MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns has the height and agility, plus the intensity and intelligence.
Relentlessness might be his most valuable gift of all.
The unflappable 7-footer, admittedly unsatisfied with any performance short of perfection, is a unanimous winner of the NBA Rookie of the Year award, giving the blossoming Minnesota Timberwolves consecutive winners after Andrew Wiggins took the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy last season.
“This is such a landmark in my career,” Towns said, “but it’s not the last one.”
The first pick in the 2015 draft out of Kentucky received all 130 first-place votes from a panel of sports writers and broadcasters in the United States and Canada, joining Damian Lillard (2013), Blake Griffin (2011), David Robinson (1990) and Ralph Sampson (1984) as recent unanimous winners.
The league unveiled the award Monday. New York’s Kristaps Porzingis finished second, and Denver’s Nikola Jokic was third.
Towns ranked eighth in the NBA in rebounds and field-goal percentage while producing the best debut for a big man since Tim Duncan in 1998. The 20-year-old Towns averaged 18.1 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, helping the Timberwolves win 13 more games than the previous season. They’re the first team with back-to-back winners of the award since Bob McAdoo (1973) and Ernie DiGregorio (1974) with the Buffalo Braves.
The only rookie in the league to start all 82 games, Towns was named Western Conference rookie of the month in all six months the award was handed out. The figurative wall that so many first-year players hit during a schedule more than twice as long as college never impeded his progress. He only got better, averaging 21.3 points on 55 percent shooting and 11.7 rebounds over the final 31 games.
“I’m just used to this grind,” said Towns, crediting his year under coach John Calipari at Kentucky for the NBA prep.
Displaying the polish and poise of a veteran from the earliest stages of his career, Towns showed an elite ability to pass, rebound and score from both the paint and the 3-point line, making him the quintessential big man for the modern era and giving the Timberwolves hope they’ve finally found the star needed to carry them out of the league’s dregs.
With Towns, Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad to be coached next season by Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves believe they have the ingredients to finally reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Wiggins and Towns are the star-crossed franchise’s first winners of the rookie award.
“We’re doing a great job, every single day, every single minute, second, of improving our team to be the team that we want to be,” Towns said, “and I see nothing but aspirations to be in the playoffs next year and trying to make a run.”
Thibodeau and Towns have already spoken “a lot,” according to the player whom the new coach has already begun to lean heavily on.
“He has to be a leader,” Thibodeau said. “He has to help sell the vision for the team.”
Towns has spoken of his obsessive focus on excellence, and his appearance on the stage set up on the arena floor was the embodiment of this extremity in so many ways. Cool and confident in the spotlight, Towns brought an All-Star fashion game to the event with a black suit accessorized by a Prince-inspired silky purple pocket square and a long, lavender tie. He wore loafers without socks and bookish-yet-stylish glasses with circular gold rims.
Deferential to the greater cause, Towns brought a list of teammates, coaches, trainers and others to thank so as not to leave anyone out. He woke at 6:15 a.m. for two hours in the gym before getting ready for the event. Family-first, Towns remembered his upbringing in New Jersey while speaking proudly of his father and sister and bringing his mother in the audience to tears.
“I think my personality is not because I was born this way but because I was raised this way,” Towns said. “I was raised with a lot of fun, a lot of joy, a lot of happiness, a lot of passion, and that’s how my family is.”
Towns zeroed in on his appreciation of the presence of his father, Karl, in his life. The former high school coach was the key to his learning of the game.
“He understands that this is just one step, and that the key is to get the Timberwolves to the playoffs and win a championship,” Karl Towns said.
Towns donated the Kia Sorento he received from the award’s sponsor to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society in honor of former Timberwolves executive and coach Flip Saunders, who died in October after a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He gave the keys to the sports utility vehicle to Saunders’ wife, Debbie.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to do that,” Towns said.