It was the start of the All-Star break, the Minnesota Timberwolves were locked into the 3rd seed in the Western Conference standings while also sending off two players to the All-Star roster. Life was good.
Following the break, shooting guard Jimmy Butler went down with an injury to his meniscus and thus threw the final 21 games into chaos for the Timberwolves. Who would their star be? What would happen to an already weak defense following the loss of their best defender? How could the young team secure a postseason spot with the toughest part of their schedule remaining?
To say the least, there was some skepticism from fans and media alike. When the team needed a leader, the rising star answered the bell to take on the mantle Butler was forced to set aside.
Karl-Anthony Towns was the problem child of the Timberwolves to start the season, with his defensive angst controlling the narrative around the young center.
He pushed that aside for a monster December, averaging 20.2 points and 11.3 rebounds throughout, making him nearly as impressive as Butler in the same span. Now he is back to putting on a big show, which is precisely what the Timberwolves desperately needed.
Over the last seven games, Towns has averaged 22.7 points and 13 rebounds which would make for his best double-double numbers compared to any other month. He is not only posting the numbers but also playing incredibly efficient basketball, hitting 53.8 percent of his shots and making him the only player on the roster to shoot over 50 percent while averaging double-digit shot attempts through seven games. But there is more here than mealy stats for Towns.
It showed up late in the game against the Golden State Warriors when Towns hit a deep, baseline fade away to take back the lead. It was his persistence in the fourth quarter against Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. It shined after working the Kings for 48 minutes. Towns moved from a talent to a force over the last two months, which has been accelerated in growth by Butler’s absence.
Towns not only plays well in games, he now imposes his will on possessions, quarters and games like some of the best in the league. The difference now for the Kentucky product is that he will take over, deciding that he will score or force a stop on a given possession, leaving the opposition with little say in the matter. In the most pivotal time possible, Towns has slid into the driver’s seat and taken control, commanding the finish to games like the all-star he is.
This has been the best case for the Timberwolves, as the assertion to the No. 1 spot on the team for Towns has kept Minnesota afloat while clamoring for a playoff berth in a crowded Western Conference.
Photo: Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns celebrates during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in Washington. The Timberwolves won 116-111. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)