Karl-Anthony Towns

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Karl-Anthony Towns on Timberwolves: “It’s fine. Keep sleeping on us.”

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The bottom half of the Western Conference is going to a tight race going into late March and April. Good teams — San Antonio, Dallas, Sacramento, New Orleans — could all be battling for one, maybe a couple of playoff spots (especially if an expected playoff team falls back to the pack).

Karl-Anthony Towns says don’t leave Minnesota out of that mix.

Towns believes that nationally fans and the media are sleeping on the Timberwolves — which is true — and he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated that would be a mistake.

“Everyone always sleeps on people in Minnesota because they don’t hear our name a lot,” Towns, who was named a 2019 NBA Western Conference All-Star, told The Undefeated. “That’s fine. That’s cool. We are going to come from the underground and just find ourselves in the playoffs if we continue to do what we’re doing. …

“It’s fine. Keep sleeping on us.”

The Timberwolves made the playoffs two seasons ago, Jimmy Butler‘s first with the team. Last season, after Butler torpedoed the squad in training camp with a public and messy trade demand, Minnesota never recovered (and Tom Thibodeau lost his job).

If Minnesota is going to make the playoffs Towns is going to have to take a step forward, being more of a facilitator on offense (coach Ryan Saunders needs to get him high-post touches) and more consistent on defense. But that is just the start. Robert Covington, Minnesota’s second-best player, has to lead an improved defense. Andrew Wiggins has to do more than get empty-calorie points (18.1 per game last season), and he’s got to be more efficient.  Josh Okogie needs to take a step forward and rookie Jarrett Culver must contribute. Jeff Teague, Gorgui Dieng, and Jordan Bell all need to fill their roles.

Which is a lot of things that need go right, leading to a lot of that sleeping on the Timberwolves.

It’s up to Towns and company to prove us all wrong.

Joel Embiid on Jimmy Butler: ‘I wish he was still on the team’

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After Jimmy Butler had issues in Minnesota with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins (and reacted by blowing up the Timberwolves’ season), there were questions about how Butler would get along with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia.

Turns out, pretty darn well.

Butler and Embiid formed a bond as they led the Sixers to a Game 7 against the eventual champion Toronto Raptors, a game the Sixers only lost because of an insane shot from the corner by Kawhi Leonard over Embiid. (Or, the Raptors got a lucky bounce if you’re viewing it through Sixers goggles.)

However, it turns out the bond wasn’t strong enough to get Butler to stay, he decided to take his talents to South Beach. Embiid wishes he would have stayed, he told Rachel Nichols on ESPN’s The Jump today (with the full interview coming Oct. 23 when the Sixers open the season).

“It was a big loss because me and him, we got to the point where we were really close – we’re still close. We talk a lot, that’s my guy, that’s my brother forever. I wish he was still on the team, because I feel like the relationship that I built with him could have gone a long way. When it was the fourth quarter, we knew the ball would either be in me or Jimmy’s hands. I knew I could count on him. This year it kind of changes around. Now other guys have to step up and I have to do more.”

That’s one of the big questions for the Sixers: Who has the ball at the ends of games? Embiid can get buckets, but he’s not a shot creator. Philly needs Ben Simmons or Tobias Harris (or someone) to step up and be the perimeter creator who can sometimes feed Embiid.

Even with the loss of Butler, the Sixers are one of the favorites to come out of the East. Embiid said they should right there, but he understands they have to fill Butler’s shoes.

“I think we should be up there. Obviously, we still have to prove ourselves. We lost a big piece in Jimmy, he did a lot of great things for us, but we should be up there. On paper, we got a really good team so now it’s on us to go out there and actually prove it.”

