Karl-Anthony Towns is not your ordinary, inexperienced NBA rookie.
Towns was selected to the Dominican Republic’s national team for Olympic qualifiers in 2012, when he was 16 years old. Two years later, he played exhibition games against Team USA the week before he began freshman classes at the University of Kentucky.
So it should come as no surprise the 20-year old top pick is having the kind of success and showing the brand of maturity uncommon for a player his age.
“No one thought Karl would be as advanced as he is right now,” Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Sam Mitchell, who was a teammate of Kevin Garnett’s when KG was 19-year-old rookie in 1995, told reporters.
Now Garnett is Towns’ teammate, giving him advice on how to thrive as a heralded big man at the pro level. Towns is certainly not taking the Hall-Of-Fame-level tutelage for granted, explaining how Garnett has helped him tremendously thus far.
“He’s giving me those different tips and tricks that I need to take myself to the next level,” Towns said. “I think we’re both pretty intense, so I think that’s why we get along so well.”
Garnett may serve as a mentor, but Minnesota has needed Towns and his young teammates to produce right away, perhaps more than any NBA team in recent memory. Their three leading scorers, Towns, 2014 top overall pick Andrew Wiggins and 2014 13th overall selection Zach LaVine, are all 20 years of age.
So far the results aren’t bad. The Wolves may be just 11-16, but that’s significant progress over a 16-66 record a season ago. The three young pups are being aided by some impressive veteran help, from Garnett to forward Tayshaun Prince and point guard Andre Miller. Towns relishes the opportunity.
“Not only do we get to be with vets, but all-time greats every day, from point guard to forward to center.”
Going into action on Sunday, Towns was averaging 15.4 points, nine rebounds and two blocks per game for Minnesota on 53.5 percent shooting; outperforming fellow rookie phenom Kristaps Porzingis in each of those categories.
Towns buoyed those numbers on Sunday, leading Minnesota with 24 points on 10-of-19 from the field, adding 10 rebounds in the 100-85 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
As impressive as those numbers are, Towns is far from satisfied.
“I always have high expectations for myself, so I feel like I’ve been underachieving so far,” Towns said. “I’m trying to learn every day so I can reach the expectations I have for myself.”
Despite Towns’ overly harsh self-critique, teammates and opponents alike are impressed with what the rookie has been able to achieve thus far.
“He’s a super talented player, that’s for sure. Very good, versatile post player,” Orlando forward Jason Smith told The Comeback. “He has a nice little 18-foot jumper already. I know he’s going to continue to work to make that better. He’s got a nice little jab step, he can take it to the rim off the bounce.”
Miller sees maturity beyond Towns’ age. And Miller should know, having played with a lot of great young players in his day, including a 19-year-old Carmelo Anthony and a 19-year-old Bradley Beal, and is pleased with Towns’ maturity.
“I can’t imagine me coming in at 19 years old and being the number one pick,” Miller told The Comeback. “He’s had a lot of hype that he’s had to live up to. His transition has been pretty good.”
Having been around a lot of rookies in his 17 years in the NBA, Miller knows where young players usually struggle as they transition to the NBA.
“Just a few things that a lot of guys tend to come in with question marks into the league, he’s been pretty solid,” Miller said. “He can shoot the ball pretty well and he’s a better defender than I thought.”
Towns is already starting to add another element to his game in the three-point shot. He’s 10-for-22 from 3-point range this season.. Towns can be seen practicing from long distance in this video shot last week at Madison Square Garden.
“He’s improved every day,” LaVine told The Comeback. “The overall experience of the NBA, just like all of us starting off as rookies, you get better and better just from experience.”
LaVine eagerly praised Towns’ work ethic, especially during practices. Add that to his immense talent and the kid certainly has the early makings of a superstar. There are, of course, still plenty of things Towns needs to work on after just eight weeks in the league.
“Sometimes the physicality of the game gets him,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes the speed of the game gets him. Sometimes the tricks that veterans play on him gets him.”
After facing him twice this season, Smith pointed out where Towns can get better in the post.
“Sometimes he rushes a little bit, as some young players might do,” Smith said. “If he just took his time in the post, he has tons of moves to dish out if he just took his time to read the defense and take what the opposing defense gave to him.”
Towns has already noticed an improvement in some facets of his own game.
“I think I just got smarter,” Towns told The Comeback. “I think I’ve done a better job recently of not letting woes in the first quarter or, even into the second quarter, not affect my game the rest of the time.”
Miller noted that however the team is playing, Towns has managed to stay involved.
“He’s going to have ups and downs and rookie walls and stuff like that,” Miller said. “So far it’s been a little up and down for him, but mentally he’s been involved.”
After a storied season at Kentucky and impressive international experience, it looks like Towns is on his way to stardom.
“You can already tell he’s going to be a great player,” LaVine said. “We’re all looking forward to seeing how much he grows.”