Karl-Anthony Towns focused on defense, both on the court and with vaccines

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Karl-Anthony Towns wants to talk defense.

Throughout Towns’ seven-year career, the Timberwolves have been a fixture in the bottom 10 of NBA defenses — and he took his share of the blame for that. Like many big men entering the NBA, defense and the more complex schemes of the NBA didn’t come quickly to him. While he worked to improve, there wasn’t a lot of defensive talent around him picking him up.

This season feels different — the defense is winning the Timberwolves games. While they are 11-12 heading into this week, the Timberwolves had won 7-of-8 before a tough two-game road trip East, and more importantly, they have a top-five defense and a positive net rating (+0.9, using NBA.com stats).

There are signs the Timberwolves are coming together.

“There’s just a true excitement around our team…” Towns told NBC Sports. “The fans see what the players are providing them, a true identity, a true vision, an actual definition of Timberwolves basketball. I think it also comes from them seeing how selfless our players are being. Willing to sacrifice for each other, wanting to build a culture, accepting the culture.

“There’s a lot of great things happening right now in Minnesota.”

Towns wants to build on the great things that are happening, on and off the court, in Minnesota.

On the court, Minnesota’s stout defense has been one of the surprises of the season. Credit goes to management bringing in more defensive-focused players  — Patrick Beverley is at the top of the list, but Jarred Vanderbilt is right there — plus new assistant coach Elston Turner taking over the defense and playing a more aggressive system. It has Towns using his athleticism, switching pick-and-rolls and staying high with the ball rather than dropping back to protect the rim.

“I just think everyone is buying in, everyone is buying into the identity we are trying to build for this team…” Towns said, and he used the word “identity” a lot when discussing what the Timberwolves are doing right. “I think a lot of discipline comes into being a good defensive team and I think we’re having a great discipline about us this year.”

Towns added he’s glad some team hasn’t snapped up Turner as a head coach. Yet.

“ET has been doing an amazing job, just every single day, finding new ways to make us more proficient and efficient with our defense,” Towns said.”We are very, very, very, very fortunate to have him on our sidelines.”

Towns isn’t limiting his defensive push to the court.

He has made it his mission to get the word out and get people in Minnesota — and nationally — vaccinated to play defense against the flu and the coronavirus.

Towns has partnered with Walgreens to reach out to people — particularly Black and brown communities, which traditionally see lower vaccination rates — to get people vaccinated against the flu this year.

“What spurred me into this partnership was just Walgreens’ willingness to partner with me in giving back…” Towns said. “I have to be an agent of change. I can’t be on the sidelines talking about change.”

No NBA player has been more outspoken in favor of vaccines — particularly for COVID — than Towns, who lost his mother and several other family members to the pandemic.

“I’ve gotten the vaccine, as a matter of fact I’ve also gotten the booster as well,” Towns told NBC Sports this week. “I am a fan of the vaccines having seen what COVID has done to my family and to me personally. I can’t stress enough for people to mask up, be safe, and to get your body prepared for the world we live in right now.

“It comes from a place, I don’t want people to go through what I went through.”

Towns admitted all the loss around him robbed him of the joy of playing basketball for a while, but the return of that joy is evident in watching Towns play now.

He’s playing at an All-NBA level to open the season. He looks more comfortable in this defensive system, and he remains an elite offensive force — 24 points and nine rebounds a game.

Plenty of Timberwolves fans and observers would like to see those numbers higher because Towns gets more touches in the clutch. Too often, in a tight game, the ball never goes through Towns, with other players settling into isolation rather than involving the team’s existing superstar.

Towns will take those shots, but it’s in his nature to play a team game.

“The game will tell us who the person with the ball should be and who is going to take the shot…” Towns told NBC Sports. “I’m more than, more than willing to take that clutch shot if anything. I feel confident I’m going to hit it almost every time.”

So should Towns demand the ball more, or facilitate and let his teammates get those touches and shots?

“I think there’s an argument for both,” Towns said. “I will make the argument to say that many believe I could be more selfish, taking more shots, but for the record, the [recent] winning streak speaks for itself. Everyone’s involved, everyone’s playing really good basketball right now, we’re playing really great team basketball, and that’s how you’re going to win in this league. It doesn’t come from one player having big stats and you get a win, I can be a testament of that, I’ve done that in my career and it never translated to wins.”

The Timberwolves are winning more now and Towns likes that change. Now he wants to build on it.

Anthony Davis ‘excited’ to be Lakers’ No.1 offensive option, LeBron pushing him to do it

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Is Anthony Davis a No.1 offensive option on a championship team?

The Lakers made a massive bet in trading for Davis — both in good young players and picks — that he could help them win a title now and be the bridge to the future post-LeBron James. Davis was everything the Lakers hoped in the bubble and did win them banner No. 17. However, he has not stayed healthy or consistently played up to that standard.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham is betting on Davis again and is going to run more of the offense through him this season. LeBron James reportedly backs Ham up. Can Davis stay healthy, find that form again and look like that bridge to the future? If he can’t, the Lakers have to reconsider their post-LeBron plans. That’s why there is pressure on Davis this season.

Davis is excited to prove he is ready for the role, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. He added LeBron is pushing him to do it.

“I’m so excited that I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about this year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports this week. “I’m looking forward to a healthy year and doing what I know we can do.”…

Davis said James, 37, has been in his ear about taking over the reins of the team, while the rest of the roster would follow his lead.

The first step in Davis being that No.1 option: Staying healthy. He played 40 games last season and 36 the season before that. While some of that was due to fluke injuries, the history of Davis missing time is long.

When healthy, Davis is an unquestionably elite player — to use the bubble example, Davis was a defensive force in Orlando who knocked down midrange jumpers after facing up, averaging 27.7 points on a 66.5 true shooting percentage, plus grabbed 9.7 rebounds a game. That is the AD the Lakers need this season.

Which can be a lot of pressure, but Davis said he doesn’t feel that.

“But for me, I’m not putting any pressure on myself at all,” Davis said at media day. “I’m gonna go out there and play basketball, work hard, defend and do what the team needs to win basketball games. I’m not going to overthink and, you know, listen to what everybody else is saying and try to be this ‘whatever’ player they want me to be.”

“Whatever” the Lakers want Davis to be is the Top 10 player in the world he has shown for stretches in Los Angeles. If he can be consistent, that Davis helps the Lakers be more of a threat in the West. If Davis can’t be that guy, it could be another long season for Lakers nation.

 

Proud to be an American: 76ers’ Embiid officially becomes U.S. citizen

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Joel Embiid is an American citizen.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid said he was sworn in as a citizen two weeks ago in Philadelphia. The NBA scoring champion and Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center said his family – Embiid and his Brazilian girlfriend Anne de Paula have a young son – played a pivotal role in his decision.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” Embiid told The Associated Press Thursday at training camp at The Citadel. “My son is American. I felt like, I’m living here and it’s a blessing to be an American. So I said, why not?”

Embiid, who played college basketball for one season at Kansas, also has citizenship in France. He said it is way too early to think about which country he could potentially represent in international basketball.

The 28-year-old Embiid averaged a career-best 30.6 points in 68 games last season. The 7-footer also averaged 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in helping Philadelphia reach the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year. Embiid averaged 23.6 points and 10.7 rebounds in the postseason despite playing with hand and facial injuries.

Embiid had been announced as playing out of Kansas during pregame introductions at 76ers’ home games but switched around midseason last year as being introduced from Cameroon. He might try for a mouthful this season.

“We’re going to say Cameroon, American and French,” he said, laughing.

Tyler Herro says he’s better than players ‘that have gotten paid’

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Seven
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RJ Barrett signed a rookie contract extension for four years, $107 million fully guaranteed that could climb to $120 million with incentives. Several others out of the 2019 draft class — Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Darius Garland — earned max contract extensions with their team.

Tyler Herro is still waiting on his extension with the Miami Heat.

And with that baked in Herro confidence, he said he is better than some players he has seen getting paid, he told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“I was active early in the summer,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel of the extension window that opened in July. “Then I realized it wasn’t going to get done, if it does get done, until later. So I just told my agent to call me when it’s ready. “So we haven’t really spoken much about the contract. Obviously, I tell him to call me when it’s ready. If it’s not ready, I continue to play my game and figure it out next summer…

“There’s players across the league that have gotten paid who I know I’m better than. So it’s got to be the right number,” he said, with the Heat continuing camp on makeshift courts at the [ Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas].

One reason an extension for Herro has not gotten done — and may not get done before the Oct. 18 deadline — is Herro is the Heat’s best trade asset to go after a big name. Once he signs an extension that is off the table, something Winderman and I have discussed in our weekly video/podcast on the Heat and NBA.

The other question on a Herro extension is what is the “right number?” Did the Knicks’ Barrett set the market with his extension?

Maybe Barrett is one of the players Herro “knows” he is better than, but that would not be the consensus of scouts and free agents around the league. Herro has hardware as the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, he puts up numbers averaging 20.7 points a game while shooting 39.9% from 3 last season, he can do some secondary play creation and has had big playoff games. He has real value.

However, as Winderman has pointed out, Herro has started just 33 games across three years, compared to Barrett’s 197 starts. More importantly, Herro’s defensive limitations limited how Eric Spoelstra could use him in the playoffs. Then there is the matter of load carried. Barrett was the No. 1 option for the Knicks last season (with Julius Randle falling off) and even with the signing of Jalen Brunson, Barrett is option No.1 or 1B for Tom Thibodeau. Herro is down the Heat pecking order behind Bam AdebayoJimmy Butler, and maybe Kyle Lowry depending on how he bounces back from a down year. The Heat don’t need Herro the way the Knicks need Barrett right now, which is one key reason Herro is available via trade.

Would Herro take a four-year, $105 extension? Would the Heat even offer it? If Miami is hoping for a trade at the deadline, it may wait on an offer and let the market set Herro’s price as a restricted free agent next summer. For Herro, that would give him a chance to prove he is a starter and that his defense has improved — that he is worth more than the Heat had been offering.

If the Heat and Herro agree on an extension, look for it to be in a couple of weeks, pushing up against that October deadline.

 

Lonzo Ball undergoes successful knee surgery, out ‘at least a few months’

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Lonzo Ball underwent another arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Wednesday, and the doctors finally had some positive news.

They believe that they’ve “addressed the issue”, and there is “confidence” that he’ll be able to play this season. He’s still expected to miss “at least a few months”, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Charania added that both sides will monitor his progress over

After his first surgery in January, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well at all, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. During media day this week, Ball said that he couldn’t run or jump, so he couldn’t play basketball. Billy Donovan said that they had to think of Ball’s injury as potentially season-ending. So an update that says that he should play this season is considered good news at this point.

Chicago had a 22-13 record with Lonzo last season, but were just 24-23 without him. He averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, and 3.1 triples per game in his first year with the team.

They have other defenders like Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso, but they don’t have anyone else that can both defend and facilitate the way Lonzo can. They’ll use training camp and the preseason to decide on a starting point guard between Dosunmu, Caruso, and Goran Dragic.

They’re one of the more talented teams in the East, but they may end up playing in the play-in tournament if they’re without Ball for the majority of the season.