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Teams swarming Timberwolves' Towns

MINNEAPOLIS--It was going to be different for Karl-Anthony Towns this season. It was bound to be tougher. Towns chewed up and spit out most defenses last season with the Timberwolves, averaging 18.3 points on his way to winning every NBA Western ...

Nov 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dribbles the ball around Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) in the first half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dribbles the ball around Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) in the first half at Target Center. Photo by Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS-It was going to be different for Karl-Anthony Towns this season.

It was bound to be tougher.

Towns chewed up and spit out most defenses last season with the Timberwolves, averaging 18.3 points on his way to winning every NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month honor and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award by a unanimous vote.

This season, opposing teams are making adjustments.

"He's getting a lot of attention right now," Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They're swarming him when he's catching the ball."

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With at least two defenders, and sometimes three. That's nothing new for Towns, who calls the added attention "an honor." Not surprisingly, as the tallest kid on the court throughout his life, Towns has seen his fair share of extra defenders. But an NBA triple team is a rarity.

"Now you're talking about a whole different game," Towns said. "My teammates usually double-team me in practice so it comes natural, but triple teams are a problem. It's something that there are now two people open instead of one. It gives me options."

Which Towns is taking advantage of. He is averaging 3.8 assists through four games, nearly double his number from last season.

Thibodeau pointed to the time when Towns kicked the ball out to Zach LaVine, one of Minnesota's best shooters, for an open corner three - the most efficient shot in the game.

"You've got to get to the open spot, help him out," LaVine said. "He's a willing passer, so I get to the open spot, (I'll get it) and I'll shoot it."

Towns is creating easy offense for his teammates while rarely being bothered by the defensive pressure. His turnover numbers are actually down a tick this season at a flat two per game.

"The more he sees it, the better he'll get at it," Thibodeau said. "Then we have to sustain our spacing to make sure that, through our second and third option, that we don't start creeping in and now we're taking those long twos. We've got to play off the (three-point) line, get the movement, player movement, penetration, force the defense to collapse and get pressure on the rim, and good things will happen."

The stats suffering from the attention paid to Towns are his scoring and rebounding. His scoring numbers are up, sitting at 19.8 points per game, but that's good for only third on the team, behind Andrew Wiggins (24.0) and LaVine (21.3). With Towns' skill set, he should and likely will be a 20-plus points player.

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He is averaging 8.5 rebounds per game, down from 10.5 as a rookie, but that's somewhat by design. With the double and triple coverage have come double and triple boxouts. So instead of going after rebounds, Towns sometimes is pushing his defenders away from the ball, freeing up guys like Gorgui Dieng to get the boards.

"It's great to have great stats. It's great to have those video-game numbers," Towns said. "But if we're losing, then it doesn't mean anything. I'm all about winning, and that's why I was more than willing to have do some things to change my game for the better of our system."

Still, Thibodeau said he wants Towns to be aggressive, and thinks scoring chances will arise as he recognizes double teams in a more timely manner.

"Then you understand the importance of post depth, where you can catch it before the double team can get there, the re-post, the different ways you can score," Thibodeau said. "And that's where his versatility is such a great strength. He can score in catch-and-shoot, pick-and-roll (situations) where he ball-handles, but the main thing is running the floor. If he's running the floor, he's going to get good looks."

Towns said he's had to watch more film than ever because of the creativity of some of the double and triple teams sent his direction.

The film study is working. He's adapting.

Towns took a season-high 19 shots in Thursday night's loss to Denver, which led to a season-high 32 points. This after he scored 26 points combined in the Timberwolves' previous two games.

As Towns perfects dealing with extra defense and finding the right times to pass and score, Thibodeau suspects opposing defenses will adjust.

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Maybe they'll start double-teaming Wiggins off pick and rolls. Maybe they'll focus more on LaVine to attempt to disrupt Minnesota's offense.

"It's all about winning," Towns said. "That's the kind of atmosphere we're creating here, no matter what the cost is."

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