Karl-Anthony Towns shines in Summer League debut as Timberwolves beat Lakers

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LAS VEGAS — Karl-Anthony Towns knows the responsibility that comes with being the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, and after a decent debut which helped his Timberwolves beat the Lakers on the opening day of Summer League action in Las Vegas, he seemed to be more than ready to take on that challenge.

Towns faced the draft’s second overall pick in D’Angelo Russell, inside a Thomas and Mack Center that featured an electric atmosphere, and was packed with fans rooting mostly for Los Angeles. After overcoming some early jitters, which included air-balling a long three-pointer less than 30 seconds in, Towns settled in nicely, and finished with 12 points, three rebounds, four assists — and nine personal fouls.

“I started out like any other rookie; I ain’t gonna lie,” Towns said. “I had a lot of butterflies. I was very nervous, legs felt heavy — you know, it’s your first game out in front of everyone. You’re just trying to change the tide of an organization, especially being the No. 1 pick. We did a great job tonight as a team, taking that first step of changing the view of this team and making us a winning team.”

Towns was far from integral to his team’s success. Zach LaVine did the heavy lifting on the scoring side, and he and Jordan Clarkson of the Lakers looked like men among boys after playing an entire season’s worth of legitimate minutes. But what Towns did exceptionally well was pass out of double-teams — which he needed to do consistently, since L.A. sent hard doubles his way just about every time he touched the ball.

“I was very comfortable,” he said. “I did it a lot in college. I did it a lot in high school, especially. I was very ready for the double-team when I saw it coming. Just trying to make sure I’m not just making the right pass out of the double team, but the right pass that gives us a scoring opportunity.”

While there are plenty of things Towns can do now that are immediately translatable, he (of course) has a lot to learn about playing at the NBA level — a process which has already begun.

“I think the biggest thing I learned tonight was how to play 32 minutes,” he said. “I’m used to a platoon system — 19 minutes, 20 minutes, playing in five-minute spurts. I was playing 10, 11 minutes straight (tonight). It’s different obviously, I’m not gonna lie. But the platoon definitely saved my legs for the league and I’m more than glad we did that system.

“I also learned today more about using your body,” he said. “I used my body a lot in college, but today you’ve got to use your body a little more. People are more crafty in the NBA, other than just banging and seeing who is stronger. It’s a more crafty game. As I got more and more used to it I was able to go back to the right hand hook and make some things happen.”

The Lakers had physical big men in Julius Randle, Tarik Black and Robert Upshaw for Towns to deal with, and he struggled to finish through contact at times. That will come down the road once he bulks up a bit, but what he possesses now is a high basketball IQ that is impossible not to notice.

It was a solid first step for Towns, certainly. And even at this extremely early stage, he appears to be taking the long view of his career with the Timberwolves, and is looking forward to changing the perceptions surrounding the franchise.

“For a lot of people, they don’t see a lot of Ws from the Minnesota Timberwolves, but today this was a W they could see,” he said. “It’s a start. And it’s a great start.”

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
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The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.