Clippers-Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns faces biggest test


Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns has impressed everyone so far, but he’ll have one of his toughest tests yet against the Los Angeles Clippers’ star frontcourt.

Karl-Anthony Towns has exceeded the expectations of everyone in his rookie season so far. He’s simply gone above and beyond what first year players are meant to do in their first few weeks, and he’s certainly proving himself as the first overall pick. He’s just what the Minnesota Timberwolves need, and alongside Andrew Wiggins they have the most exciting young duo in the NBA. As is still the case with any talented rookie, though, they always face the chance of being schooled by an experienced veteran.

On Sunday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, Towns will meet that match. He’s the best interior defender the Timberwolves have, and he’ll no doubt have the responsibility of guarding two of the league’s best big men throughout the night.

Towns will be faced with both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. That thought alone would scare most rookies. As for Towns, well, he’s the best first year center who has a chance at competing well against them. Jahlil Okafor may be making the most of being on a pathetic Philadelphia 76ers team with 18 points per game, but Towns has still showcased his well developed interior defense and offensive game. He’s playing 27.9 minutes a night and averaging 14.2 points on 52 percent shooting, which is far better than you think when you look a little further into what he can do.

He’s not just grabbing offensive rebounds and getting easy put-backs, or making all of his shots at the rim when Ricky Rubio drives to the basket and drops off a pass for an easy dunk. He can take slower centres off the dribble from the top of the lane and drive to the basket, he finishes through contact, he can operate in pick-and-rolls, and he runs the floor. Perhaps the most impressive part of his offensive performance so far, though, has been his mid-range game.

Towns doesn’t need much elevation for his jumper, and has a quick release to keep opposing big men guessing when they’re forced to defend him further away from the basket. He’s shooting 50 percent from 16 feet out which is impressive enough as it is, although seeing as he’s taking 26.8 percent of all his field goal attempts from that range, it’s even more impressive.

Yes, it’s incredibly early, but it’s still hard to find centers with that kind of shot if he can keep it up.

So, Minnesota landed a tough, 7 foot defender, with some nifty footwork and turnaround jumpers in the post and a good jumper? That’s a winning combination for the Timberwolves. At just 20 years old, the room for growth is immense as well.

You can see some of his attributes on display in the game above where he went toe-to-toe with a top center in Nikola Vucevic, and still went off for 21 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks (one of which took the Timberwolves to overtime by sending away Tobias Harris’ attempt at a game winner).

Things won’t be quite the same against the Clippers’ frontcourt, though.

Towns has faced elite teams and elite big men already this season, but having to stop one of the best scorers in the league on defense (Griffin), while having to try and score against one of the league’s best defenders (Jordan) in the same game is a mighty challenge.

On the boards, his main competition will be two-time rebounding champion DeAndre Jordan. DJ’s athleticism is off the charts for a center, and his explosiveness will be a constant challenge for Towns to box out and overcome in rebound battles. Jordan is averaging 12.6 rebounds per game with ease this season, and has the third best total rebound percentage in the league.

Plus, he’ll be a highly formidable opponent when he’s guarding Towns in the post. Players are shooting 4.5 percent worse within six feet against Jordan this season, and he’s even averaging a career-high 2.9 blocks per game, too. Towns will also need to be aware when he’s attacking the basket to avoid DJ flying in from behind for a block, as he always excels as a help defender when he preys on opponents with highflying rejections.

Then there’s Blake Griffin, who’s going to be an absolute nightmare for Towns to try and stop getting to the basket. The Timberwolves have Kevin Garnett and Gorgui Dieng to guard him at power forward as well, but Towns is going to be faced against Griffin at some point. And when that happens, his young defensive talent will really be put the test.

November 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) controls the ball against the Phoenix Suns during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Next: Doc Rivers calls Timberwolves 'the team of the future'

Griffin has been as good as ever this season. He’s averaging a career-high 25.1 points per game and his mid-range has looked even more automatic, as he’s making a career-best 45.8 percent of his shots from 16 feet out. Behind those numbers, he’s been playing with heart as well. While the Clippers have been struggling to an 8-8 record over the first month of the season, Griffin has been leading by example at both ends of the floor.

He’s improved his rebounding (8.6 per game), he’s playing hard on defense, and he’s using his ridiculous ball handling to constantly attack the basket. That final asset alone will make him incredibly difficult for the Timberwolves’ rook to stop.

Towns is far from being a pushover in the paint, though. With 9.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, the box score already looks good. Add on the fact that he’s currently destroying his opponent’s efficiency by making them shoot 11.4 percent worse within six feet and 9.4 percent worse within 10 feet, and it’s clear what he can do. He’ll just be put to the test whenever Griffin looks to drive to the rim, as Towns will need to muster all the speed he can to stay on him and avoid being taken off the dribble.

He’s fared well overall of course, but Towns was outplayed in the post by Okafor when the Timberwolves faced the 76ers on November 23. Okafor went off for 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, and pulled off some exceptional moves to best the player that went ahead of him in the draft. From his shot fakes when driving to his effortless turnaround jumpers, he put on a show.

That inexperience gives Griffin a chance to go at Towns with full force and come out on top. Not to mention, the obvious strength advantage Blake has to back him down on the low block.

More from Clipperholics

For the Clippers, Sunday night’s game is an easier contest to take their current win streak to two and get past a .500 record again. For the Timberwolves, they have a chance to prove themselves against another tough opponent as they’ve already defeated the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, and Atlanta Hawks twice this season.

For that young star Karl-Anthony Towns, he has possibly the biggest test of his young career so far. On a big stage against one of the NBA’s best frontcourts, he has another chance to show why he’s a franchise player in the making.

If he can compete against elite frontcourts like this already, the Timberwolves are even closer to emerging as contenders in the next few years.