LET THE YOUNG BIG MAN STRETCH
With the first pick in the 2015 draft, the Timberwolves selected a multitalented big man from Kentucky well-suited for the modern NBA. Then, in his first action as a pro, at the Las Vegas Summer League, they proceeded to use him almost exclusively as a low-post throwback.
At 6'11" and 244 pounds, Karl-Anthony Towns has the touch and size to work from that space. He also has the ball skills, mobility and vision to operate from so many others. A prodigious talent like the 19-year-old Towns should be allowed to expand his game in many directions at once, particularly while taking the floor for a young team still looking for its identity. Variety is key; a curtailed role may promote healthy growth in most young players, but over-restricting Towns only does him a developmental disservice.
While it makes some sense to post up Towns on possession after possession when he's flanked by summer leaguers, in Minnesota he will have a far better collection of passers (Ricky Rubio and Kevin Garnett) and scorers (Andrew Wiggins and Kevin Martin) around him. He could be brought to the elbow and taught to perfect the dribble hand-off. His midrange shooting could clear room for Minnesota's interior play. Putting Towns in more pick-and-roll scenarios could take better advantage of both his vision and range. There's a time and a place for Towns to work inside, but his career—and the Wolves' long-term prospects—bank on the breadth of his all-around game.
A rival scout sizes up Minnesota
If Kevin Garnett plays 50 games, I'll be shocked. He'll probably start the halves, but [at 39] he can't stay out there for more than 20 minutes anymore.... Having KG there is the best positive for a young guy who wants to be great. You can either let him intimidate you or you can try to match his work ethic and his intensity. Karl-Anthony Towns's intensity turned on and off at Kentucky. KG will push him. Towns has to embrace it.... Ricky Rubio is a question mark every year. What is he going to give you, what's his health like? There is always something with him. He's an exciting player with great vision, and when he plays with Andrew Wiggins, they can look really good. But Rubio has to improve that shot, because right now there is no reason to defend him.... Wiggins had to get better every day last season. They had no one else who could score. They ran the offense to him and through him. He figured out where he could get shots in the flow. He became efficient. For as much pressure that was on him, he was their most reliable player.... Shabazz Muhammad's body looked better last year. He had some explosion, which he didn't have as a rookie. He was willing to go into the post and wasn't settling for jump shots.... Zach LaVine has to get past "I'm Zach LaVine, YouTube sensation." He has to be a grinder. He took some horrendous shots last year. With his athleticism he needs to get to the line more than twice a game.... Nikola Pekovic is fun to watch. He initiates contact. He plays under the rim. Nobody will mess with him.
COACH FLIP SAUNDERS
(2nd season with Timberwolves)
2014--15 RECORD 16--66
(5th in Northwest)
PG RICKY RUBIO
10.3 PPG; 8.8 APG; 5.7 RPG; 35.6 FG%
SG ZACH LAVINE
10.1 PPG; 3.6 APG; 42.2 FG%; 34.1 3FG%
SF ANDREW WIGGINS
16.9 PPG; 4.6 RPG; 43.7 FG%; 31.0 3FG%
PF KEVIN GARNETT
6.9 PPG; 6.6 RPG; 1.6 APG; 46.1 FG%
C KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS (R)
10.3 PPG; 6.7 RPG; 2.3 BPG; 56.6 FG%
SG KEVIN MARTIN
20.0 PPG; 3.6 RPG; 42.7 FG%; 39.3 3FG%
PG ANDRE MILLER*
4.4 PPG; 3.5 APG; 1.9 RPG; 50.0 FG%
C NIKOLA PEKOVIC
12.5 PPG; 7.5 RPG; 0.9 APG; 42.4 FG%
*NEW ACQUISITION (R) ROOKIE, COLLEGE STATS
Minutes played by Andrew Wiggins last year. The Rookie of the Year trailed James Harden for the NBA lead by 12 minutes. Only Wilt Chamberlain, Elvin Hayes and Damian Lillard led the league as first-year players.
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED