Karl-Anthony Towns is not lacking for confidence.
One big question hanging over the Timberwolves paying a steep price to bring in Rudy Gobert was a basic one: Could Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns play together?
Towns expressed extreme confidence when explaining why this pairing would work to Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports.
“The last time I had something like this, obviously I had Gorgui Dieng, I played [power forward] a lot of years in the NBA. Fans forgot that. It’s OK,” Towns told CBS Sports. “And go back to me in college. This is how I played in college. Willie Cauley-Stein is like 7-2. I don’t know what they’re missing in that…
“I think that Rudy’s one of the best defensive players we’ve ever had in the NBA. He has the hardware to prove it,” Towns told CBS Sports. “I think I’m one of the best offensive players and talents the NBA has ever seen. So putting us together gives us really a whole spectrum of talent to use.”
Towns’ confidence is nothing new. And he is unquestionably a versatile and gifted offensive player, an All-NBA center who averaged 24.6 points and 9.8 rebounds a game last season. Timberwolves fans should want a player who believes he’s one of the best offensive talents the game has ever seen — just know in reality that is a long list. It’s a tough ladder to climb.
Towns has played next to other bigs but has always spent at least 95% of his time at the five, according to Basketball-Reference stats. Offensively it’s easier to see how these Timberwolves fit, Gobert is more of a roll man while Towns can space the floor (30% of his shot attempts last season came from 3, and he hit 41% of them). They should be able to play off each other.
Defense is the bigger question: How well can Towns and Gobert defend in space against teams that play smaller at the four and even the five? How will the two bigs defend against an increasingly positionless league?
“I’ve had a lot of fun playing on the perimeter and guarding on the perimeter,” Towns told CBS Sports. “Just really getting a chance to utilize what some of my strengths are defensively, which is switching and being able to guard one through five. I’m having fun going out there and being able to back Rudy up when he needs to muscle with fives or fours and we’re playing big lineups or whatever, and then if they go small ball I feel very comfortable with my chances of guarding guards and stuff like that, the wings.”
Towns’ comfort level defending on the perimeter will be tested this season, especially come the playoffs (when teams have made life difficult in the past for Gobert by forcing him to choose protecting the rim vs. covering a floor-spacing shooter). The Timberwolves will be good and much improved, but how good will depend partly on how well they answer the tough defensive questions.
We know this much: Towns is not going into this season lacking for confidence.