The Sixers are going to be really good, with one of the best defenses in the NBA. What that means next playoffs remains to be seen, but the Sixers have plenty of time to work out how to fill Butler’s shoes before then.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

NBCsports.com’s “50 best players in 5 years” recap: Players 25-1

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This summer, the NBA team at NBCSports.com decided to take on a thought experiment: What is the NBA going to look like in five years? Who will be the game’s best players? The All-Stars, the guys on the cover of 2K24, the guys with signature shoe deals?

We put our heads together, pulled out our crystal balls, and tried to project forward who would be the 50 best players in the NBA in five years — in the summer of 2024. We took into account a player’s age, his potential ceiling and how likely he is to reach it, injury history, and more. There were plenty of disagreements (and we don’t expect you to agree with all of our list), but we came up with one.

This is a quick recap of the players in the top 25, with an excerpt from the write up of each player. Here is a link to the summary of players 50-26, and if you want more detail here are the links to players 25-21, 20-16, 15-11, 10-6, and the top five.

25. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Age in 2024: 26)
How Gilgeous-Alexander will develop from here on out will be interesting to watch. His role is changing, and the playing environment and coaching style is changing. He’s not going to be Russell Westbrook — nobody is, plus they have very different games. Gilgeous-Alexander is more traditional point guard, more game manager, not an explosive isolation specialist who gets buckets.(Kurt Helin)

24. John Collins (Age in 2024: 26)
I made the declaration earlier this summer that Collins and Trae Young could be this generation’s Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash. I stand by that. Collins may not be as strong and polished offensively as Stoudemire, but they play with the same force around the basket. Every time Collins dunks, you wonder what the basket ever did to him to deserve that assault.. (Tom Haberstroh)

23. Kyrie Irving (Age in 2024: 32)
Brooklyn will help shape Irving’s legacy — he goes to a playoff team with a strong established culture through coach Kenny Atkinson, an organization with good young players already seen on this list in Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert. In a year, once healthy, Kevin Durant will join them and form a squad that should be a title contender in the East. The questions abound: How does Irving fit in? How does his game evolve? His leadership skills? (Kurt Helin)

22. Ja Morant (Age in 2024: 25)
The best comparison in that sense is probably De'Aaron Fox, another spindly guard with sprinter’s speed and a jump shot that needs fine-tuning… The difference between Morant and Fox is passing ability. Morant has yet to play an NBA game, but I firmly believe he is going to be among the ten best players in the entire NBA when it comes to court vision, passing and the ability to make plays and create shots for teammates out of ball-screens. (Rob Dauster)

21. Deandre Ayton (Age in 2024: 26)
Ayton is going to be an offensive force in five years, at age 26, especially if he adds some range to his shot and the Suns let him explore other aspects of his game. However, how high he ultimately should be on this list will depend on a couple of other things. The big one is his defense — he struggled on this end as a rookie, with his recognition and as a rim protector. Ayton needs to become a defensive anchor for the Suns. The way the NBA is evolving, an offense-only big man who is not a good rim protector has a limited role. (Kurt Helin)

20. Pascal Siakam (Age in 2024: 30)
Siakam will be in his prime the next five years, and the question now becomes just where is his ceiling? He’s a 6’9” elite athlete who is a strong perimeter defender on one end and can create his own shot on the other. There are not a lot of those around. Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse said that Siakam now has “gotta be the man” for the Raptors, can he be that No. 1 option… Siakam got a lot of wide-open looks at threes last season, with defenses often focused on Kawhi Leonard, but how will he adapt when he is the guy at the top of the opponent’s scouting report? (Kurt Helin)

19. Kristaps Porzingis (Age in 2024: 29)
When healthy Porzingis is a 7’3″ unicorn of a big man who can defend inside, run the floor, and knockdown threes. He averaged 17.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game over his career with the Knicks, all while shooting 36.1 percent from three. There are no other big men who bring his skill set to the game. But will we get the same Porzingis going forward? How well will he move coming back from that ACL, and can he stay healthy?(Kurt Helin)

