2015-16 Season, Game Analysis

Timberwolves 95, Denver 78: We don’t need an #OkaforWatch

KAT Nuggets

This kid can play.

That’s what I keep muttering to myself during these flashes of brilliance in Karl-Anthony Towns’ first two professional basketball games. That’s what I kept muttering to myself during the Wolves’ meaningless preseason games while I saw people dancing across my timeline questioning rotations, minutes allocation, and improvement of young players. That’s what I kept telling people in Las Vegas during Summer League as he’d subtle ways among the chaos of disorganized basketball.

It’s what I kept coming back to over and over again while I pored over Synergy video as I tried to figure out if there was a reason the Wolves shouldn’t take Towns, and instead opt for Jahlil Okafor or D’Angelo Russell. This kid can flat-out play. You don’t even have to touch on the personality, which makes him appear to be completely comfortable in his skin.

There’s a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar documentary debuted on HBO November 3rd called Kareem: Minority of One. I got a chance to watch it this past week and was quickly reminded of something we seem to often forget about when it comes to the freakishly tall NBA athletes: a lot of them might not be comfortable being the size they are. They stick out. They’re the most noticeable people in the area at all times. They’re going to constantly get dumb comments asking how the weather is up there like someone just solved the comedy equation for the first time.

Kareem was that guy without comfort in his own skin. He was that guy who stuck out and wanted to hide from it all instead. And had he not ended up becoming such a dominant basketball player and probably the greatest center who ever lived, maybe he would’ve hidden. The point of bringing that up is Towns doesn’t have that discomfort — or at least he doesn’t show it. He talks confidently, makes eye contact, and makes you forget he’ll turn 20 in a little over two weeks.

The comfort in personality appears to extend to his comfort within his own game. Mistakes don’t get him down. Successes are celebrated without losing focus. He protects the back line, which allows the perimeter players to defend more aggressively (hey, the Wolves are fifth in defensive rating after four days!). Everything he does has a positive butterfly effect on the rest of the team and game.

Now, this isn’t to overstate what he can and will do. There will be bad games and there will be frustrating times with Towns. That’s just part of the natural progression players go through. In the same way he’s comfortable in his skin, I think he makes Wolves fans more comfortable in theirs. It’s a weird thing to project, and maybe it’s just the 2-0 start talking, but there’s a positivity in the conversation surrounding the team.

At some point in the game when we were marveling over the incredible first two games from Towns, someone tweeted me with Jahlil Okafor’s stat line from the Philadelphia 76ers’ loss tonight. It wasn’t anything awful or impressive. He had 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. He was also -35 on the night as the Jazz destroyed the Sixers. It’s nothing I hold against Okafor. I watched a lot of that game and you wouldn’t dare blame him for that situation he was drafted into.

The tweet also came with the hashtag “OkaforWatch.” All I could think about was how little I cared about what Okafor was doing in comparison to Towns. It’s not a knock on Okafor. I enjoyed his preseason. I enjoyed his NBA debut the other night. I even enjoyed watching him troubleshoot against big men like Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. But ultimately, it has nothing to do with the Wolves. There is no looking back or measuring up.

I guess there’s a desire for Towns to end up the Rookie of the Year when this season is done. Even as Andrew Wiggins ran away with the award last season, I couldn’t help but think how dumb it seems. While it’s true there aren’t many Rookie of the Year winners who don’t pan out to be really good, it does still seem like a meaningless award in the grand scheme of things. We want players to be properly rewarded for their play, but if Okafor or D’Angelo Russell or Stanley Johnson or Emmanuel Mudiay win the award…

Will it change how happy you are with Towns being on the team? I’m happy with Towns being the Wolves’ big man of the future whether he gets rewarded or not. It’s why an Okafor watch doesn’t interest me. I’m interested to see how they face off against each other, but that’s about the extent of how much I care to compare the two. I guess that’s the security that comes with the Towns experience.

28 points and 14 rebounds to carry the team on the road in his second game. While Ricky Rubio didn’t have the same shooting exploits as the first game, he still controlled the game quite perfectly. Andrew Wiggins struggled to hit a few shots but made up for it by getting to the charity stripe. Nemanja Bjelica, Zach LaVine, and Kevin Martin all had nice stretches off the bench.

It was Towns who stole the entire show in just his second game. And as the Wolves head back to Minneapolis for the emotional home opener Monday night, I’m just left muttering the same thing over and over.

This kid can play.

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3 thoughts on “Timberwolves 95, Denver 78: We don’t need an #OkaforWatch

  1. I know NBA.com’s player tracking data has its flaws, but: guys being guarded by KG or Towns shot 6-21. Throw in Rubio and it’s 6-24. The rest? 13-20.

  2. In the “Blank on Blank” interview series available on PBS’s various Web sites, Wilt Chamberlain comments on that feeling of not being comfortable in one’s own skin.

    It’s hard for us to project ourselves back into a previous era when someone like Wilt didn’t give up his seat on the subway to a woman – because he was so self-conscious stooping to avoid brushing his head on the ceiling. He and Kareem, who changed his name and faced the heat that invited… It would be fair to say those people paved the way for someone like Karl-Anthony Towns, who’s pretty smart and articulate, not to feel like an alien being dropped into a society that couldn’t handle his race, let alone his simple physical traits.

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