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.”