The Minnesota Timberwolves got off to a mostly good start to the season on Wednesday with a 115-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Rudy Gobert flexed his giant French muscles in his Wolves debut, scoring 23 points and pulling in 16 rebounds. Jaden McDaniels looks like he’s made the third-year leap we all saw coming, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert had some highlight plays in their first regular-season game together.
But with the good came the bad. Anthony Edwards might need some more time to make his third-year leap, the Wolves also blew another double-digit third-quarter leap, and playoff Towns is already here in Game 1. The latter is a troubling trend for the eighth-year power forward. We all remember how he played in last year’s play-in game and the six-game series against the Memphis Grizzlies. His issues with committing dumb fouls, particularly unnecessary offensive fouls, disappearing on offense, and losing his cool seem to have carried over to this season. With the most talent he’s ever had around him, Towns needs to clean up his act and be a positive influence on the floor if the Wolves are going to get to where most fans believe they’re going this season.
Towns is coming off arguably the best season of his career with a Third Team All-NBA nod, but playoff KAT’s antics were in full swing in the season opener. The former No. 1 overall pick kicked off his season by shooting 2-for-10 from the field and 2-for-7 from three for 12 points. He dished out seven assists and grabbed six rebounds. But he also committed four fouls, turned the ball over thrice in 36 minutes, and was minus-4 during his time on the court. It was a cosmic mix of chaos whenever Towns stepped foot on the court. At this point in his career, that wildness needs to end, and he needs to stabilize the team when he’s playing.
When the Wolves were melting down in the second half, and OKC was erasing their 13-point halftime lead, Towns went back to his old bag of tricks. He continually drove into the teeth of the defense with no exit strategy. He turned the ball over and committed bonehead fouls on both the offensive and defensive ends. The coup de grâce was his patented leg kick out that wiped off a three, which would have given the Wolves a 112-103 lead. Instead, he got himself an offensive foul and a technical to boot. It’s inexcusable for a player of his talents, especially one who just signed a four-year, $224 million extension in the offseason.
For one of the most talented players in the league and a veteran who turns 27 years old in a few weeks, Towns should be hitting his prime. Instead, it seems like we may have seen the peak of his powers already. Don’t get me wrong, it’s only one game, but Towns needs to figure things out soon. He’s the one saying good isn’t good enough anymore; it’s time to be great. The time for talk is over. Towns has said all the right things in his first seven years with the Timberwolves, but it’s time to start actually doing the things he says and performing on the court.
Watching him, you can see the gears turning whenever he catches the ball. Unfortunately, it looks like all that’s going through his head are the hauntingly beautiful lyrics to John Tesh’s masterpiece Roundball Rock. The man can’t help himself from playing hero ball whenever the Wolves are struggling. However, his hero ball is usually why they’re struggling in the first place. In the first half, he was fine not scoring and was doing everything right to keep the team afloat. He passed the ball, threw lobs to Gobert, and played team basketball.
Luckily the Wolves traded for Gobert because they would have blown another huge lead and lost the game without him. Towns could learn a lot from Gobert. Namely, how to set a legal screen and stay active without forcing his offense while contributing elsewhere. The Gobert-Towns pairing is going to take time to come together. However, you would have thought the new guy in Gobert would be the one to struggle out of the gate instead of the All-Star returning to a familiar system.
I’m sure everything will be fine. By the time anyone reads this, he’s probably going to have his first 30-10 game of the season against the Utah Jazz on Friday, and all will be forgotten. But it’s important to keep stars accountable for their flaws, especially when they haven’t worked on those flaws for the better part of a decade. Towns is easily the second-best player in franchise history, but his ability to wilt in pressure moments and let his emotions get the best of him will wear thin with a fanbase desperate to win.