KAT Enjoying Basketball Like He Once Did Under Sam Mitchell

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

Karl-Anthony Towns is playing the best basketball of his career right now. He’s put the Minnesota Timberwolves on his back since the All-Star break. In that time, the Wolves have gone 10-2 record, cementing them squarely into the race for the Western Conference 6-seed. His confidence is palpable.

Karl’s also enjoying the game of basketball as much as anytime in his professional career. Last night, after putting up an easy 30 points and 8 rebounds in a win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, KAT sat down with NBA Game Time Live (NBA TV) and talked about just that.

One of the analysts on GameTime is Sam Mitchell, who played much of his career with the Wolves and coached the team during Towns’ rookie season (’15-’16). That’s the last time Karl enjoyed playing the game of basketball as much as he does right now. Don’t underestimate the effect Sam Mitchell had on Karl-Anthony Towns, or any of the other young Wolves (Wiggins, LaVine, etc), during that time. If you do, watch this clip of Towns appreciation for Mitchell. Sam Mitchell is left speechless buy KAT’s praise.

Underrated, Underappreciated Sam Mitchell

When Sam Mitchell coached the Minnesota Timberwolves during that 2015-16 season, he was universally seen as a placeholder for whoever was going to be hired as the permanent replacement that offseason. Luring one of the NBA’s best free agent coaches wouldn’t be a problem because of all the young talent on that Wolves roster.

Sure enough, Glen Taylor handed the franchise keys to Tom Thibodeau that offseason, who turned around and traded Zach LaVine for Jimmy Butler just one year later. Zach and Karl are best friends and were even closer back then. Jimmy hated KAT. So it’s no surprise that Towns lost some of the joy he found in basketball during that time of his career.

In retrospect, we probably should have skipped the Thibs/Butler era. Leaving Sam Mitchell in place to nurture a much more patient rebuild may have been the better option. Not just because of his relationship with Towns and others, but because Mitchell was and is a great basketball and NBA mind. That’s something that shows every time he talks about the game.

No slight on Ryan Saunders

I don’t take KAT’s comments as a slight against Ryan Saunders. Karl-Anthony Towns lost his mom and other family members while Ryan was coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves. I’d imagine it was difficult for him to find joy in a lot of things during that time.

Yes, Ryan Saunders wasn’t ready to lead an NBA team when he was hired but the hiring was his fault. Taylor, then Rosas, put Ryan into a position that he was never going to be able to win. Now years removed from those difficult years, both on and off the floor, Karl-Anthony Towns seems primed for something special.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan