Towns hoping to end Minnesota playoff drought

Center Karl-Anthony Towns of the Kentucky Wildcats roars after a and-one play during the first half of the game against the Hampton Pirates at KFC Yum! Center on Thursday, March 19, 2015 in Louisville , Ky. Kentucky leads Hampton 41-22 at halftime. Photo by Michael Reaves

Kevin Erpenbeck

The last time the Minnesota Timberwolves made the playoffs, Kevin Garnett was a 28-year old NBA MVP, and Fred Hoiberg was still a player.

How the times have changed. Garnett is now 40 years old and entering his 22nd — and possibly last — season in the league, and Hoiberg has transitioned into the being head coach of the Chicago Bulls.

It’s also been a rough period for Timberwolves fans. They’ve watched their team not make the playoffs for over a decade now after Minnesota finished with a 29-53 record last season.

But don’t worry, Minnesota. New NBA Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns has been keeping track of the franchise’s struggles, and it’s something he plans to change very soon.

“The exact amount is 13 years,” Towns said of his team’s playoff drought. “I keep it in my mind because that’s something I want to break. I want to know exactly how many years it was before our team breaks the streak. I think this is going to be the year we do it.”

For the first time since 2004, there’s excitement for Minnesota basketball. The team hired former Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau this past offseason to be its coach and president of basketball operations. Towns, Minnesota’s No. 1 draft pick in 2015, exploded in his first year in the league, winning the Rookie of the Year award unanimously. The roster is filled with a plethora of young elite talent, including Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Towns.

And with being considered the centerpiece of the team’s future, Towns knows it’s time to shoulder the expectations of the fanbase and deliver the long-awaited success to the city.

“It’s up to us to give them that excitement,” Towns said. “It’s up to us to execute on the court and produce so we can bring that excitement back to Minnesota the way it was when KG was first there.”

After helping lead Kentucky to a 38-1 record in his one season in college, Towns took the NBA world by storm. The 7-foot center led all rookies with an average of 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Towns also finished with 51 double-doubles on the season, which was 30 more than the next highest rookie total that season.

But Towns fast success in the NBA didn’t come as a surprise to him, given all the work he put into improving his game and the people he had around him.

“I understood the amount of work I put into my craft,” Towns said. “I trusted it and I had no thoughts of anything else I could of done better. … But I’m blessed to say I had KG as a mentor. I’m blessed to have my learning curve shortened due to the fact of having a great coach who played in the NBA at one point in (Minnesota interim head coach) Sam Mitchell.”

It was quite the jump in stats for Towns from his college days to the NBA. Playing as part of John Calipari’s platoon-system during UK’s 2014-15 undefeated regular season run, Towns sacrificed minutes for what he called “the greater good” of the team. He averaged 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in 21.1 minutes per game. The system and depth of UK’s roster helped lead the Wildcats to the Final Four with an unblemished record before falling to Wisconsin in Indianapolis.

After being taken No. 1 in the draft, Towns was heavily relied upon in Minnesota. After several of his double-double games, Calipari often joked that Towns was apparently “holding back” his true talent while at UK.

But there’s no holding back at the professional level if one is to achieve the success that Towns has mapped out. The rising NBA star (who refuses to acknowledge himself as such, instead opting to say he’s just “a player”) said he has had several conversations with Thibodeau about the future of the franchise and is excited for the new age of Minnesota basketball.

“The vision he has meshes with the vision we have for ourselves spectacularly,” Towns said. “Now it’s all up to us to execute on the court and for us to execute all around so we can be the best team possible and gives ourselves the chance to be a playoff team and a long playoff team.”

With the talent now there and the vision freshly formed, Towns foresees bringing the Minnesota fans something they have waited 13 long years for: success.

“The fanbase over there is nothing but love,” Towns said. “They give me a lot of love and passion for the game. They’re great sports fans. … It’s about bringing back something that might have been lost a little bit in Minnesota. Our team is going to do such a great job of working hard in training camp and making sure we’re going to continue to finish strong in the offseason so we can come in as the best team and the best players possible for Minnesota.”