In this Season of Karl-Anthony Towns Criticism, there has been a main plot and a couple of subplots. The main plot is that his poor defense is not yet improved and no longer flying under the radar. Surrounded by a legitimately good roster of players for the first time in his career, it sometimes seems like his deficiencies on that end are a weak link of the team — of the starting unit anyway. A related subplot is that Tom Thibodeau is yelling at him more than most coaches yell at superstar players. Their relationship is being analyzed. The other subplot is the one that brings us to Thursday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. This one is that there have been more than a few nights this season when KAT seemed physically overwhelmed by his opposing center. This has included Steven Adams, Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan. While Towns has decent size and will get stronger as he ages, he simply isn’t as big as most top-tier centers. Perhaps more than in prior seasons, those physical disadvantages have seemed highlighted on this year’s team.
Against the Kings, he had no such disadvantages. Whether checked by Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein (his college frontcourt mate at Kentucky), or Skal Labissiere (who for whatever reason, started the game on KAT) Towns was physically superior than his Sacramento opponents and he came out of the gates fully prepared to go to work. Early in the game, he was more assertive than usual as a scorer, taking and (usually) making some difficult shots. As the game wore on, he went with the flow, kicking the ball out to open shooters, crashing the offensive glass for second-chance points, and just doing an all-around job of kicking ass. The Wolves led by 10 after one quarter, stalled a bit in the second (led by 9), and then blew the game open in the third quarter behind the scoring and passing of Towns. He ended the game with 30 points on 11-16 shooting (2-4 from three), 14 rebounds (5 offensive), 5 assists, and 5 blocks. He tied Gorgui Dieng for a team-best (+22).
This is the sort of performance that builds KAT’s reputation as a first-tier young talent. After the game, Thibs anticipated a KAT-centric set of questions, and mentioned that he needs to be consistent for the full 48 minutes. Then he did as he often does and passed on some general praise to Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. Thibs is obviously not satisfied with where Towns is at right now — nor should he be. Developing KAT into an MVP should be a top priority and constantly challenging him to be better is part of the job. But it would be impossible for Thibs to miss what a dominant performance his young big man turned in against the Kings. It was the primary reason that the win came so easily.
What else in this lopsided affair?
In the first half, Zach Randolph provided some wrestling entertainment for people interested in a retro post-up battle. On one possession, he and Taj Gibson had so many body parts tangled up that the ref just gave up and whistled both of them for a foul. When Gorgui took a turn on Z-Bo, he was shoved out of the way before the pass (and officials’ eyes) could arrive, and caught the entry feed for an easy lay-in. Randolph is getting a little overweight in his advanced age and conditioning clearly played a part in his diminished performance in the second half. But for a minute there, he looked like Memphis Z-Bo and an easy Wolves win wasn’t a foregone possibility.
Jimmy Butler was an all-around stud in this game. As he often is, I suppose. His stat line does a pretty nice job of summarizing things: 21 points on 10 shots, 7 boards, 9 assists, 2 steals, and even 2 blocks. In the middle of the third quarter, after KAT set the tone, Butler took over for a few minutes to continue expanding the lead.
Andrew Wiggins found his three-point shot, for one night anyway. Wig was 3-4 from downtown against the Kings, increasing his three-point percentage back up over 30 (31.2). One interesting detail about this was that Wig hit a pair of corner threes in the first half. In his first three NBA seasons, Wig shot corner three totals of 32, 30, and 31. Through 29 games this season, he’s attempted 20 treys from the corners, suggesting a significant uptick. If that continues, it would be reasonable to eventually expect a higher overall shooting percentage.
Before we get too far into this, the Wolves have a new 9th man!
— jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) December 15, 2017
That’s right folks. Marcus Georges-Hunt has finally cracked the rotation, replacing the Shabazz Muhammad slot that went empty for many recent games. In his effective Timberwolves debut, MGH played just fine. He mostly stayed out of the way on offense, but did connect on a corner three (and attempted another) and scored on a drive to the basket. What was perhaps more significant (and what was pointed out by an approving Thibs, post-game) was that he did a solid job defending Buddy Hield, who was playing with Sacramento’s second unit during most of MGH’s minutes. I think we can expect to see more of Georges-Hunt in the future, as long as he continues to play decent defense and mistake-free offense. Thibs has a short leash on bench players and MGH would be wise to keep that in mind with his offensive decisionmaking. Thibs specifically mentioned that he liked MGH next to Crawford as a pairing, which makes some sense, given how much of an initiator-dribbler Crawford is, and how MGH figures to be more of a stationary shooter and defender. He played 17 minutes against the Kings, scoring 5 points on 2-3 shooting in (+5) action.
The Wolves made shots against the Kings. As a team they were 46-82 (56.1%) from the field, but more importantly for their purposes they were 10-21 (47.6%) from three-point range. There will be more than a few nights like Tuesday versus Philly when the three ball won’t go down for this team. It isn’t a strength of their wings and it isn’t a consistent part of their point guard’s shot tendencies. On those nights, winning will be a struggle. But when they get a reasonable number of perimeter shots to go down, everything else falls into place for a team that has so many players who (Thibs voice) put pressure on the rim.
The Kings aren’t good and the Wolves were expected to win. The betting lines were between 10.5 and 11. But crushing inferior opposition has not been a theme of this early season, so this win was a promising one. The Wolves will have a great opportunity to build a winning streak on Saturday night when the Phoenix Suns visit Target Center.