As Klay Thompson splashed threes and Andrew Wiggins clanked jumpers in the Warriors 116–99 win on Friday night, Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns went silent, a footnote in another blowout at Oracle Arena in Oakland. Towns, who signed a five-year, $190 million extension with Minnesota in September, scored just two points in the second half against Golden State, ending his night with 13 points on 13 shots.
The former No. 1 overall pick spent most of his night trotting outside the paint as a glorified stretch five, shuffling past the three-point line and waiting for kick-outs from Wiggins and Jimmy Butler. His time in the paint was spent positioned next to Draymond Green, which was a nightmare for Towns despite his five-inch height advantage. One of the league’s most talented scoring centers quickly became a distant third option behind Minnesota’s pair of swingmen.
Towns’s disappearing act has been a common theme to start the year. The Kentucky product is averaging a career-low in shot attempts per game and career-high in turnover percentage, making for a season that has mirrored his rookie campaign more than the All-NBA effort he last produced season. His performance on Friday night—in which he missed 7-of-8 shots in the second half—brought back memories of Minnesota’s first-round loss to Houston last season. Rather than assume alpha-dog status, Towns looked far too comfortable blending into the background.
In Towns’s defense, it seems as though Jimmy Butler is pretty intent on snagging the alpha-dog mantle in Minnesota. His “you f—ing need me” rant on Oct. 10 set the tone for one of the most dysfunctional seasons in recent memory and resulted in a headache Towns certainly never asked for. Yet Butler’s (albeit misplaced) fire hasn’t brought out the best in the young center. Rather it has relegated Towns to the fringes of Minnesota’s attack. Butler will remain at center stage until owner Glen Taylor ends the madness and manufactures a trades with Miami, Houston or a surprise suitor. Towns seems content being little more than an extra in the meantime.
The degree to which you can attribute Towns’s struggles to the franchise’s dysfunction is the million-dollar question in Minnesota at the moment. The Butler era will either end within the next few months or at some point in the summer (hopefully the former for everyone’s sake), ushering in a new era for the Timberwolves. And with no other star to do the heavy lifting, Towns will be counted on to deliver.
Butler’s departure could do wonders for Towns and re-chart the course of his career. Don’t forget he averaged 25.1 points per game in his sophomore season, then raised his three-point percentage to a whopping 42.1% last year while averaging 21.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. The NBA’s annual general manager survey in Oct. 2017 posed the question, “If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?” Towns led all players with 29% of the votes. He was also voted as the best center in the NBA, beating out Anthony Davis. It wasn’t long ago that Towns was viewed as one of the top-five assets in the league. And as long as Butler’s still in the Twin Cities, it’s hard to imagine Towns playing to his full potential.