LAS VEGAS – As if he didn’t know so already, new Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns recognized he had a classic case of rookie nerves after he chucked a shot in the opening moments of his first real NBA action and it hit nothing but desert air.
“I started out like any other rookie,” he said. “I ain’t going to lie: I had a lot of butterflies, I was very nervous, the legs felt heavy. It’s your first game out in front of everyone.”
The NBA scheduled the Timberwolves’ 81-68 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers as the marquee matchup on opening day of the Las Vegas Summer League because it featured the June draft’s first two players selected, Towns at No. 1 and Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell, picked next by the Lakers.
Predictably, players who know NBA play — the Wolves’ Zach LaVine, Lorenzo Brown, Adreian Payne, Othyus Jeffers and the Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson and Tarik Black, among others — ruled on a night when fans jammed UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center for a rookie showdown that never quite materialized.
It didn’t partly because the draft’s top two picks are different players, of different sizes, with different games and partly because, well, this was their first real live NBA action.
Towns had nearly as many personal fouls (nine) as points (12) playing against physical players such as Black and fellow former Kentucky star Julius Randle. But he played better as the evening progressed, displaying advance passing skills every time the Lakers sent two defenders at him and finishing the night much stronger in a decisive 25-12 fourth quarter than the airball that started the game.
“I didn’t even want to shoot the basketball,” he said. “It was just rookie jitters. I’m not going to be perfect. Just because I’m the No. 1 pick, doesn’t mean I’m going to be perfect.
But his passing was pretty good, to the tune of four assists.
“He can pass the heck out of the ball,” said LaVine, who led all scorers with 24 points. “He can really pass. If you cut, he’s getting it to you.”
The Lakers sent those double-teams at him nearly all night and Towns passed out of them nearly all night.
“I felt everything went OK,” Towns said. “I got my feet wet. I felt more comfortable as the game went along. I got more confident, started throwing flashier passes, starting doing a few more things”
Towns hadn’t played a real game since his 38-0 Kentucky team lost its final game of the season to Wisconsin in the Final Four. Towns played all season in John Calipari’s system that fairly equalized playing time.
Friday, Towns played more than any other Wolves player.
“The biggest thing I learned tonight was, if I’m right, how to play 32 minutes,” Towns said, smiling.
He’s right. He also was a winner for the 39th time in his last 40 games after the Wolves outscored the Lakers 25-12 in the final quarter.
“We did a great job tonight taking that first step of changing the view of this team and making us a winning team,” Towns said. “For a lot of people, they don’t see a lot of W’s from Minnesota Timberwolves. But this is a W you can see and it’s a start. It’s a great start.”
• First-round pick Tyus Jones came off the bench before starting point guard Lorenzo Brown, didn’t score and didn’t have an assist in 16 minutes.
• The Wolves have added Nick Wiggins to their summer league team. Sounds familiar? He is the older brother of Andrew Wiggins.