Following where teammate Andrew Wiggins tread four times last season, Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns on Thursday won the NBA’s Western Conference Rookie of the Month award for October and November.
It’s an honor that comes after a week when the No. 1 overall pick played only three minutes in the fourth quarters of his team’s past four games.
Town sat the entire fourth quarter of games against Atlanta, Sacramento and Orlando while Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell called upon third-year center Gorgui Dieng to play on because of his superior pick-and-roll defense. The two centers played together for the final three minutes of Sunday’s game vs. the Clippers.
“You know what, it’s just one of those things,” Towns said. “You have to just deal with it and go with it. Every day I’m getting better. I’m getting better every single game, no matter if I score 28 points or I score six points.”
He said his freshman season playing in Kentucky coach John Calipari’s star-studded platoon system prepared him for a pro game in which players often say it doesn’t matter who starts games but rather who finishes them.
“Yeah, it helped big time,” Towns said. “It’s one of those things you have to understand. There’s so much talent on this team. We’ve been blessed to have a great team with not just great human beings but great talent. Everyone can play and start on just about any team in the league.”
Towns has started all 18 games and is averaging 27.4 minutes after playing 22 minutes in Tuesday’s loss to Orlando, a game in which he made two of 11 field-goal attempts, had six rebounds, two blocked shots and scored six points.
Mitchell called Towns’ fourth-quarter absences a matter of circumstances in which he stayed with players who performed well that night. On Tuesday, that meant Towns and starting shooting guard Kevin Martin sat out the fourth quarter while Dieng and Zach LaVine essentially played the entire quarter.
“I’ve shown that I’ll finish the game with anybody if they’re playing well,” Mitchell said. “It’s not necessarily that the group playing before them did anything wrong. It’s just that group out there on the floor is playing really well and giving us the best chance to win that night. … For whatever reason, we’ve played better as a group when G [Dieng] has been on the floor and teams are running pick-and-rolls. G has a little more experience against pick-and-rolls.”
Wiggins averaged 36.2 minutes a game last season in a Rookie of the Year season when he played all 82 games. Mitchell said it was never coach Flip Saunders’ intention to play Wiggins as much as 40 minutes or so, but he did so after a rash of injuries left the Wolves with as few as seven healthy players for a game.
“There’s no reason for us to put Karl out there for 40 minutes a game when we have Gorgui, who is a young player who is playing well,” Mitchell said. “I like our combination of those two. They’re giving us a great field-goal percentage, 20-plus points and 15 to 18 rebounds a game. … There’s nothing wrong with Karl sitting there some nights and learning what to do. He has plenty of opportunities. We’ve won games with Karl finishing games. We won games with G finishing games.
“It’s 18 games into Karl’s career. Why are we going to burn it out 18 games into a 20-year-old’s career? It doesn’t make sense.”
Towns said he intends to use what he has learned from watching Kevin Garnett to contribute whether he’s on the floor or bench come the fourth quarter.
“I’m not used to being on the bench in crunch time,” Towns said. “But you know what? Everything comes with a reason. … Gorgui’s really playing well. I just try to support him at all times. These are not my teammates, these are my brothers. You make sure you take care of them like family. I want them to succeed. Every time I’m on the bench and one of them scores, I’m as happy as anybody.”