Three years of Karl-Anthony Towns has been a textbook good vibe. The number one draft pick delivered on his promise. Rookie of the Year Towns posted an 18 and 10 stat line and talk radio blather was who would you rather have as the face of your franchise Towns or Anthony Davis? Towns is the modern big man. He can rebound, score in the post, space the floor, drain threes. When he was a rookie he showed how impressive he was with his sky high ceiling. His second year, more of the Towns same and much, much better. 25 points. 12 rebounds. Shaq and Olajuwon territory. He didn’t make the All-Star team, called it a snub, but you knew his time was coming as was the Timberwolves ascendancy.
His third season, Karl-Anthony got the coveted All-Star nod and a playoff berth. The career was going along as if scripted by a Hollywood writer. The death of Flip Saunders before he played his first NBA game was the only Towns downside. Quietly, no one talked about Towns defense which disappeared once the ball was tipped. What he was doing offensively overwhelmed what he was not doing defensively and then there were the whispers about his effort. Some times he played hard. Some times he didn’t. He had games where he was passive and looked like a stranger but they were so few and far between, it went ignored. Until the playoffs.
The playoffs exaggerate weaknesses as elite coaching staffs zero in on what you cannot do and then expose it over and over again. Towns, in his first playoffs, was ghost-like. He looked dazed by the lights and the stage, refusing to take ownership of the moment. Instead of punishing the thin up front Rockets, he allowed them to determine how he was going to play. He gave in. The path of least resistance became his playoff mantra until it was too late and the series was basically over. He was skewered by Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal for not asserting his will and for treating the games like it was a road trip in February.
The Minnesota big man joins elite company in first time playoffs awful. They still talk about those airballs Kobe Bryant threw up at Utah in regulation and overtime in a Lakers elimination game, the 18 year old kid having the nerve to take such shots. But what is more memorable is that after that low point in his career Kobe became a dominant scorer. That failure drove him to conditioning drills and 1000 makes a day. Failure teaches.
Which brings us back to Karl-Anthony Towns. He didn’t play well in the playoffs. He averaged 15.2 points, a -6.1 from the regular season. He took 12.0 shots, a -2.3 from the regular season. His offensive rating dropped 21 points. His defense was garbage. It was a failure on every level. He allowed Mike D’Antoni to be a defensive guru when Towns was the one who stopped Towns.
Karl-Anthony Towns is the face of the Wolves franchise but his first taste of the playoffs, something he repeatedly claimed he wanted with a vengeance, was a half-hearted effort. Like all players who underperform in the playoffs, and every good player has, he has had to swallow the critique, memes, jokes, anger.
He is probably mad at himself and okay, so what? LeBron didn’t go out of his house after losing in the Finals to Dallas. Towns is supposed to be mad at himself because he didn’t rise to his level and in the playoffs you have to give more than the regular season, not less.
But because he is feeling a certain kind of way he wants out of Minnesota? Zach Lowe (ESPN) on a recent podcast said Towns may not be in Minnesota for the long haul and Towns has been silent. No, I love Minny. I’m here for the future. No, don’t believe everything you read.
I won’t blame the Wolves if they trade him to Phoenix for the number one pick, DeAndre Ayton. No team wants a wishy-washy player.
Towns looked soft in the playoffs, as if he wasn’t ready for the mental pressure of the postseason. It happens. The playoffs are an adjustment. Everything is harder, more intense, scrutinized. Minnesota doesn’t get the national day-to-day coverage of a team like the Lakers or Cavaliers or Celtics or Knicks or 76ers. They operate in their own bubble and no one really cares until they make the playoffs. Then they have to meet the lofty expectations like every other playoff team and when you fail, it is a brutal summer of workouts and trying to be better.
Charles Barkley said in one of his acerbic Towns criticisms that Towns needs to work on every part of his game; Towns was not as good as Barkley thought. It’s the playoffs. They show weakness over and over again. You’d expect Towns would be doing that right about now.
But he’s trying to use whatever leverage he has. The prize of the 2018 draft is an agile big man, like Towns, only better. So Towns has all the leverage he needs reuniting with Kentucky teammate Devin Booker.