Day two of our first annual State of the Franchise series takes an in-depth look at Karl-Anthony Towns, not simply as an offensive savant, but as the overall face of the franchise. Does KAT have what it takes to lead an organization out of the darkness, much like Giannis Antetokounmpo has done with the Bucks, Damian Lillard has done with the Blazers, or Luka Doncic is currently doing with the Mavs?
Q: Where are you personally at with Karl-Anthony Towns as the lead dog and face of the franchise?
Mike O’Hagan: I’m pretty conflicted at this point. From a talent standpoint, I think we have a pretty good idea of where Karl-Anthony Towns stands, which is a Tier II or Tier III star player, which is really damn good. He’s probably right on the edge of guys who you could consider as “best player on a championship team.” In that sense, I don’t think there’s a whole lot more we could ask of Towns. Many nights, he’s the only reason that tuning-in is somewhat bearable.
On the defensive end, I’m worried. He seems lost in pick-and-roll coverage, clearly struggling in the drop scheme. It seems unlikely that Minnesota will change that anytime soon. Even if Ryan Saunders were to be let go, David Vanterpool figures to be the top candidate to replace him, and we know the defensive scheme is his. I fear the defensive issues won’t be fixed anytime soon.
On the other hand, there definitely is room to grow as a leader. While I respect him trying to keep his composure amidst all the losing, his cliches have grown old over the years. At some point, it’s his job to put the foot down and get the team going in the right direction. It’s not that the best player necessarily has to be THE leader in the locker room, but it’s hard to think of too many teams where the best player hasn’t at least been one of the prominent voices. I think KAT wants to be that, but it seems that his cliche answers don’t really get him there.
At the end of the day, KAT is a great player who still needs to learn how to be a great leader. At just 24 years old, that’s no small task, but it’s one that Towns needs to take head on for the Wolves to take a step forward.
Josh Clement: I’m hesitant to begin the blame-game for the team’s best player on a bad team. That is so often short-sighted and is another expression of outsized expectations for a single individual to carry a team to the playoffs. We’ve already played that game enough in Minnesota.
Having said that, I think there are some concerns. It’s not that Towns cannot be the best player on a championship-level team, but I think there is a fair question around how good that second-best player has to be. Most young players are not asked to be the best player on their team and the de facto leader. There are a few that can handle that burden, who are often the perennial MVP-candidates, such as the Giannis’ of the world.
This season is likely another example that Towns simply is not at that level and is probably a clear tier below, which suggest the Wolves need another player at or near Towns level to truly compete. There is not anything wrong with that, as this is true of 90 percent of all the “stars” in the league, but it does have implications for the Wolves moving forward, particularly regarding Andrew Wiggins.
Kyle Theige: From a pure talent standpoint, there are very few players who have laced up for the Timberwolves that have possessed more skill and overall ability than Karl-Anthony Towns. He is already one of the best shooting big men the game has ever seen, and his potential as a playmaker (especially in this “system”) seems to be limitless.
In terms of being the “lead dog” or face of the franchise, I still think there’s significant work that needs to be done. I can’t imagine the pressure or responsibility that comes with leading a professional sports organization, especially at only 24-years old, but I do know that Towns desire to always blame himself after a loss or act like the smartest guy in the room isn’t the long-term strategy that a leader should take (especially in an arena like professional sports where there are alphas on every corner).
Has Towns faced constant turnover and change since he entered the league five years ago? Yes. Is it hard to act consistently and professionally when many of those around you are failing to do so (i.e. Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler)? Absolutely. But when push came to shove, Towns defeated both of those guys in the battle for Wolves power, and now that the organization has firmly aligned themselves behind the former Kentucky Wildcat, it’s time to show that their investment and belief was not flawed.
Jake Paynting: It would be naive to suggest that my confidence in Towns’ ability to lead this team hasn’t wavered at all, but, for me, there is still enough reason to believe he can turn the ship around.
His defense needs a lot of work and his attitude on the court can be a bit whiny, but he is still one of the greatest offensive talents of the generation and it’s impossible to ignore that. When you combine that with the fact he is only 24-years-old and still clearly learning what it takes to win consistently in this league, it’s silly to suggest he has hit his leadership peak.
In fact, the drama and turmoil that has been heaped on him recently gives me even more hope for his future outlook. Hopefully, with the help of the coaching staff and the other veterans on the team, Towns can take a step back and re-evaluate his on-court demeanor and his off-court persona and come out the other side a better leader.
Furthermore, having a bad team around him leaves him with no room for error. Give him a competent squad and I believe a whole new side of KAT will shine through.
John Meyer: This team never has access to players even in the same breath as Towns, so while he’s obviously not without flaws, as everyone has discussed, I think there are tons of other more significant issues. Here’s a fact: He’s a transcendent scoring weapon capable of putting the entire offense on his back; the man is a walking bucket. 20 years could pass by and this organization would likely not find a player as good as him. I think he needs to be a better leader on the court and in the locker room and get guys to want to follow him. I also think the franchise should find a real point guard, acquire legitimate shooters to execute Rosas’ system, use the rest of this season to do some experimenting — like another big next to KAT because why not!? — and work diligently to put the right complementary pieces around him.
His defense has been terrible. I can’t deny that. That’s clearly a concern. Is the system exposing his weaknesses? I tend to believe so. So, yeah, KAT is not blameless here but he’s an amazing talent and my confidence in him as the face of the franchise has not wavered much if at all. There’s definitely room for improvement but he’s still an untouchable asset in my book.