Wednesday's 110-89 Timberwolves win over Denver marked the best performance from Karl-Anthony Towns in the young season. Towns scored 21 points as he helped the Wolves build a 22-point lead, but Towns also had a strong game on the defensive end, where he prevented Denver center Nikola Jokic from dominating the game scoring or passing.
Jokic finished with 25 points but needed 23 shot attempts to get there, and he only had three assists.
Towns is still striving to find his own efficiency on the offensive end of the court. He was 6-for-12 in the first half, but just 1-for-7 in the second half. On Monday, such an effort in the second half contributed to the Wolves' downfall against the Hawks. On Wednesday, the Wolves had a healthy Mike Conley to rely on in the third quarter to prevent a Denver comeback.
Through four games, Towns is still trying to find how best to operate in an offense that includes Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards.
"It's a challenge. I think every year represents a new challenge for me," Towns said. "No excuses, just go out there and find what works and how I can instill myself the best on this team and contribute to winning as much as possible."
But Towns often contributes to winning when he scores at a high rate, and through four games, Towns' numbers have not been up to his high standards. He is shooting 37% overall and 24% from three-point range, where he is a career 39% shooter.
In the first half Wednesday, he looked more like a vintage Towns on that end of the floor. He faced single coverage in the post, something that rarely used to happen for him, and he took advantage on multiple occasions to help the Wolves build their big lead. He was physical without committing offensive fouls.
"It's weird. It's different," Towns said of the single coverage. "But I'm blessed to have guys like Ant, Rudy, Mike. My teammates are amazing and super talented, and we have a deep locker room here. It feels good to know it can be any one of our nights."
If you ask coach Chris Finch, Towns' struggles aren't all on Towns. Last season, Towns' right calf injury contributed to him missing significant time that could have allowed him to find a chemistry at power forward with Gobert at center.
This is a switch that still weighs on Finch's mind.
"I always think about it," Finch said. "He's an all-NBA player that we asked to move positions, and he's still adapting. And all credit to him. It's not easy. He's been great about it, and I know it's at times been frustrating, but he's learning a little bit more every day and we're learning a little bit more every day how we can still use him to the full effect."
When asked if Towns was asked to sacrifice a lot this season, he said: "I feel we say that every year."
"I'm just going to do whatever it takes to win and be better all around," Towns said.
On Wednesday, doing what it takes to win meant Towns guarding Jokic one-on-one. That freed Gobert to roam the paint and protect the rim, which limited Jokic's ability to hit cutters for easy layups. The Wolves held Jokic to just three assists because of this.
"I wanted to be able to keep him out the paint, utilize my feet, my quickness and make it difficult for him to touch the paint," Towns said. "Just doing whatever it took to stop the head of the snake for the Nuggets."
The Wolves may be able to rely on their defense, which has shown signs of being better than it was a season ago. The Wolves have held three of four opponents under 100 points and own the best defensive rating in the league after four games. But to be an elite team with designs on a deep playoff run, they will need Towns to find his groove offensively.