Is Towns Starting To Dial Back His "Stray Voltage?"

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves rarely get national attention, especially in the early years of his career. But they’ve gotten their fair share of airtime after the Rudy Gobert trade. Unfortunately for Towns and the Wolves, the press they have received is typically negative.

The Jimmy Butler saga changed Towns’ public perception. Before Butler’s exploits at practice, Towns had mostly received the spotlight for only positive things, like being “the player GMs most wanted to build around.” But after Butler’s forced departure, people started to develop a negative perception of Towns. His public narrative quickly shifted to him being soft, lazy, and not fit to be a leader – and that would stick with Towns for a while.

But as we get further from Butler’s Minnesota days, Towns has become the leader of young Wolves squads. Still, something always got in his way – his emotions. Towns would get emotional after fouls, whether they were called or not called. Then he would play uncontrolled, often leading to another foul. The problem had persisted for long enough that head coach Chris Finch was able to coin the term “stray voltage.”

For example, the Timberwolves defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 119-114 on Feb. 24th last year. Towns received five personal fouls. Watching the game back, all five were questionable calls. But what really matters is how Towns reacts to the calls. After the call, you see him flailing his arms, leaning over, and yelling at refs.

That isn’t the proper way to respond to a call as a team leader. But the day after the game, Towns said, “It hasn’t came, and it won’t,” when asked about receiving the same calls as some other bigs. “Accept it. It’s cool. I think that for me, yesterday and today, it’s a personal realization that it ain’t going to. What do y’all always like to say? There’s no more stray voltage.”

It was the first time Towns had addressed the “stray voltage,” and it was a potential sign things would get better. But last season, it hadn’t gotten any better. Towns’ postseason last year run could be defined as “stray voltage.” But this year, it seems like Towns is beginning to make progress in this regard. He’s becoming more of a leader for the newly-formed Wolves squad.

Although he’s had some games where his emotions got the best of him, like the Miami Heat game, Towns has often kept his composure this season.

Towns is still the most important offensive player on the Wolves. He’s often the catalyst to big runs and is almost always their biggest threat to score. But last season, when he fouled, he didn’t react well and often took himself out of games mentally. That can’t happen when the Wolves rely on his scoring so much.

Towns has improved his focus on the game and less on the referees this year. As a result, he has improved his leadership this season. He isn’t fouling less; Towns is on pace to record 387 fouls this season. But he’s reacting to these fouls much better.

Outside of a technical foul in the Miami game, he’s kept a relatively level head for most of the season. When he’s less emotional, it helps him improve his body control. He no longer pulls off an overly aggressive move after a foul, causing him to pick up another foul. Now he puts his head down, understands his situation, and is better at staying locked in on the game.

Towns showcased his newfound self-control in the Philadelphia 76ers game. Towns and Joel Embiid obviously have a contentious past. And Philadelphia has historically been a matchup that Towns has let the emotions get the best of him (i.e., fighting Embiid in 2019). But even with Embiid getting some questionable foul calls all game long, Towns avoided the two things he needed to – fouling out and getting emotional over foul calls. His level-headed play helped the Wolves to beat the Sixers.

Towns has been nowhere near perfect, but the Wolves don’t need him to be. They just need him to be a far cry emotionally from what he was last season. So far, he’s doing that.

When you’re a team leader, it’s essential to realize your actions don’t just affect you. They affect the entire team. That’s another reason why Towns’ shift towards a more controlled player is important.

An example of this was during the Wolves’ recent game versus the Heat. That game probably shouldn’t have been that close, but it was. And after Anthony Edwards received a technical foul down 11, it seemed like the same old story. Wolves go down, let their emotions out of hand, and in turn, let the game get out of hand. But not that night. The Wolves, especially Edwards and Towns, kept their emotions in check and battled back, going on a 21-7 run, putting them back up 74-71. And later picking up the win.

Although Towns was only responsible for one of the Wolves’ points during that run, his leadership is clearly shifting the Wolves roster.

When Towns lets his emotions get the best of him, so do the rest of the Wolves, and they often lose. But when Towns controls his emotions, the rest of the team follows, and they usually win. It’s up to Towns to set the tone for the Wolves for the rest of the season.

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