The feeling that counts.
Karl-Anthony Towns cannot remember the date. He can’t remember the month. Early in the season. Late October, maybe November.
But the feeling that he knows.
“I went to the practice facility one morning,” Towns explained. “Usually I’m one of the first before the coaches and everyone else gets there. I walked in and found myself in the weight room smiling, happy to be here, happy to be in the gym so early, happy to see everyone coming to work and exercising.
“It’s a different feeling than I’ve had for a long time.”
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That feeling is important, especially for cities whose past two seasons have seen untold losses. His mother, Jacqueline Cruz, and six other family members died of COVID-19 in 2020.
“I’ve seen a lot of coffins in the last seven months,” Towns said ahead of the start of the 2020-21 season.
His relationship with basketball — so often celebrated while his mother watched — was fractured.
Grief has no schedule.
We are shaped by our losses.
The hope is that light will break through the darkness.
“This season brought me closer to basketball,” Towns said. “Me and basketball essentially had a split in the relationship, even though I played at a high level. It wasn’t the same, and this year I got closer to basketball.”
That shows on the court, where Towns averaged 24.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 blocks and a steal and shot 52.9% from the field, 41% on 3-pointers and 82 .2% on free throws.
It may not be Towns’ best season statistically, but when combined with everything he’s been through in the past two years — including a car accident and COVID-19 illness — and Minnesota’s successful season, it could be his best season overall. He’s heading for his second All-NBA selection.
Minnesota has become more than just a determined young team around Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards this season.
“He enjoys his team-mates and has great support from them,” said Timberwolves coach Chris Finch. “He feels very much a part of it. We have a young and very tight team and he feels very comfortable being part of that fabric and maybe the past few years he’s felt like an outsider in his own team, which is a tough place. He firmly believes in his teammates and his coaching staff. Great players need hope. They have to hope that what surrounds them is good enough to help them win at the highest level.”
These Timberwolves have a different demeanor – a confidence that borders on arrogance.
Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverley knew the reputation the Timberwolves had before he arrived. He called previous Timberwolves teams “swagless”.
“This year is very different,” Beverley said. “We know exactly who we are. We shrink from no one – but humble, not arrogant. We feel comfortable in our own skin. We don’t run from smoke or duck from the action. We want to show the league that this is a team that will definitely be talked about for years to come.”
Edwards, the sophomore, added swag and talent. His confidence is overflowing and his 30-point performance in a 109-104 play-in game win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday helped the Timberwolves make the playoffs for the second time since 2004. This was also the second best season of the Timberwolves since 2004 and Towns’ game was a big part of it.
“That difference this year more than any other year is that he’s winning and probably his efficiency is higher,” said Finch. “He has one of the most efficient offensive seasons he’s ever had and in the whole league with top players I would imagine his efficiency is at the top. I also think it’s beyond offensive. Defensively he made a strong impression on us. He also rounds out his game. He does everything. He is not a one or two dimensional player. He’s a five tool player.”
The Timberwolves averaged 116.9 points per 100 possessions with Towns, who posted an NBA season-high 60 points on the court against San Antonio that season. It’s the highest offensive rating for Towns in his seven seasons. And with an increased defensive focus from opponents on Towns – double teams, triple teams denying him the ball.
That’s what the Clippers did in the play-in game, and Towns only managed 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting. But Edwards and Russell (29 points) came through.
“He did a great job not fighting the game,” Finch said. “Whatever the defense does, he uses it to create open shots for his teammates. When he touches the ball it almost always results in a good look for himself or his teammates just because of the gravity he has on the court. We’ve seen a lot of different looks with him. …
“He did a good job of adapting to these things on the fly. He feels much more comfortable and is not so unsettled by it. He has a lot more confidence and understands: “This is how I will benefit the team tonight.” ”
Of course, the Timberwolves need more offensive production from Towns in their first-round series against the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies that begins Saturday.
Winning is important, but never as important as enjoying life. Tuesday’s win coincides with the anniversary of his mother’s death two years ago.
“Just shows you what kind of person he is and how me and my wife – may she rest in peace – built that into him,” Karl Towns Sr said. “Despite the odds, he can still be that guy. To me, that means more than anything. It’s not about his game. It’s about showing that he’s matured as a man. ‘Dad, I’m fine.’ I just wanted to make sure he was healthy physically and mentally and that’s more important to me than the game. He was able to fight, stay strong and just thrive. And I’m so happy
“He had so many people in his corner who helped him get through tough times. He knows it’s going to be okay, even though he lost your mother, there are people out there – his father – who want you to know that she wants you to move on and be the person she knows you are. Having the right people around – Jordyn Woods, his girlfriend – all giving him the guidance and strength to do it for them. It’s the little things that drive him, everyone knows he has the best guardian angel and family support anyone could ask for.”