This season, Karl-Anthony Towns led Timberwolves in his ‘own way’
Towns delivered perhaps his best season to date, averaging 24.6 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, shooting 53 percent from the field and 41 percent from deep. Towns also had his best season on defense, where he was asked to play pick and rolls at the level, challenging ball handlers on the perimeter.
ST. PAUL -- Coach Chris Finch’s preseason message to Karl-Anthony Towns re: his leadership of the Timberwolves this season was simple: Just be the best possible version of yourself.
For so long, the all-star center has seemed to try to be what he thought he was so supposed to be, or what he thought people wanted him to be. The hope in the 2021-22 season was that Towns would just be exactly who he is, and the Wolves would take the results.
And the results were, frankly, very good.
Towns delivered perhaps his best season to date, averaging 24.6 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, shooting 53 percent from the field and 41 percent from deep. Towns also had his best season on defense, where he was asked to play pick and rolls at the level, challenging ball handlers on the perimeter. So much responsibility was placed on his shoulders on that end, and he was usually up to the task.
He earned his third all-star selection this season, and looks like a near-lock to soon be named to his second All-NBA team.
“What comes to mind is just his high-level consistency, you know, and his efficiency. He was extremely efficient,” Finch said. “I thought his defense was excellent, as well, and I liked his leadership.”
It really was the best version of Towns.
“Which gives us a great chance to win every night, and something that people want to follow … some people want to follow,” Finch said. “He made it all about winning this year, and he’s made it all about winning since I’ve been here, so he’s at that point where he’s still heading into his prime. This is a great experience for him, and it’s something for him to build on.”
Towns noted he was given more responsibility as a leader this season, and said he had fun handling that. He didn’t approach it from a view of publicly undressing teammates for their blunders or getting in faces. That’s not him. He wanted to be a reliable, consistent presence his teammates knew they could count on.
“As a man, my leadership style is more to be me and just help them not only on the court, but off the court. That’s why when I said (Friday), I’m very honored that I had such life lessons where I was able to help them not only on the court, but off the court as men,” Finch said. “In a way, that’s what true leadership is, it’s making them better all-around, not just as a basketball player.
“Everyone gets caught up in leadership as a basketball player, but there’s so much more to a person than just the basketball aspect and helping them in their lives with the wisdom and experiences I’ve been through. It translates to them playing better basketball because their mind’s more free. They’re finding themselves more at peace with themselves and with life. We’re in a day and age where mental health is super important. I’m just trying to help others as much as I can.”
Actions, not words
On the court, Towns’ leadership style has always been actions over words. He does that by showing up first every day and being one of the last to leave. He does it by going hard at every shootaround and practice, and attacking the day with the proper demeanor. He does that by showcasing how professionals should take care of their bodies.
As much as anything else, he does that by showing up for work every single day.
“He’s a true pro. He’s here before a lot of people, getting his work in, his body in. Didn’t complain a lot, especially, we put a lot on him this year. Carried a lot of the load,” veteran guard Patrick Beverley said. “Played a lot of games, he played a lot of games this year. Even when he was banged up, he still wanted to play. Regardless of how his play goes, to have a person with that type of character goes a long way. So, that was enough for me right there.”
Yes, there are plenty of warts to Towns’ game that have been exposed time and time again. But most players have those. Towns makes up for a lot of them with his supreme skill and willingness to show up every single day.
By being himself, Towns was enough. The things he said and did felt more genuine this season. Anthony Edwards, Beverley and Co. unlocked Towns’ “swagger” on the court. He was clearly having fun with the game. He also shared his appreciation for the love his teammates showed him whenever he had a big game or reached a big milestone.
As the buzzer sounded after Game 6 on Friday to conclude the Timberwolves’ season, Towns took a moment to himself at Target Center and thought about everything he’s been through in the past couple of years. He thought about everything his teammates, coaches and the fans have done for him and how blessed he was to be in that postseason position.
He thanked God for giving him the strength to survive some of his life’s greatest trials and thanked his late mother for showing him what love is, and how to impart that to others — a trait that played such a large role in his leadership style this season.
This season produced the most fun Towns has had in his NBA career. He seemed often to be at peace with the process and results — despite his interactions with the officials, but that’s another story.
When he would get yelled at by a teammate for an error, he’d nod, brush it off and move on. It wasn’t uncommon for him to let someone else know when they’d erred, as well. It was all kosher for this year’s team, which showcased a special camaraderie from start to finish.
It’s clear Towns has craved that type of environment during his pro career, and once he found it, he thrived in it. This feels like a sustainable environment in which Towns can flourish for years to come. While he was disappointed in the fashion in which the season ended, he was clearly also pleased with the results as a whole.
“I think that this is the beginning of something special,” Towns said. “I feel like for one of the first times in this franchise, a lot of pieces are falling into place. It doesn’t feel so scrambled. It doesn’t feel so random. But we’ll see.”
Towns could have a massive contract extension waiting for him to sign this offseason, which would all but ensure his place at the center of what appears to be a run of future success for this franchise. Signing such a deal feels more a matter of when, not if. But someone who has been through so much change and challenges in his pro career knows better than to take anything for granted.
“I love this city. So obviously things will happen this summer. When they happen, they happen,” Towns said. “I’ve been here so long I don’t like making prophecies, I’ll let it come if it comes. And if it comes, it comes, then we’ll deal with it when it comes. Just take every day. I’ve been here long enough to know that everyday things can change, so just be happy with where everything is at right now.”