Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t exactly enjoy his experience the first time he made the playoffs. The Timberwolves were unceremoniously shown the exit in the first round by the Western Conference-leading Rockets, with his poor showing contributing to their five-game meltdown. To argue that he had the deer-in-the-headlights look throughout would be an understatement; he wound up norming just 15.2 points off a true shooting percentage 1,000 basis points lower than his regular-season clip. In other words, he failed to make any sort of impact projected by his very first All-Star berth.
To contend that Towns is much better now, four years removed from his forgettable debut, would also be an understatement. Perhaps it’s because he’s in a much better place. Out are taskmaster head coach Tom Thibodeau and effective but grating teammate Jimmy Butler. In are prime motivator Chris Finch and close friend D’Angelo Russell, and their positive influence shows in his much-improved output. As he noted matter-of-factly, the 14-month bench tactician is “probably the most important” factor in the Timberwolves’ resurgence. “You think it’s the players; it’s the coach.”
Towns is only half-right, of course. In large measure, the Timberwolves are thriving because of his inspired play. He won’t be at his best all the time; against the Clippers in their play-in outing, for example, he had a less-than-stellar line of 11, five, and three in 24 minutes of foul-ridden exposure. What he is sure to do, however, is try and bounce back — as he did yesterday en route to victory over the heavily favored Grizzlies in Game One of their first round series. That he was plus-16 in 43 minutes in the court speaks volumes about his contributions beyond his efficient 29, 13, and three line.
The Timberwolves know they still have a fight in their hands. They may have wrested homecourt advantage at the outset, but keeping it is another matter altogether — especially against the scrappy Grizzlies. Nonetheless, they ooze confidence, and it isn’t because they have the pesky and perky Patrick Beverley on their roster. Rather, it’s because they have Towns, unleashed in full by Finch’s schematic adjustments on both sides of the floor. They may yet lose the series, but the 2015 first overall pick knows he’ll hold his head high any which way. He’s leaving nothing in the tank, and peace has come as a result.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.