There is no question that Flip Saunders, Timberwolves coach and head of basketball operations, got the player he wanted when he selected Karl-Anthony Towns with the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft.
My sources tell me that from Day 1 of the draft process, there was little doubt that the Wolves were going to select the consensus best player in the draft.
Towns, who played one season at Kentucky and averaged only 21.1 minutes per game as the Wildcats spread their minutes around, will look to become another franchise cornerstone for Saunders and the Wolves along with NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and point guard Ricky Rubio.
Towns has shown that he has tremendous post skills during his collegiate season, when he averaged 10.3 points on 56.6 percent shooting and also hit 81.3 percent of his free-throws to go along with 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.1 assists per game.
But the thing that impressed Saunders was that those skills are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Towns, because while playing at Kentucky his minutes were limited and his skills were harnessed because the team had such great depth.
“The thing about Towns is he has great versatility, I mean, he handles the basketball extremely well for a guy that is just under 7-foot,” Saunders said earlier this week. “He is a two-way player. He can block shots and score offensively. He didn’t show it in college, because [Kentucky coach John] Calipari didn’t ask him to do it, but he’s a very, very good perimeter-type shooter. So I just think his versatility, and then he’s very charismatic.
“Like most young players, what you have to do is keep working to get stronger as you keep maturing. I mean he’s only 19 years old, which basically the top three kids in the draft are all 19. The one guy who doesn’t have to worry about strength is [Jahlil] Okafor, because of his size. But like I said before, they all have different qualities. There is no question that Towns was probably by far the best two-way player in college basketball when you look at what he can do offensively and what he can do defensively.”
Saunders talked about Towns’ range as a scorer, something that has become increasingly important for big men in the NBA these days.
“A very good outside shooter,” Saunders said. “He has the ability to knock down three-point shots. He didn’t do it in college, but shot a lot in high school and has proven his ability in workouts to be able to shoot the three-point shot extremely well.”
If there is one thing that has made Saunders so excited about Towns it’s that while everyone knows what a tremendous defensive player he is, the Wolves coach believes his offensive game can become dominant.
“People look at him in the draft and people think what he’s known for is his defense, whereas I think his offense is very much underrated in how he plays offensively because he wasn’t asked to do as much because of the depth and type of team Kentucky had,” he said. “He can do a lot of different things.”
Towns’ academic capability and the fact that his father, Karl Sr., was a long-time basketball coach and former player are things that bode well for his understanding of the game, according to Saunders. On top of that, Towns was a stellar all-around athlete growing up and is known as a tremendous bowler.
“One, he is very intelligent — he was a 4.0 [3.96 grade-point average] student in high school, a 3.8 and 4.0 in his two semesters at Kentucky,” Saunders said. “He finished his junior and senior year in one year to be able to go early and go to Kentucky. He’s got high intelligence. He’s very engaging in talking. He has the ability, a high character individual. His dad was a coach for 25 years and coached him a lot. He has been reared with basketball IQ and a basketball background.”
And Saunders also wanted Tyus Jones, the former Apple Valley star who won a national title in his one season for Duke, in the worst way but thought there was no way it would happen.
After Cleveland picked Jones 24th, however, Saunders got his wish, as the Wolves traded their two second-round picks for the rights to Jones. It was a miracle.
Without a doubt, with Towns and Jones, this was the best draft day in the history of the Timberwolves.
Jones will give the Timberwolves the backcourt depth they will need to make them a certain contender.
• If you pay attention to the various messages on the Twins scoreboard, you will learn that on Aug. 1, the Twins will celebrate the 50th anniversary of playing in the 1965 World Series, won by the Dodgers in seven games. A number of Twins who participated in that World Series will be on hand, but the exact people who will be there is not known yet.
• The Twins have won three consecutive series against the White Sox and 14 series overall this year. The Twins have gone 9-4 against the White Sox, and 6-1 at home. … The Twins finished 5-3 on their homestand, and have now gone 25-15 at home this season; they are 15-9 in series finales and 6-4 in rubber games … Brian Dozier hit his 100th career double in the victory Wednesday, with 23 doubles in 71 games. Dozier is on pace for a team-record 52 doubles, which would break Justin Morneau’s 2008 mark of 47.
• Torii Hunter doubled home the Twins’ first run of the game Wednesday; he has hit in 11 consecutive games against the White Sox and is hitting .333 (16-for-48) against them this season.
• The Vikings already have sold 6,000 new season tickets for next year, which passes their total new sales of 5,450 for the 2014 season, which was their first year at TCF Bank Stadium. … Talking about season tickets, the Wild have sold more than 2,000 new season tickets.
• There were a total of 10 Minnesotans taken in the 2015 MLB draft, including three Gophers: Lance Thonvold, Dalton Sawyer and Ben Meyer. Roman Collins was the highest, selected by the Royals in the fifth round at No. 159; he played at Maple Grove. Travis Neubeck, who played at Hill-Murray, was selected by the Marlins in the seventh round. Tyler Follis, who played at North Dakota and was from Bemidji, was selected by the Rockies in the 28th round. Jack Goihl, an Armstrong standout who played at Augustana, was selected by Cleveland in the 28th round. Kris Goodman, who played for the Iowa Hawkeyes and graduated from Apple Valley, was selected by Miami in the 32nd round. Adam Bray, the South Dakota State standout from Eden Prairie, was picked in the 33rd round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. And lastly, the Twins selected Bloomington Jefferson pitcher Jake Irvin in the 37th round.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org