Karl-Anthony Towns' 'future is now' for Minnesota Timberwolves

By Alex Butler  |  March 18, 2017 at 12:27 PM
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March 18 (UPI) -- It's only his second year in the NBA, but Karl-Anthony Towns might be the most well rounded basketball player on earth.

The center/forward can truly do it all. He showed that again Friday by scoring 31 points in the Minnesota Timberwolves' 123-105 loss to the Miami Heat. But that is a troublesome trend for his young Wolves.

Towns, 21, is already a proven pack leader, posting 24.4 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. He makes 53 percent of his field goals and 35 percent of his 3-point attempts. Still, the Timberwolves lose.

Towns has carried on, averaging more than 30 points per game in his last four contests.

"It's a schematic nightmare," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He's 21 years old, but he has the maturity and poise of an eight year veteran – a skill level that matches a number one pick."

"There wasn't anywhere where he didn't impact the game offensively."

"He has a very bright future ahead, but that future is now."

Towns left an unrivaled Kentucky program to be the top pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. He averaged just 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest in college, clocking just 21.1 minutes per game due to the Wildcats' gluttony of talent.

The Piscataway, New Jersey product averaged 20.9 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.2 blocks per game as a senior at St. Joseph High School. He won the 2014 Gatorade National Player of the Year after leading the school to a 30-2 record and state title. Towns was first-team All-State three times.

But his basketball game is a microcosm for his life. Why stick to dunks, drives, and layups, when you can swish corner 3-pointers and lob soft passes from anywhere on the court? Why settle for basketball, when you also excel at golf, baseball, and on the piano? Towns also didn't settle in the classroom growing up. You could have been too hypnotized by Kentucky's 31-0 regular season record to notice a number even more important: Towns' 4.0 GPA at the university.

"I take everything very serious," Towns told NJ.com in 2015. "For me, making sure that I had great grades at Kentucky was a very key component of my freshman year. It's going to be every year. Just wanted to make sure I could play and be the best I could be, especially in the classroom, and I'm glad I came out with a 4.0 GPA."

If you are wondering, Towns had a 3.96 GPA at St. Joseph. But his next test could prove a most brutal study. A cram more sleep-deprived than a college library the night before final exams: turning Timberwolves trouble into wins.

Friday's contest featured a plethora of young talent, but perhaps the best matchup was the block monster Hassan Whiteside battling Towns under the rim.

"It was tremendously fun and competitive," Towns said. "You always want to go up against the best of the best. He's one of the best. When you get a chance to go against him, it's always a blast, always a pleasure. I think he's a tremendous player. He has a long future in this game."

The duo has a six-year age gap and very different basketball skill-sets, still they share a bond outside of the arena. On Friday night, they shared a post game meal, profiled on Whiteside's notorious Snapchat feed. Towns made a cameo in food preparation, sprinkling cooked fish with salt, flicking his wrist akin to how he magnetizes the rim from long-distance.

For now, the Timberwolves roster has plenty of talent, but no cohesion. And for an old-school coach like Tom Thibodeau, that can be quite frustrating.

"We have more than enough to win with," Thibodeau said. "We have to get in there and everyone has to do their job. We have to understand how important the preparation is. This isn't AAU basketball. This is get out there and everyone has to do a job together."

Thank you @Lyft and #LyftPremier for the free ride to my favorite restaurant in Miami, @lariosotb. #TeamLyft

A post shared by Karl-Anthony Towns (@karltowns) on

Will Towns be a walking paradox for Thibodeau as we was for John Calipari at Kentucky? The question needs to be asked. It won't be what Towns can do, but what he can't accomplish on the court that should prove most important. How can he best be used to explore his full potential? The reason why finding that potential is a difficult task is because what Towns is doing, not many have seen. Finding out where his talents can take him and the Timberwolves will be key to the team's success. Figuring out what it looks like, and how Thibodeau bottles it, will be essential. But watching his growth should prompt Timberwolves fans to fill the Target Center.

The 2015 Rookie of the Year will continue to draw comparisons, but none will fit as tightly as his size 20 kicks.

None will do him justice.

He was compared to LeBron James as a can't-miss prospect, but as Spoelstra said: his future is now. The seven-footer is already doing things that can only lend pundits to compare young Towns to today's Towns, because there is no control for this experiment. Towns continues to elevate his outlook game-by-game, shot-by-shot, and task-by-task, in whatever venture he decides to adopt.

And with each success, two questions loom: what's next and will you be watching?

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