MADISON, WIS. – Timberwolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns played on during Sunday’s third quarter at Memphis probably a bit longer than he otherwise would have in a preseason game when his coach wanted to evaluate other players and lineup combinations.
But there was a reason and purpose: Memphis’ Marc Gasol remained on the floor, and a lopsided preseason game became an opportunity for the Wolves’ No. 1 overall draft pick to see, feel and smell what an All-Star is like.
Gasol played the entire third quarter before he sat down for the night in his team’s 90-68 victory over the Wolves. Towns stayed on the floor for the quarter’s first 9½ minutes before he, too, rested for the evening.
“I left him out there against Gasol because I wanted Karl to get a taste of the type of centers and how good these guys are,” interim coach Sam Mitchell said.
This particular guy whom Towns faced Sunday was the NBA’s first-team All-Star center last season, a formerly fat high school player and second-round draft pick who transformed his body and his game into a couple of maximum NBA contracts, two All-Star Game appearances and the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year award.
Gasol delivered 12 points on 3-for-8 shooting and eight rebounds in nearly 30 minutes. Six of those rebounds came in that third quarter when Towns got such a good feel for Gasol’s size and weight and a good look at the way he moves and the range with which he can shoot.
“I thought Karl battled Gasol,” Mitchell said, “as good as he can for a 19-year-old.”
Afterward, Towns did not look like a teenager bewildered by a 30-year-old, seven-year NBA vet who didn’t enter the league until he was 23. Instead, Towns was all smiles.
“It was awesome,” Towns said. “You’re talking about one of the best bigs in the game, so just to be able to go out there and compete and battle was a lot of fun. I had a tremendous amount of fun out there just competing. I just thank Coach Mitchell for giving me a chance to play against one of the best.”
Towns played nearly 23 minutes. He missed all shots he took in the first half and made two of three after halftime.
He also had seven rebounds, an assist, three fouls, three turnovers and maybe just a little bit better understanding what it’s like to be among the best at his position in the world’s best league.
“I think I did well,” Towns said. “I just couldn’t hit shots. It was a weird day. In the second half, I got it rolling, but for me it’s not about scoring. It was more about contributing to the team’s success. I thought I did a better job on defense, talking and being the team player we need me to be.”
Towns faced fourth-year Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter in the season’s first preseason game, Gasol’s brother Pau, a five-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion, in the second game and Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas the next two games after that.
Towns’ first real look at a legitimately sized NBA center at the top of his game came Sunday in a preseason when the Wolves, now 1-4, have faced opponents that are all title contenders or likely bound for the playoffs.
The Wolves face another such team — Milwaukee — in their final two games, starting Tuesday against the Bucks at the University of Wisconsin’s Kohl Center and then Friday at Target Center.
Mitchell says he wouldn’t want it any other way with such a young team in the preseason.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The last thing these guys need is a false sense of how this league is. This league is tough and those guys [opponents] are out there playing, they’re coming after us, they’re scoring.
‘‘Our guys have to get used to it because it’s only going to go up even another level once the regular season starts. So I want our young guys to get used to it.”
On Sunday, Mitchell wanted his rookie to face Gasol, and see the future.
“Karl’s going to be like that one day,” Mitchell said, “but it’s a learning process.”
And the lessons roll on nightly.
When told Mitchell expects him to be like Gasol some day, Towns smiled and said, “Hopefully sooner than later.”