Long after the Timberwolves’ morning shoot had ended Monday, rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns spent some time working on pick-and-roll defense. Then he took a bunch of extra shots. Then, with just about everyone else gone, he and a couple of assistants had a little competition. They’d take two basketballs. Then they would throw one in the air, quickly take a three-point shot, catch the first ball and shoot again.
When it came to Towns’ turn: Swish, swish.
This, according to Towns, is a big reason why he has not yet run headfirst into the rookie wall.
“You guys see it,” he said. “You guys waited a long time for me to have this media thing. That’s what’s keeping me from hitting the so-called rookie wall. I work tremendously hard. I’m always one of the last people to leave the gym. So that’s what keeps me going.’’
With a bunch of injuries to big men, interim coach Sam Mitchell has leaned heavily on Towns and Gorgui Dieng recently. Towns has played more than 40 minutes twice in the past five games, more than 35 minutes four times.
But production-wise, Towns has shown no signs of dropping off. In seven February games he is averaging 20.9 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and is shooting 51.4 percent. He scored a season-high 28 points Monday night and grabbed 13 rebounds.
“I’m still waiting for Karl to hit that rookie wall,” Mitchell said. “I ask him every day and he says, ‘Coach I don’t know what that is.’ So if he doesn’t know I’m not going to tell him.’’
Of course, one reason his numbers are rising is that his playing time is, too. When Towns started the season so well, many clamored for Mitchell to play the rookie more. Because Towns had played only one year in college — and that at Kentucky he didn’t play a lot of minutes — Mitchell was determined to monitor Towns’ minutes early in the season.
Towns averaged less than 28 minutes in the first 17 games through the end of November. That jumped to 30:27 in December, 31:10 in January and now to 35:02 in February.
“Some people were killing me early in the year, saying I should be playing him 40 minutes,” Mitchell said. “I think I recall saying there would be enough games later in the season for me to stretch him out a little bit.’’
• A magnetic resonance imaging exam showed Nemanja Bjelica has a right foot strain. The rookie forward will travel with the team on the upcoming road trip to Toronto, New Orleans and Dallas, but will not play. He missed his third consecutive game Monday.No date has been set for his return.
• Tayshaun Prince suffered a lacerated chin in the first half that required six stitches.