MINNEAPOLIS — “I made a promise to Flip Saunders that I would win and that I would end the playoff drought and I intend to do that,” said Karl-Anthony Towns when asked what will make this season a success.
Friday morning at Media Day the always savvy Towns reminded us at that he often knows the right answers to questions from the media. He described success this season in one word, “Winning.” He continued by saying, “I don’t care about personal statistics.”
The Wolves center who averaged over 25 points and 12 rebounds per game last season seemed less interested in posting monster numbers and more concerned with team success. That certainly makes sense; the key to putting weight behind his numbers this season will be in large part affected by meeting expectations that have risen with the team's addition of Jimmy Butler.
The 28-year-old Butler defined success a bit more poetically than his 21-year-old sidekick, as he described it as “the will to do whatever is asked of you.”
Today, we saw the initial steps of Towns and Butler putting their plan in motion to co-lead this team along with 22-year-old Andrew Wiggins. Towns' interview reassured that he will again be the most affable of the group, though not without competition. Butler brought his own personality and it showed he’s a true veteran, someone that is deeply confident. He gave some sassy but fun responses before giving his honest opinion, all while saying mostly the right things. Towns wasn’t as cliche as he has been in the past but his positivity still shined. He even ended his interview by saying, “good questions.”
If it wasn’t already clear that Towns and Butler were going to be different leaders, today it became crystallized. While both players understand the importance of winning, Towns will be the one keeping the mood light in the locker room. Butler, unsurprisingly to many, will play the role of enforcer referencing the need to occasionally “be confrontational” so as to instill team-wide toughness. Conversely, Towns had more faith in things coming together organically. “I think we’ll easily find a way. And if we find a way like Golden State has, we’ll be winners,” said Towns.
Towns is right to feel more comfortable in his third year in the league. Last season, was an information overload for Towns who was only the age of a junior in college. Towns suggested this season’s comfort comes largely from continuity.
“I think it is having some stability. It was hard to come into the NBA and have two back-to-back different coaches. Now in my third year and having my second year with a coach I can really understand what the system is and I don’t have to change it.”
The Chicago Bulls Transplants
While the roster had a lot of turnover, Towns was quick to point out that many of the new players will have a short learning curve.
“Weirdly enough, it seems like we are bringing Chicago to Minnesota. Everyone really knows the system, which is great. It expedites our process by ten-fold... It’s great to have Taj and Jimmy with us.”
Towns seems to be more comfortable with the defense, an admitted issue last season. Perhaps thanks to the experience around him, Towns suggested he can further rely on his instincts.
“I was just thinking too much. The system has you do ‘this, that, this, that’ and sometimes you forget you’re a basketball player. You’re one of the best players in the world, you have to use what got you here which was instincts. Sometimes I threw my instincts to the side and it hurt me sometimes. So now I’m playing more off my instincts.”
Head Coach Tom Thibodeau has constantly harped on the idea of “playing on a string” defensively, but Towns says he has the approval of his coach to play more instinctually.
“I like to use my instincts on defense. I love playing in the system but the system needs to allow me to have that freedom. I feel that freedom now.”
How Towns Sees Himself Improving
In addition to better defense this year, Towns expects to demand more respect around the league. One area being the referees.
“I think it comes with respect. I was only in my second year last year. I think refs were still getting used to me... I play a very funky style of basketball. It’s very unorthodox at times. It looks very weird. I think the refs were just getting used to it. And also, being seven foot and 250, it’s going to be tough to give me a call when a point guard is in front of me and I’m barrelling down on ‘em.”
He also referenced being stronger while also being faster as steps in his progression towards improvement.
“Teams always got physical with me. Maybe I got a little stronger, maybe I got a little faster but I didn’t want to change too much. I’m always a big believer that if it’s not broke don’t fix it... I changed my diet a little bit. It changed my body type... I feel good. My girlfriend says I look good so I guess that works out pretty well.”
Maximum Contract for Andrew Wiggins
His kindest words were directed towards the Wolves other first-overall pick. Towns reassured that Wiggins is not only worth his new contract but also that the money will not be a distraction.
“I think that it doesn’t really matter. Andrew is a competitor. He’s a man who wants to win. He wants to put on for Canada. I don’t think Maple Jordan is going to have a problem this year signing that contract which he rightfully deserves. He’s a max player and getting that contract won’t stop him from achieving the goals he has set on himself which is being one of the best players in the NBA.”
Watching what appeared to be earnest excitement today from Towns reminded me of the sheepish frustration he displayed at times last season. The number of possessions Towns would retreat to the other end with his head shaking in disappointment could be staggering. He knows those disappointments will be fewer and further between this year.
While the leadership dynamic between Butler and Towns will be an adventure this season the enthusiasm in the opportunity is clearly there. “The opportunity is really in the palm of our hand,” said Towns. “We just have to take it.”