Take a look at the starting lineups for this year’s NBA All-Star Game and you might think the big man is no longer a big deal. With Golden State’s small-ball approach looking to make history, some would suggest the traditional center is history.
Karl-Anthony Towns would beg to differ.
“We have a lot of talented centers in this game,” the Timberwolves rookie said Friday, one day before he will go up against one of the most talented, Memphis’ Marc Gasol, Saturday at Target Center. “Some of these guys will probably go down as some of the greatest to play their position.”
Yes, the center position has changed. Those playing the position frequently face the basket, hitting more midrange jumpers. But the position is still filled with strong players, despite what All-Star voters might think. And that means, on most nights, Towns is getting an NBA education. There’s Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Brook Lopez, Andre Drummond and fellow rookie Jahlil Okafor, just for starters.
And to Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell, even the league champion Warriors owe a debt to center Andrew Bogut for his work in the Western Conference finals.
“Golden State could not have gotten to the Finals without Bogut,” Mitchell said. “They didn’t need him in the Finals, but they probably couldn’t have gotten there without him, ’cause they needed him against Houston and Dwight Howard.
“Centers now have to be able to step out 17, 18 feet, play the high post, play in different areas of the court. But you still need your big guys.”
The 6-11 Towns — who has also played some power forward as the season has progressed — in many ways embodies what the center position is becoming, with his ability to hit shots away from the basket and even from behind the three-point line.
And he is clearly holding his own. Towns is averaging 15.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. In Wednesday’s 106-94 overtime loss at Dallas, going up against Zaza Pachulia, Towns had his best game to date. He scored 27 points on 12-for-19 shooting and posted career highs in rebounds (17) and blocks (six), becoming only the second player in franchise history with 25 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in a game.
On a team that has struggled to rebound, if Towns can continue to put up numbers like that, it could have a big impact on the Wolves. Being forced to send all five players to the defensive boards has slowed their fast break. But point guard Ricky Rubio said Wednesday that, as Towns continued to rebound so well, he found himself able to hang back a bit in order to get the break going.
“I usually help on that end,” Rubio said. “But I was seeing him get all the boards, so I was able to be on the free-throw line or above, and start the fast break from there.”
Mitchell said he would have to see Towns — who has averaged 12.7 rebounds the past six games — post numbers like he did Wednesday more often before he changed his approach.
“If Karl shows that he can rebound like that, and be that dominant, you can do some other things,” Mitchell said. “But we’re getting ready to play a team like Memphis, who will pound you. It’d be nice if he could do that against those guys.”