karl-Anthony Towns with the number-one-overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. And that’s when the succession of winning stopped.
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The Wolves went 29-53 during Towns’ rookie year, which was good enough to land them 13th in the West and 26th overall in the league. For Towns, however, the accolades didn’t stop as he was unanimously named NBA Rookie of the Year and was subsequently placed on the All-Rookie team.
But once again, accolades were the last thing on Towns’ mind. In a pivotal match-up late last season and in what was essentially a two-man race between the Minnesota big man and Knicks sensation and Kristaps Porzingis, many saw it as a chance for the two rookies to make a case against the other. But Towns couldn’t care less.
In an interview with USA Today before the game, Towns told the reporter “For me, I really just don’t care…The award, I think, is very prestigious and honorable. I’m very fortunate to even be mentioned in the race, but for me it doesn’t matter.”
He wasn’t done on the subject and made it a point to speak on the importance of winning over individual awards saying, “The thing is, there’s a lot of great, individual accolades in the world. Very few get to win team accolades. That’s something that very few people get a chance to do. I’ve been blessed to be a part of an organization where the real award that I want to win, which is an NBA championship, seems to be in our sights and we have the talent, the coaching staff, and the management to do it.”
A lot of players like to put awards on the wall to relish on past accomplishment; Towns found his Rookie of the Month awards in his locker when looking for socks.
Fast-forward to this season. A season where a developing young group of talent paired with an esteemed coaching staff led by defensive guru Tom Thibodeau had expectations higher than Snoop Dogg at the 420 Fest in Colorado. Many viewed this as the year that Minnesota would finally make it back to the playoffs for the first time since the glory days of the early Kevin Garnett led Timberwolves teams.
You know, the teams that made eight straight playoff appearances (albeit, seven of the appearances resulted in first-round exits) from1997-2004, notching their first division title and the top seed in the Western Conference in 2004.
Well, its safe to say that midway through this season, expectations have not gone according to plan. Even though the putrid bottom of the West allows the Timberwolves to sit three games out of the eighth seed with a 15-28 record, the losses are clearly weighing on their young superstar center.
Accolades be damned. Karl-Anthony Towns hates losing.
After a career-high, 47-point effort accompanied by 18 rebounds, two assists, three blocks and a steal in a narrow loss to the New York Knicks on November 30th, Towns was asked if he did everything in his power to help his team win. Towns’ answer? No.
He then proceeded to talk about his miscues during the game, including his three missed free-throws; he went 17-of-20 from the line. He talked about his missed rebounds; he grabbed 18. And lastly, he stated that he missed some shots he should have made. Of course, Towns was 15-of-22 from the field. After running down his “bad game”, he stated he had to do more.
Towns is now tired of it, as the Timberwolves are allowing too many games to slip away in the second half.
In the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 13th, the Timberwolves saw an early lead dissipate after being held to 15 second quarter points. A frustrated Towns, who went scoreless in that second quarter, came out of the locker room determined not to lose another hard-fought, close game, and he put the team on his back in the second half.
Scoring 17 of his 29 points to go along with eght second half rebounds, Towns looked like a man possessed in the fourth. He was near unstoppable when he touched the ball, scoring 10 points in the period.
Afterwords, he talked about how they gave up too many shots in the first half, and the fact that they’re gaining confidence and learning to finish close games in the second half. You can watch the post-game interview here.
And again, against the Los Angeles Clippers this past Thursday night, it was Towns who stepped up when he saw the game starting to slip away as his team was down 52-44 at the half to a depleted Clippers squad. Making matters worse, the Wolves were without their floor leader in Ricky Rubio in the second half due to hip tightness.
Going against one of the premier inside defenders in the league in DeAndre Jordan, Towns scored 27 second half points including 15 in the fourth to help Minnesota seal the win. In the process, he became the first sophomore in the NBA since Lebron James to post multiple 35-point, 10-rebound, and five-assist games in a season.
In his postgame interview with TNT’s Rosalyn Gold-Onwude he wasn’t shy when talking about channeling his inner KG, where his mindset is and giving props to a rookie that’s older than him.
It’s fitting that Towns alluded to Kevin Garnett when talking about the determination he needs to play with to help his Wolves team close out games. Towns is starting to turn into a leader for this team.
I’m not talking about his candor in interviews or his bringing together teammates through his fun-loving attitude. No, I’m talking about his hatred for losing and, as he stated, how it’s motivating him to bring out his inner KG.
This is the next step in his development. Taking it upon himself to become the dominant player that he needs to be when his team needs him the most. Developing that determination and will to win games at all cost.
Simply put, when he’s pissed off and just plain sick of losing, we get to see the best in Karl-Anthony Towns. And that’s who he needs to be on most nights — just like KG did over a decade ago and in the playoff days of old.