LOS ANGELES – About two hours before any Timberwolves game, Karl-Anthony Towns is easy to find — on the court for warmups, going through drills with assistant coach Kevin Hanson.
After Towns has taken his complement of three-pointers and run through some post moves, he and Hanson will go off to the bench and look at film in advance of that night’s game.
It’s similar to what Hanson used to do with the other All-Star-caliber big man in Sunday’s Timberwolves-Lakers matchup, Anthony Davis. It was Hanson who worked with Davis in New Orleans, helping mold the athletic abilities Davis had into a two-way force. Davis’ blossoming under Hanson’s tutelage was why the Wolves wanted to bring Hanson to Minnesota to work with Towns.
So after Davis went to Los Angeles in a trade, the Wolves interviewed Hanson at Summer League in Las Vegas, and Hanson agreed to leave New Orleans and help oversee Towns’ progress.
“I hang my hat on big-men development, and I saw him at a point in his career where he’s about to take that next step and take off,” Hanson said. “I knew I could help him get there. He’s extremely skilled, extremely talented and I’m not here to teach him everything he already knows. I’m just here to help him improve his game, change his style of play a bit and anchor the defense.”
Hanson has helped Towns transition into the Wolves’ new three-point-hoisting, fast-pace offense. Towns has increased his three-point attempts from 4.6 to 8.7 per game this season and is shooting a career-best 42.7% from behind the arc. He has nearly matched his career high in rebounds with 12.3 per game, and he’s averaging a career-best 4.3 assists while knocking his fouls down from 3.8 to 3.3 per game.
Hanson played four seasons at the University of San Diego, carving out a career as a 6-10 center who — unlike Towns — never attempted a three-pointer. He played professionally in Europe before getting into coaching with the Spurs through the help of college teammate and current Hornets coach James Borrego. From there it was off to New Orleans in 2011 and now the Wolves.
Towns said he and Hanson formed a quick bond.
“His mind-set, his positivity for me is amazing,” Towns said. “I’m a big person about having good energy and a good positivity around you. He brings that every single day, no matter what time of the day it is. Just his mind is very clear about basketball. He knows what he likes and knows what he wants, and it helps keep the workouts very clear.”
Hanson, who also works closely with rookie Jarrett Culver, mentioned that the Wolves and coach Ryan Saunders wanted to help alter Towns’ style of play. One way they have done that, in Hanson’s words, is making Towns less of a “ball stopper.”
“We’re trying to modernize his style of play,” Hanson said. “He’s super-efficient in the post. Obviously an efficient shooter. But there’s a pace that we want to play at. The ball should never stop. He’s kind of been a ball stopper in a sense. … Playing on the perimeter or rolling through the pocket, everything should be a quick decision. The ball should never stop moving.”
This season, Towns has spent more time on the perimeter and does keep the ball moving when he’s out there, facilitating the offense with his passing ability and the threat that he will shoot from deep.
“It’s not about pace of running up and down, north and south. It’s about west and east as well and how quick we can run our plays and get into actions,” Towns said. “Obviously, I want to not be a ball stopper like we’ve always talked about. I want to be cognizant of if I have the ball, there’s a pretty good chance we’ve got a good chance to get a good shot.”
As for Sunday’s matchup, Hanson will have a front-row seat to see both his current and former protégés. He is one of the most qualified people to talk about the similarities and differences between two of the league’s dominant big men.
“AD is a better athlete. Karl is a better shooter. Karl’s better in the post. AD is better in just rolling to the rim in pick-and-roll,” Hanson said. “They’re different in that sense, but they’re both just as talented. Personality-wise is probably their biggest difference. AD is pretty quiet, and Karl is a little more outspoken. I always tried to get AD to be more outspoken, and for Karl it comes naturally. Now, we just try to get him more pointed and directed, use it to his advantage.”
It’s helpful that Towns is such a “self-starter,” Hanson said. When they go to work, Hanson doesn’t have to do much prodding or use motivational techniques. Towns wants to work and is open to different ways of getting better. So far, the results of their partnership have been fruitful, with Towns posting some of the best numbers of his career. But they hope there’s more to come.
“The NBA is a grind,” Hanson said. “To be able to have a guy who is ready every day and willing to listen and apply it right away, it’s all you can ask for in a player.”