Coming off last season’s playoff appearance — their first in 14 years — the Timberwolves started this season with high expectations.
But the season has been filled with drama — Jimmy Butler’s demands, his holdout in training camp and his eventual trade to the 76ers. The drama continued this week with the firing of coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau.
One positive for the Wolves throughout the season has been the play of forward Karl-Anthony Towns.
Towns is averaging 22.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, three assists and 1.9 blocks per game. Over the past eight games, Towns is averaging 27.3 points, 16 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.5 blocks per game.
At Miami on Dec. 30, Towns had 34 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and six blocked shots. Only one other player in NBA history — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 — had a game with comparable statistics.
“Our coaching staff works with me on everything,” Towns said. “It’s always about being as versatile as possible. My game is built on versatility. I really can’t hold myself to just working on one thing, I’ve got to be able to have everything as sharp as possible.”
The play of Towns, who signed a five-year, $190 million contract before the season, and forward Andrew Wiggins, who signed a five-year, $147.7 million contract extension in October of 2017, are the keys to the Wolves’ return to the playoffs.
Towns is convinced the team can make the playoffs.
“Absolutely. I have no doubt about it in my mind that we can do that. Not only eighth seed, even higher,” Towns said. “It’s all about us putting the effort and the energy and bringing that edge every night.”
Towns said Wiggins — who scored his season high of 40 points in a 119-117 victory at Oklahoma City on Tuesday, the Wolves’ first game after Thibodeau’s firing — is playing well.
“He’s shooting the ball very well,” Towns said. “He’s playing aggressive. He’s getting downhill. He’s doing the little things. When Wiggins is playing like this, he’s almost unstoppable.”
Confidence in coach
Towns said he and new coach Ryan Saunders have a great relationship.
“Ryan was actually the one who worked me out when I came for the Timberwolves,” Towns said of his predraft workout in 2015. “Flip [Saunders] was watching, Ryan was working me out. Seeing if I was even qualified to be a Wolf at No. 1 pick. He was trying to do anything to make me fail, but I passed the test with flying colors.”
Towns thinks Saunders will have success as a head coach.
“Ryan’s more than capable of being a great head coach,” Towns said. “We have a lot of confidence and belief in him. Being around Ryan, you realize how positive he is. Just having that positivity around all the time is great. Eighty-two games, there is going to be a lot of ups and downs. But when you have some positivity around like that, it brings you a lot of good energy.”
Towns has long been the best player at each level.
He was the No. 1 high school player in the country coming out of St. Joseph’s in New Jersey, then became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft after one season at Kentucky.
Towns said his one year under coach John Calipari definitely helped him get ready for the pro level.
“Oh yeah, coach Cal did a lot for me,” Towns said. “I mess around with him all the time on Twitter and stuff about how he held me back and everything, but he’s a huge part of my development.
“And being at Kentucky, no matter what I do, will always be a huge decision that I made and it was the right decision for me.”
Towns averaged only 10.3 points in his one college season. The Wildcats started the season 38-0 before losing 71-64 to Wisconsin in the Final Four semifinals in Indianapolis. It was a season in which Towns learned a lot about the game.
“You learn how to win when you’re going 38 straight against a lot of great teams and a lot of great NBA talent that is in this league now,” Towns said. “But you also learn humility and humble and learning how to lose on the biggest stage. We did that, unfortunately, when I was there in the Final Four.
“But you know, the life lessons you learn through all of that, you learn how to be a rock star and how it is to be torn down like a rock star. It’s a great experience that I wouldn’t give back for anything.”
Dad taught the game
Towns always praises his father, Karl Towns Sr., and what he contributed to him.
“He is the sole reason I play the game of basketball,” he said earlier this season. “Without him, none of this would have ever happened. Without him teaching me the game and teaching me everything he knows and how he thinks, I wouldn’t have been able to utilize that knowledge to have, I’d say, a pretty good start to an NBA career.”
Odorizzi on Baldelli
Twins starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi will enter his second season with the team but is one of the few men on the 25-man roster who will have already worked with new manager Rocco Baldelli.
Odorizzi and Baldelli were in the Tampa Bay organization together from 2015-2017.
“I have known Rocco for a number of years now and I have seen him in a lot of different roles and what he has done and he has excelled at everything,” Odorizzi said. “It has been fun to see him develop as a coach, scouting and coaching. He was a great player that was cut short due to something he couldn’t control [a rare metabolic/muscular disorder that led to frequent injuries]. It’s nice to see that mind-set get taken into the coaching side of the game.”
Last season, Odorizzi started 32 games and posted a 4.49 ERA over 164⅓ innings with 162 strikeouts and 70 walks.
When it came to the Twins’ decision to replace Paul Molitor with Baldelli, Odorizzi said he had no issues with the way Molitor handled him in 2018.
“I think he did a good job,” Odorizzi said. “I think that’s the toughest job for a manager is managing your pitchers and knowing which guys are good for the right spots. Sometimes you have to make a gut decision and go off of the paper. It’s a tough dynamic for any manager, I think I would say.”