18. James Harden (Age in 2024: 34)
The questions for evaluators in this series were, “How good will Harden be at age 34 heading into his age 35 season? How will his game age?” Probably pretty well, which is why he is still so high on this list. Harden’s game is all about craft, it’s not built on his explosive athleticism or his freakish skills for someone so tall. Harden’s unconventional, hesitation-filled game is more about throwing his defenders off-balance — he has a lot of old-man-at-the-Y in his game. That will still work well as he ages.(Kurt Helin)

17. Bradley Beal (Age in 2024: 31)
Beal is going to be one of the top shooting guards in the game the next five years as he is just entering his prime. Beal has made more threes in his career than any other player through their age 25 season (Beal has 1,071, Klay Thompson is second at 1,060, then Stephen Curry is third with 905). Beal can shoot the three (35.1 percent last season), put the ball on the floor and drive, moves well off the ball (he ran more total miles last season during games — 222.7 total, or 2.75 per game — than any player in the league), and is an active and willing defender. (Kurt Helin)

16. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Age in 2024: 24)
This kid has Chris Bosh written all over him — and he can be even better. It feels odd to call him “kid” when his game screams wily veteran. Jackson Jr. is still just 19 years old, but he already can stretch the floor and block shots like a seasoned big… Jackson’s game is tailor made for the pace-and-space era. He made 51 triples last season and converted 35.9 percent of his tries beyond the arc, making him one of the sweetest shooting bigs in the league already. He has a guard-like handle and moves fluidly on the block. (Tom Haberstroh)

15. Jamal Murray (Age in 2024: 27)
Murray averaged 18.2 points a game while shooting 36.7 percent from three last season, plus he added 4.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists per night… The key for Denver wasn’t just the scoring threat, although that mattered, but also Murray kept the ball moving and made teams pay for focusing too much defensive attention on Jokic. In the playoffs, Murray upped his game and became the offensive bellwether for the team — when Murray struggled on offense (settling for too many contested mid-range jumpers) the Denver offense stalled out, but when he was confidently draining threes and moving the ball they were hard to stop. (Kurt Helin)

14. De’Aaron Fox (Age in 2024: 26)
“I’m always looking toward the future, individually and I think everybody has to be a little selfish in that aspect,” Fox told NBC Sports. “To continue to grow, to continue to be the kind of player I can be, to put the league on notice that I’m here, I’m established, and just continue to grow as a man.”

Fox has personal goals — becoming an All-Star, to start — plus the team goal of getting the Kings to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. To get there will take more than just speed, the craft of Fox’s game needs to catch up with that pace. (Kurt Helin)

13. Devin Booker (Age in 2024: 27)
Booker is an exceptional scorer for his age. Last season, he made real strides rounding out his offensive game – converting from all areas inside the arc, drawing fouls and distributing. He’s ready to be a go-to scorer. His knockdown 3-point shooting also gives him a chance to play a secondary role on a better team if he ever joins one. Defense remains a huge shortcoming, though. That fits into larger questions about the habits Booker is developing. (Dan Feldman)

12. Jayson Tatum (Age in 2024: 26)
Boston needs Tatum to return to his trajectory as an elite player next season. Tatum had an impressive rookie season that had him looking like a franchise cornerstone (especially in the playoffs when he averaged 18.5 points a game and was a quality shot creator). However, he plateaued in his second season, likely in part due to the failed chemistry experiment the Celtics became. Tatum got hung up in that, not moving the ball and his shot selection getting worse. The USA Basketball experience and time with Gregg Popovich will help Tatum move on from last season, there’s a lot of basketball knowledge to soak up. (Kurt Helin)

11. Joel Embiid (Age in 2024: 30)
Embiid’s winding road, fairly or unfairly, makes projecting him difficult. No matter how many 30-15-5 nights Embiid puts up, it’s hard to put aside the injury variable that delayed his NBA career two years. With two surgeries on his navicular bone and nagging knee issues on that enormous frame, there’s no doubt that Embiid’s health record keeps him outside of the top-10.

