They both measure in at roughly 6’11”. They both entered the NBA when they were 19 years old. They both were drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves. That’s where the comparisons between Kevin Garnett and Karl-Anthony Towns should begin and come to a stop. OK, maybe if the NBA was still allowing prep to pro, you could add that in as well. Whereas Garnett changed the game 20 years ago, Towns is about to do the same, just different.
Whereas KG entered the NBA straight out of the high school ranks, young and fresh faced onto a team and into a league of full grown men, Towns joins a squad that, including himself, features 10 players 25 years or younger. That includes their main building block, Andrew Wiggins, who’s only one year removed from being a one-and-done himself.
As for the NBA, the league itself is much younger than when Garnett entered in 1995. While there were expectations of Garnett to one day grow into what he became, the lofty goals weren’t presumed to take place immediately (considering he was just a couple months past his high school prom), though as we know, KG changed all of that. With Towns, the city of Minnesota and Timberwolves fans have become hungry for a playoff run thanks to not sniffing the postseason for over a decade, placing huge demands on his young, broad shoulders.
Standing at 6″11 and 250 pounds, Towns spent a good chunk of time during his season at Kentucky playing in the paint, developing his post game against similar bodied opponents (not necessarily similar skill) and learning to take the physical pounding that he’d soon experience in the pro game. Coach Calipari limited Towns from stepping outside or running pick-and-pop plays, focusing more on developing his interior presence.
With this frame, Flip Saunders can immediately plug his prized rookie into the game and battle with opposing big men on the low blocks, something that KG wasn’t built for two decades ago. With an improving hook shot, big hands, quick feet and growing posterior, along with a solid mindset for boxing out and post positioning on both ends of the court (remember folks, he’s only 19!), Towns will be more than capable of handling his own in today’s NBA post-up game.
But like his new mentor, Towns has the skill set to be amongst the best in the new NBA, possibly even creating a new mold for the future. Whereas the Timberwolves rookie has expressed little or no problem playing in the paint, KG didn’t want to be pegged as a “big man” when he first entered the league, classically stating that he wasn’t a seven-footer, but rather 6’12”.
From Day 1, Garnett changed the way that the NBA and Saunders looked at the hybrid big man, as he displayed ever improving ball handling skills and consistent shooting range. Having already experienced working with KG for his first decade in the league, using the future Hall of Famer at various spots on the floor, Saunders now can implement the same tactic with Towns.
After growing up through high school and the AAU circuit working on his ball handling and perimeter shooting, the rookie can provide the Timberwolves’ opponents with matchup problems with his ability to face up and hit jumpers, drive past slow-footed big men or use his height and passing skills to find open teammates for easy hoops. And if that all fails, as all big men want to do, but few succeed, Towns has the ability, like Garnett, to step outside the arc to drop in a couple of bombs from downtown.
Unlike Garnett, who didn’t start for the Timberwolves until midway through his rookie season, Towns, barring any unforeseen reasons, will be part of the first five to take the floor on opening night. 20 years ago, Garnett averaged 28 minutes, 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.5 blocks, at least one highlight dunk and a couple of primal screams per night in his rookie season.
Tipping off the 2015-16 season, the Timberwolves have a much more talented lineup than they did in back in the mid-90s. Terry Porter, J.R. Rider, Sam Mitchell, Tom Gugliotta and Christian Laettner are replaced with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Garnett and Towns, throwing in Nikola Pekovic and Zach LaVine off the bench.
Gone are the negative off-court issues that came with Rider and Laettner, replaced with solid vets like KG, Martin, “Professor” Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince. As Towns gets his feet wet, and with Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng providing solid backup stats, look for Saunders to integrate his prized rookie at a moderate pace to start the season. Seeing a stat line of 27-30 minutes per night along with 12 points, 9-11 rebounds, a couple of assists, a pair of blocks and maybe a three-pointer every now and then wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. Aside from the increase in boards, those numbers look eerily similar to that of a certain No. 21 during his rookie campaign.
With the Western Conference being a tough nut to crack for a playoff spot, chances are Towns, who had great success throughout his high school and short college career, will have to take some lumps for a couple of years. However, with a great young core of talent and a certain Hall Of Fame bound voice in his ear, chances are the the expectations set out for Towns by his team, the Timberwolves fans and himself will be quickly exceeded, just as they were 20 years ago.