Where is the Love? Karl-Anthony Towns

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Where is the Love?

featuring Karl-Anthony Towns

By Dan Morris
Limitless Range NBA

In this piece I will dive into the young career of Minnesota Timberwolves star center Karl Anthony-Towns, and try to examine why his perception has taken such a negative hit over the past year.

Towns, the 1st overall pick out of Kentucky in the 2015 NBA draft, seemed destined for greatness -- and did nothing in his first year to question that by winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award. Towns not only won the award but did so in dominating fashion, sweeping all 6 months of the Rookie of the Month honors. It’s now only three years since then, and Towns’ reputation has taken quite the hit - being labeled “soft,” or “not a great leader.”

The question I ask is, why? Is it because Jimmy Butler said so? Is it because they got bounced in the first round of the playoffs a year ago? Is it because he plays video games?? I know that last one seems silly, but it’s a legit criticism brought up by the NBA community. I'm here to dispute these ridiculous claims, and tell you that Towns deserves more love.

Ah, yes… the Jimmy Butler experiment was fun, wasn't it? Although Jimmy Butler is respected around the league with his winning mentality and legendary work ethic, at what point does he [Butler] become the problem instead of everyone around him? I understand what attracts fans to Jimmy, with his insatiable desire to win and tireless efforts to push teammates in the same direction. Butler's “keeping it real” attitude and “I don't give a fuck if you like me” attitude is appealing to NBA community. But, at what point does Jimmy's approach undermine the real endgame? WIN.

Butler's attitude led to issues in Chicago, with (among others) Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and, later, Coach Fred Hoiberg. With the Bulls fed up, Butler was traded to Minnesota to reunite with old coach Tom Thibodeau. With Butler now teamed with Towns, the T'Wolves made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. While the Wolves lost in the first round, it felt like a really good season for the team and better things were yet to come —that was, until Jimmy decided he wasn’t going to sign an extension with Minnesota. Butler wanted out, and he handled it the worst possible way you can imagine: Calling young Timberwolves Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins nonchalant, and questioning their desire to win. Butler didn't stop there as he entered a tense pre-season practice, screaming at owner Glen Taylor, "You fucking need me! You can't win without me."

Butler's antics eventually led to a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers, to once again team with young talented players. It didn't take long for there to be issues in the city of brotherly love, and Butler confronted Coach Brett Brown regarding his role on the team. Jimmy told teammates he wanted to be the lead man in a traditional pick-n-roll offense.

At this point you guys are probably wondering, “Is this article about Towns or Butler?” And it is a fair question to ask, but I’ve outlined all of Jimmy's past issues to hypothesize this: Towns label of being soft and not a winner is a direct result of Jimmy being Jimmy. Jimmy Butler has now distributed this chemistry in all three of his NBA locations, and I would surmise things could’ve been even worse in Philadelphia if not for Butler's impending free agency. I understand questioning former No.1 pick Andrew Wiggins attitude and nonchalant approach because of his propensity to underachieve, but Towns has simply balled out since day one. Future Hall of Famer and NBA legend Tim Duncan was never a rah-rah guy, but he always got it done on the court. Guys like Duncan and Towns get it done by leading by example. I'll admit, I also bought in on Butler at first due to fiery winner's mentality, but after taking a step back I've realized Butler, not Towns, may have been the problem.

The memory of the playoff loss to the Houston Rockets only cemented the label created by Jimmy for Towns. I'll be the first to admit that Towns didn't perform well in that series, but what people conveniently don't remember is the last game of the season, when Minnesota faced a better-than-their-record Denver Nuggets in a win or go home game. Towns balled out with 26 points and 14 rebounds in a 112-106 victory. This definitely doesn't forgive Towns performance in the Houston series, but again let me put this in perspective using another Minnesota great we all know about: Kevin Love never made the playoffs in his entire career with the team. How about Kevin Garnett? How did he do in Minnesota? Well, I'm glad you asked! Garnett first made the playoffs in the 1996-1997 season, and he didn't see the second round until 2004! Eight years, y'all. Eight fucking years! Give my man a break. Towns has produced since day one and keeps getting better. This year, despite all of Butler’s distractions, Towns has averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks per game, all while stretching the floor like a new age center should, making nearly two 3s per game on 38.3% shooting. He checks all the boxes of a superstar.

The final step in putting the "soft” or “nonchalant" label on Towns’ bio is the biggest reach of them all. The notion that an athlete plays video games is a surefire indicator that said athlete doesn't work hard is both ludicrous and a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Everyone saw the viral video of Karl-Anthony Towns and Sixers star PG Ben Simmons playing PUBG the night before Towns had a game, but what they may not have realized is Towns went on to break the Wolves team record of 56 points the next night in a winning effort over the Atlanta Hawks. Now I'm not trying to make the correlation between the two, but I'm simply debunking the idea that doing something that isn't basketball related for fun is a negative. It is very possible that Towns can put in the work at practice, hit the gym for a bit, put up some extra shots, watch some film and then at the end of his busy day turn on the ol’ Xbox for some relaxation. This idea that an elite basketball player has to be 24/7 thinking or doing basketball things is nothing more than a fallacy.

I was inspired to write this piece due to the negative and unwarranted press Towns has received since Butler has been shipped to Philly. I remember when most thought Towns was a better prospect than Embiid. I get that Embiid has passed him up in the mythical hierarchy in the NBA, but when I started hearing names like Lillard, Jokic and even Butler ascending above the talented and PRODUCING young star, I started wondering if the hate had gone too far. I believe it has. Towns is a special special talent that we don't see come along very often.

So, I will end with a piece of advice for anyone that is reading this: Give the young man some time to grow and mature into a winner. Don't let a clear team-killer like Butler make you believe that this man doesn't strive for greatness. I believe in ten years we will look at Towns the way we looked at KG or Duncan. We should appreciate the time we have to watch this great talent in his prime. Because with that size, with that talent, with that game, he isn't going anywhere.