Let’s just go right ahead and state the obvious here: this is not your father’s Western Conference. Not anymore. Gone are the days of sophisticated battles of equal parts brains and brawn. Dead and buried are the cordial, gentlemanly competitions of X’s and O’s that generations prior enjoyed and romanticized. With the defection of no fewer than four current or former Eastern All-Stars this summer to what was already the NBA’s far superior conference, the era of all-out war is officially upon us. Blitzkrieg strikes will illuminate the heavens, campaigns of attrition will be waged, and rivers everywhere will run red with blood as what had previously been known as the West now makes way for the Wild Wild West. But instead of Buffalo Bill Cody and Wyatt Earp, this battle will be fought be a more familiar cast of characters. And what a privilege you and I will have to enjoy front row seats as hostilities commence in 2017-18.
Ladies and germs, may I present a comprehensive ranking of the 20 best players in the Western Conference (with sincerest apologies and honorable mentions to DeAndre Jordan, C.J. McCollum, Andrew Wiggins, and newly-christened Westerner Carmelo Anthony, all of whose respective nits proved impossible not to pick when wading through a talent pool this deep). This is part of a series, as we also ranked the 20 best players in the Eastern Conference previously.
20. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies
When he’s not sashaying like Conor McGregor or slinging shade in Catalan, Gasol continues to further his standing as one of the more undervalued bigs in the NBA. The former Defensive Player of the Year quietly posted career-highs in points (19.5) and assists per game (4.6) last season while playing his usual stout D. Yes, Father Time’s kiss may not be far off with Gasol set to turn 33 in January. But for now, I say long live those paint-protecting fundamentals and them elegant sweeping hooks from the mid-post. Me encanta la Gasol-ina.
“My confidence has always been so high. I felt coming into the league I could be that easily,” said Towns. “I always knew it was just a matter of time.
“But before I was even drafted, I felt I had that ability, faith and confidence in myself to do that regardless to what team I’m with,” he continued. “I’m very blessed to be with the Timberwolves, because with them I’ve expedited that process a lot.”
It’s a claim that may seem like a stretch to some, but Towns’ development and overall talent at just 21 years old is remarkable. He averaged 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks a game last year and can post up, hit a jumper, or go off the dribble, all with equal potency. Towns also has some high hopes for his team as a whole, so you gotta love the confidence heading into the new season.
“I expect us to be in the playoffs and I expect us to compete in the playoffs and have Minnesota rocking not just for one round, but for multiple rounds,” said the former No. 1 overall pick. “We have a lot of faith in ourselves that this is something that we can do and we have a coaching staff behind us and great teammates. I think we have something truly special here.”
While he certainly did his part with 25.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in 2016-17, the Wolves finished just 31-51, ten games out of the playoffs. They went out and added the likes of Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford, and Taj Gibson this summer however and have since become a popular sleeper pick in the West. Thus, it’s hard to knock Towns for the optimism about his team.
If Kyrie Irving is on the trade market, then Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns want the Timberwolves to get involved.
In an lengthy article discussing Irving’s meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers to request a trade, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Butler and Towns have been recruiting Irving to Minnesota. Windhorst further says that the players made the team’s management aware that they want Irving.
The Timberwolves were among the teams Irving reportedly would be open to joining. The Spurs, Knicks and Heat are also on his list.
Even if the Timberwolves want Irving and he has interest in joining them, putting together such a deal is a lot easier said than done.
The Cavaliers would demand a lot of talent in return and require salaries to match up. One player who would make sense in such a deal is Jeff Teague, who was signed as a free agent this month. But he can’t be traded until mid-December because of league rules. The T-Wolves would also only have so much money to go around given what is owed to Butler and Gorgui Dieng, and what Andrew Wiggins would see coming when he is eligible for an extension.
Regardless, just to have their team be a part of these kinds of conversations shows just how far the Timberwolves have come, and that has to be encouraging for the franchise.
The All-NBA teams were announced on Thursday and, as usual, there were a few snubs. Among them was Karl-Anthony Towns.
In his second NBA season, Towns averaged 25.1 points (on 54 percent shooting), 12.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game for the Timberwolves. In another year, that would probably be good enough for a spot on one of the three All-NBA teams. This year, however, was not the year. Here’s who did make it.
The way he’s progressing, Towns likely won’t have many more seasons in the near future where he’s not a member of an All-NBA team. He wasn’t the only one to question the selections, though. Draymond Green stuck for teammate Klay Thompson with these comments about it.
Leave it to Crunch the Wolf to drive a wedge between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the family of their franchise center.
According to Michael McCann of SI’s The Crossover on Friday, Karl Towns Sr, the 54-year-old father of reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, is considering filing a lawsuit against the Timberwolves for negligence after suffering a significant knee injury in a stunt by the team’s mascot.
The stunt occurred in the second quarter of a home loss to the Indiana Pacers on January 26. The mascot sledded down an aisle in the Target Center during a timeout and lost his balance at the end of the descent, colliding with an empty front row seat that, in turn, struck the right knee of the elder Towns, who was sitting next to the empty seat.
Towns Sr. reportedly suffered “considerable” pain and swelling in the knee. The retired high school basketball coach did wind up staying in the arena until the game was over for fear of affecting his son’s performance with his absence, but he was ultimately brought to a nearby hospital for an MRI.
It’s definitely not the first mascot mishap we’ve seen over the years, but it could certainly prove to be the most costly if a messy legal battle does ultimately ensue between family and team.
The Kentucky men’s basketball team has struggled over its last several games, and even a win wasn’t enough to satisfy John Calipari on Tuesday night. Unhappy with his team’s performance in a 92-85 victory over LSU, Calipari did not hold back in a postgame interview.
“If anybody wants to quit, they can quit,” the Wildcats coach said.
One of Calipari’s former players took note. Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns took a shot at this year’s Kentucky squad on Instagram with a comment directed toward fellow former Wildcat Devin Booker.
The Kentucky team Towns and Booker played for went undefeated during the regular season, eventually losing to Wisconsin in the Final Four and finishing with a record of 38-1. This year’s Wildcats have lost three of their last five, the most recent of which was an 88-66 blowout at the hands of Florida. Still, it’s not all that common for an alumnus to call out his former program publicly.
It’s been a long time since the Timberwolves made a run at the playoffs, but with new basketball czar Tom Thibodeau running the show and a gifted young core, there is an expectation that Minnesota will take a noticeable step forward this coming season. Some of their longer-tenured players have become frustrated with the stagnation, but this is a franchise that very much appears to be headed in the right direction. May indicates a pretty significant playoff run for a team coming off a 29-win season, so Towns is definitely being bullish, but you have to like the confidence.