Once again, Friday against Oklahoma City, Karl-Anthony Towns showed how high the bar can be.
Dominant on both ends of the court, Towns scored 33 points, had 19 rebounds and four blocks — season highs in each category. His moves were killer and his screens crisp as the Timberwolves beat the Thunder for the second time in a week.
His mood, afterward, was curt, complete with vague references (“Chitter-chatter,” he said) to those who may have been critical of his play.
Well, whatever motivates him to perform like he did Friday, just about everyone associated with the team would like to see it more. Talking to veterans on the team, the key for the third-year center now is to do it on a nightly basis.
“Karl did it for himself,” Jimmy Butler said after Friday’s game. “I had a little talk with him. Karl was ready. He was locked in and when he’s playing like that, [he’s] arguably one of the best players in the league. We need that every night. Not just at home, not just on Tuesday, not just on Sunday. We need that every night out of everybody.”
After Saturday’s practice, veteran Jamal Crawford praised what he called a great “little things game” for Towns.
To Crawford, Towns’ play shouldn’t be judged by just points and rebounds. “He can get 25 in his sleep, to be honest,” Crawford said of Towns. “With the way he shoots, he’ll get that in his sleep. To me what’s impressive is the screens he sets, the way he gets his guards up, the way he steps up on defense. Talking.”
Crawford saw all of that Friday. “Everyone will see the 33 and 19,” he said. “But it was the little things that were more impressive.”
Towns is a double-double machine. He has five of them in six games this season. But the little things?
Sometimes they can be a little up and down.
At times he may fall victim to putting himself into difficult positions by his desire to do so much. After Saturday’s practice he was talking about going after not 50-50 balls but 20-80 balls. “I’m just trying to make things that don’t seem possible, possible,” he said.
Sometimes that puts him deep under the basket going for a rebound he can’t get while his man is streaking down the court. Sometimes trying to do too much can be harmful for the team’s defense.
Friday Towns defended the rim while playing within the scheme much of the night. Especially at the end, when the Wolves got some key stops.
“He’s going to do that offensively,” guard Jeff Teague said. “But what he brought defensively is amazing. He played great everywhere. He just played hard, physical. He played like a man.’”
They key is for Towns to get to the point where that level of play is the norm.
Tom Thibodeau said it’s all a part of a young player’s development. “He’s still learning,” the Wolves coach said. “A big part of it is understanding how important it is to bring that effort every night, understanding you can play great when you’re not shooting well. You can rebound, defend, block shots, make plays for others.”
“I think it’s more about me trusting myself and my abilities a little more,” Towns said. “Trusting myself completely in all aspects, on both ends.”
Whatever it takes.
“He’s learning,” Taj Gibson said. “His defense was great [Friday], especially late when we needed to get a stop on [Russell Westbrook]. He’s doing good. He learned from the last two games and we just have to keep motivating him to get better and better.”
Staff writer Jerry Zgoda contributed to this report.