Because if we look at Embiid’s age, talent and production, he should be much closer to the top, if not right at the top. At 25 years old, he’s at the front edge of his prime. He just averaged 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists while making over 100 jumpers outside 16 feet. There’s almost nothing he can’t do on the basketball court. (Tom Haberstroh)

10. Trae Young (Age in 2024: 25)
Young can shoot with range, is a gifted passer, and is working on taking the next steps in his development. He has to get stronger (he reportedly added 10 pounds this summer), has to become a better defender, has to learn to finish better on drives (he needs a floater and to be able to score through or around contact better at the rim, ala Stephen Curry). Most of all, the Hawks need him to be a leader, to be the guy that pulls this franchise back to the postseason, and eventually all the way to heights not seen in decades in Atlanta. (Kurt Helin)

9. Ben Simmons (Age in 2024: 28)
Simmons, 23, is a special all-around talent. The 6-foot-10 point guard thrives in the open court. He quickly turns his defensive rebounds into fastbreaks the other way, attacks the basket and zips passes all over the court. His defense is stellar due both to his versatility and lockdown ability. No wonder the 76ers gave him a max contract extension so quickly. But he has a huge flaw: Jump shots… While Simmons is one of the safest bets to be a star in five years, it’s difficult to envision him becoming a superstar. There’s a ceiling on guards who can’t shoot from outside. (Dan Feldman)

8. Donovan Mitchell (Age in 2024: 27)
“Last summer was different,” Mitchell said when Team USA stopped in Los Angeles for training camp. “I’m healthy. I’ve been able to travel a little bit, but I’ve been able to put in work. And this is just another step to get better.”

Just how good can Mitchell be in five years? He will be 27, in his prime, and Utah believes he will lead the franchise back to the biggest stages, the ones they have not been on since the Stockton/Malone era… Mitchell wants the pressure — he hasn’t shied away from the responsibility of leading Team USA. He is not shy about talking about his goals for the Jazz, which go beyond just making the playoffs again next season. (Kurt Helin)

7. Karl-Anthony Towns (Age in 2024: 28)
Towns has all the tools. He’s big, mobile and skilled. The list of 7-footers who’ve shot 3-pointers and scored like him might end at Dirk Nowitzki. But for all his talent, Towns hasn’t brought the necessary intensity. He has too often failed to assert himself offensively. His defensive effort and execution are consistently lacking. There just isn’t enough force in his game. Towns started to come around late last season… Towns is just 23. There’s so much time for him to figure this out. He’s already a star with this approach. If he develops a mindset to dominate, he could become the NBA’s very best player. (Dan Feldman)

6. Kawhi Leonard (Age in 2024: 33)
This ranking is a big bet on health. The question is not, “can Kawhi Leonard be a great player in five years at age 33?” He is an elite NBA talent now in his prime, one that just led the Toronto Raptors to an NBA title averaging 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds a game in the playoffs. He is as good a perimeter defender as there is in the game right now, something that will not change much as he ages. Offensively he can get his own shot, create for others, he shot 37.1 percent from three last season, but what is most impressive is his footwork and ability to get to his spots on the floor. His mechanical, physical style will age well. If he’s healthy. That remains the cloud over Leonard. (Kurt Helin)

5. Zion Williamson (Age in 2024: 24)
I’ll put it bluntly — I think Zion is the kind of talent that can redefine the way basketball has to be played in the NBA the same way that Steph Curry did, that LeBron James did, that Shaquille O’Neal did. His physical tools, his skill-set, and his basketball IQ are all that high… The big question for me is going to be how well his health holds up. He’s 270-something pounds with a vertical leap that gets damn near four feet. (Rob Dauster)

