The Promise of Karl-Anthony Towns

It’s a complicated process of math to determine what makes a superstar. Does he dominate his position? Check. Can he be trusted in late game situations? Check. Does his talent put him in a league of his own? Check. Is he a two-way player? Check. Does he make the average and above average player perform (and look) better than he normally would when in his presence? Check. Is his worst better than 75% of other players best? Check.

Karl-Anthony Towns is on his way to NBA superstardom. He was the unanimous Rookie of the Year winner to no one’s raised eyebrows. He played and started in 82 games. He averaged a double-double, 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds. He pulled in 2.8 offensive rebounds and nearly blocked two shots a game. He shot 81.1% at the free throw line. No rookie had better numbers and impacted the game the way Towns did in his rookie year.

KAT scored 20+ points 32 times, 39% of the schedule. He grabbed 10+ rebounds 53 times, 64% of the schedule. He blocked 3+ shots 22 times, 26% of the schedule. His on court impact reflected his exceptional talent. He was ranked 26th among power forwards, below Taj Gibson and ahead of Thaddeus Young. His improvement, like all rookies, has to come on the defensive end. Among power forwards he was ranked 64th. (Defensive Real-Plus Minus)

Can Karl-Anthony Towns get the Wolves into the playoffs for the first time in 13 years? Ultimately, that is how he will be judged.

New Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau has the expectation that his star pupil will acclimate to the tough, detail oriented Thibs teaching style. If all goes according to plan it will push Towns into his next step of growth: not just playing the game but thinking it too.

Towns is big in a small league and the best forward to come into the league since Anthony Davis, another Coach Cal product. He has automatic mismatches in nearly every game. He moves like a small forward and has a point guard’s court vision. He makes the simple pass because he is fundamentally sound.

A lot is expected of Towns in his second year. Usually it takes a talented player three years to vault into the superstardom rare air. Towns is expected to get there in year two because he is playing on a talented though young team with a proven coach, motivated by a long playoff drought.

Seven foot Towns, the son of an African American father who played college ball and a Dominican mother, has excelled every time a challenge has been put in front of him. As a New Jersey high school senior, he was Gatorade Player of the Year. The next year, he was SEC Freshman of the Year. The next year, he was NBA Rookie of the Year. With each new challenge, Towns finds a way to excel, from boy to man to NBA star.

Even with his talent advantage, KAT had the luxury of Kevin Garnett his rookie year. He listened, absorbed, followed and imitated his mentor. It was additional proof that Towns was a willing student as he entered a foreign world, willing to adapt to the culture in order to receive the maximum benefit of Garnett while he still had his guidance.

Here is where we are. The clock is ticking on the super talents of LeBron James. He has 3-4 years left at this level and then he will begin to descend like ever other great player before him and the league will shift towards Karl-Anthony Towns, if he lives up to his promise. It has happened before, that great rookie hype. But in a cautionary tale, achievement led to injuries or a wrong mental attitude or things just going awry. The things just going awry part is a familiar Timberwolves story.

The GM’s think Towns is the future, the LeBron torch carrier. Anyone who saw Towns play last year thinks the very same thing. Every game he plays, Towns has a built in advantage. Does he have the mental will? Does he want to be great?

The NBA can be cruel to the weak hearted and the thin skinned. Charles Oakley famously repeated, “No Boys Allowed.” Last season Karl-Anthony Towns played a man’s game and was skilled and confident at it. Year two is here. He is supposed to be better. That is his promise. It is up to him to fulfill it. No boys allowed.

 

photo via llananba