Look, a year ago at this time, this question would have been shot down as fast as Anthony Davis gobbles up opponents’ layups. AD had just completed an insane four-game run against the eventual champs in the first round of the Playoffs, averaging 31 and 11. He was unstoppable.
But right now this isn’t a crazy question. It isn’t actually a crazy question:
Is Karl-Anthony Towns better than Davis?
You can go anywhere with the answer to that, but the cold hard truth is that after his lone season in the League, KAT played well enough for that to not be a completely crazy question.
The maturity with which the youngin’ came into the League doesn’t make sense. Towns’ game is layered, already able to hit threes and take slower oafs off the bounce. The middie is automatic, he can rise for rimrockers, he’s quick enough to take your cookies and patient enough to do an impersonation of Davis’ blocked-shots routine.
But he’s only 20. He carries himself with an assuredness built to mask that adolescence. He thoughtfully answers questions, taking his time to pick the words he wants. He calculates each move in a never-ending effort to build a rock solid brand. He doesn’t second-guess himself. No, he’s sure about everything he says.
Except when the bruising big man shows his true self. He’s quick to laugh when the moment calls for it and even quicker to talk about his friends. Starting to round more into a would-be college kid? He also lives to play video games, and his quickly triggered laugh comes even faster when he’s talking about Call of Duty.
But, again, it’s easy to forget that he was in high school just two years ago.
When SLAM meets up with him in a hotel room high above Central Park in New York, he’s the biggest person in the room. His shoulders look like they’re on the way to Dwight Howard-ville. Everyone gravitates toward him. All the attention directed at him doesn’t feel like the nearly 10 adults in the room are taking care of him. It’s more like he’s the one looking out for all the older people in the hotel apartment.
Which is what makes it crazy when he talks about the group chat he has with his still college-age teammates from Kentucky that are also in the NBA.
“Every day,” Towns says about talking to the likes of Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison twins. “We stay in touch with everybody. We mostly stay in a group chat.” Oh yeah, he’s just a kid.
But he’s a kid who’s been in the spotlight for a minute. So doing Call of Duty livestreams with professional gamers is pretty regular for him.
That professionalism was developed, along with his game, at the University of Kentucky. As the leader of that team, KAT was thrown into the fire.
“The responsibility’s on you and the fanbase making it feel more like an NBA program, greatest fans in the world in all of college basketball. That feeling of being almost a professional team and being everything to a city, that translates to basketball. You’re the pride and joy of that city and you gotta go out every night and prove it,” Towns says.
Now that he is a professional, Towns hasn’t stopped working. In fact, he’s always working.
“I’m not satisfied at all yet,” he says.
But you’re gonna be the ROY, bro.
“I have a lot of things I gotta reach for, I have a lot of goals for myself.”
Enjoy the ride, kid.
“I gotta do more.”
He could just be saying all these things because he grew up watching fellow New Jersey products Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyrie Irving go through the superstar process. This could be brand awareness for an extremely well-versed young professional.
But if these words were hollow, would he have such a polished game? Would he have shot 34 percent from distance, 81 percent from the line without actually believing his own gospel?
If he didn’t mean everything he said, could he have led the Wolves into Golden State for a win? Could he have won the Skills Challenge against Isaiah Thomas, one of the premier guards in the League?
The kid peaks out again when talking about the Skills Challenge. Towns loosens up, his pace of speaking accelerates.
About the pile-up after the deciding shot went in: “No, that was not planned! I had no idea.”
“Of course against Isaiah Thomas, you don’t get many chances. Hitting that shot was awesome. I didn’t hear nor realize how close they really were to me after every single shot. How they would take another step to me. I had no idea how close they were. I was just surprised when I turned around and I was already getting tackled. It was fun.”
Oh yeah, here’s a kid from Jersey, living life on the big stage. Having fun.
“The reason I was having fun is because I felt that I left everything on the court every single night. I have no regrets and no doubts.”
Don’t worry, Wolves fans. The man knows that success in the NBA isn’t measured in Skills Challenge trophies. He’s ready to get back to the grind.
“I work tremendously hard all the time. That comes from my dad. He’s taught me everything.”
Though he knows how important he is to his team’s success, he also knows how important the rest of the squad will be. He’s part of a core that features eight impact players that are under 26 years old. Towns recognizes that the future is just around the corner.
“We’ve taken steps to being the best possible team we can be and I’m very excited. I’m very excited for next year.” Repetition for emphasis, folks. Repetition for emphasis.
Perhaps the biggest sign of how Towns’ maturity and competitiveness is how upset he was after being only the second team to beat the Warriors at Oracle.
“We had a great win. But for me, I didn’t play that well. At all,” Towns says. “I was more upset with myself. The way I played against Golden State, I put us in a very hard predicament not shooting the ball well. We could have won that game a lot easier. But it was a great team win.”
Are we sure this guy’s only 20? Are we sure that Thibs hasn’t somehow already rewired his brain to meet the correct level of hunger and desire? There are only two teams that went into Oracle and won this year and Towns expected more of himself..? Hey, Minnesota, congrats, you’ve got a keeper.
And the question that begs asking isn’t all that crazy:
When will Karl-Anthony Towns be the best big man in the NBA?
Sooner rather than later.