4. Nikola Jokic (Age in 2024: 29)
Jokic is a reigning All-NBA first-team player. He’s the best-passing center in NBA history. And he’s just 24… Jokic is the only second-round pick in these rankings. He’s not a great athlete. But he quickly impressed with his great feel for the game. It shows in his passing. It shows in his nose for the ball on rebounds. It even shows on his defense. That’s the area Jokic can most improve. Though his basketball intelligence translates to defense, Jokic’s athletic limitations also factor prominently. (Dan Feldman)

3. Luka Doncic (Age in 2024: 25)
Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6 assists a game in a historic rookie season that had him as the Rookie of the Year. He already makes decisions and plays like a 10-year veteran when coming off the pick-and-roll, his feel for the game is amazing. His court vision and passing were everything that were advertised, but it comes in a physically strong 6’7” package that allows him to see the court, pass over smaller players, and he showed he could handle contact… There are a few things that need to follow to reach that potential. His defense needs to improve. He needs to cut down on turnovers… The biggest issue is conditioning. (Kurt Helin)

2. Anthony Davis (Age in 2024: 31)
If we’re going to nitpick, he’s more of a finisher than a creator. That should work just fine playing with LeBron James on the Lakers. But in the long run, the NBA’s second-best player is usually more capable of manufacturing a bucket when his team needs one. Maybe Davis is just so good at everything else, he’ll still deserve this lofty ranking without improved individual-scoring ability. I’d bet on him developing that skill, though… Last season was the first time Davis shined as a passer. He’s clearly still adding to his game. That ought to terrify the rest of the league. (Dan Feldman)

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Age in 2024: 29)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (age 24) just won Most Valuable Player over James Harden (age 30) and Paul George (age 29). Just two other MVPs in NBA history have been so much younger than the second- and third-place finishers.

In 1958, Bill Russell won MVP then won 10 more championships and four more MVPs in his career. In 1972, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won MVP than won five more championships and four more MVPs in his career.

Antetokounmpo is poised to take over the NBA for a long time. (Dan Feldman)

Minnesota’s Gersson Rosas says Andrew Wiggins must be ‘main contributor’ to T-wolves

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Last season in Minnesota — with Jimmy Butler torpedoing the team and ending the Tom Thibodeau era — was pretty much the figurative definition of a train wreck.

Out of that wreckage, the Timberwolves think they found some positives. Ryan Sunders was thrown into the fire as a young coach but bonded with Karl-Anthony Towns. Robert Covington sparked the defense before his injury. Josh Okogie emerged as a player. This summer the team drafted a player with a lot of potential in Jarrett Culver.

Minnesota also brought in the aggressive Gersson Rosas out of Houston to take over as team president and start reshaping the franchise into one that can live up to the promise of Towns’ potential. For that to start to happen, meaning a return to the playoffs, Rosas pointed to a couple of things needing to go right this season. First and foremost, they need more — and more consistency — out of Andrew Wiggins. Via Timberwolves writer/podcaster Dane Moore.

Most Timberwolves fans, and the rest of the league, have moved on from Wiggins, who has four years, $122 million left on his max contract. While he averaged 18.1 points per game last season, he doesn’t get those buckets efficiently nor consistently, and the result is an average/slightly below-average wing whose contract is an anchor on the franchise. We’ve learned no contract is untradable in the NBA, but this is as close to that line as it gets — the sweeteners Minnesota would have to throw in right now make a deal are prohibitive.

The only thing Minnesota can hope for is that in year six Wiggins takes some steps forward he did not take in the last five. Maybe continuity helps, but we’re all going to need to see it before we believe it.

The other thing Rosas said Minnesota needs: More consistent defense from Towns.

Saunders seemed to connect with Towns and got him to defend, and Covington played MIC linebacker calling out coverages and getting guys in position before his injury. Rosas said Covington would be good to go at the start of the season, if so that gives the Timberwolves real hope that the defense will improve.

Whether all of that will be enough to get them into the playoffs in a deep West is another question, but at least Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction now.