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Could Karl-Anthony Towns become the best player in the NBA? Give him time

The Timberwolves’ 21-year-old center has all-around skills for a 7-footer

SAN DIEGO — Karl-Anthony Towns often answers questions in coachspeak or in the name of the team. But with all due respect to LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis and James Harden, the versatile Minnesota Timberwolves center is confident in saying that, in time, he can become the best player in the NBA.

“My confidence has always been so high. I felt coming into the league I could be that easily,” Towns said this week after practice at the University of California, San Diego. “I always knew it was just a matter of time.

“But before I was even drafted, I felt that I had that ability, faith and confidence in myself to do that regardless to what team I’m with. I’m very blessed to be with the Timberwolves, because with them I’ve expedited that process a lot.”

Much of Towns’ potential to be the king of the NBA comes from having all-around skills at 7 feet tall. Towns credits his father, Karl Towns, who pushed him at a young age to learn all the skills needed for basketball and not just how to be a tall guy in the post.

The No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft displayed a versatile game that his father would be proud of last season, averaging 25.1 points on 54.2 percent shooting from the field, 12.3 rebounds and a 36.7 shooting percentage from 3-point range. Towns’ 101 3-pointers made him the first player in NBA history to achieve 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 100 three-pointers in a season. The former Kentucky star also scored a career-high 47 points against the New York Knicks.

The 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year will be just 22 years old on Nov. 15.

“That is definitely something that I see in my sight [being the best]. I’m getting better every year,” Towns said. “I’m getting smarter. I’m getting faster, quicker, so I feel like I can easily be that. It’s just a matter of time for me. With that time that it takes to get there, I want to have a lot of experience in the playoffs. Hopefully, we make it deep and win some championships along the way so when I’m in my prime I have all the experience to take whatever team I’m fortunate to be with, hopefully the Timberwolves, to get more championship runs.”

Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau believes Towns can become the best player in “today’s NBA.” The second-year Timberwolves coach cites Towns leading the league in points in the paint last season and also his 3-point shooting skills, guard skills, passing ability, work ethic and drive to be great.

“He has the talent to do it, the drive to do it and the intelligence to do it. He just has to keep working at it,” Thibodeau said. “The one thing about him is he loves to be in the gym. I haven’t really seen a big guy who has all the tools he has offensively.

“Offensively, he’s incredible. He has put a lot of time into it. He’s done a good job.”

So how can Towns get better?

Towns averaged 1.3 blocks per game to rank 19th overall in the NBA last season. The center was also seventh in defensive rebounds per game at 8.7. He finished 18th in offensive rating but didn’t rank in the top 20 on defense.

“He has to continue to grow defensively, and that’s the biggest area of development for him,” Thibodeau said.

The svelte Towns said he changed his diet this offseason to get “lighter and leaner” even though he was already in great shape. He said he worked with Thibodeau on his guard skills during the offseason and worked on his postgame too.

“When you come in at 7-foot, 250 [pounds] and 5 percent body fat, that changes a lot of things,” Towns said.

Towns is part of one of the NBA’s newest Big Threes with small forward Andrew Wiggins and newcomer guard Jimmy Butler. The athletic Wiggins averaged 23.6 points last season. Butler, a three-time NBA All-Star, averaged 23.9 points and 5.5 assists for the Chicago Bulls last season. Towns says Butler’s addition gives Minnesota “a lot of energy with one of the best two-way guards in the league.” The Timberwolves also added three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford, who adds scoring and perimeter shooting off the bench.

With threats alongside him in Wiggins, Butler and Crawford, defenses can’t concentrate solely on trying to stop Towns. The Timberwolves play in their preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers in Anaheim, California, on Saturday night.

“I will just try to do a lot of the things I did last season,” Towns said. “It’s not too much different. I will just try to be as versatile as possible. If you need me to shoot the 3, I can shoot the 3. If you need me to be in the post, I can be in the post being an enforcer.

“As the flow of the game goes along, I’ve got to change. That’s what makes boxers so great, especially Floyd Mayweather. You have to be able to change the game plan at any given moment.”

Yes, Towns has a goal to be the NBA’s best player one day. He also would love to make his first NBA All-Star appearance this season. But Towns’ biggest goals are to win games and get the Timberwolves back to the postseason for the first time since 2004, when he was just 9 years old.

“I hope to play in the playoffs,” Towns said. “The other things are just individual things that come with what reporters and the media say and where they want to vote. But what I can control is making sure every day I am the best person and best teammate I can be for my teammates. It gives us the best opportunity to not only make it to the playoffs, but make it with a great team.

“It is definitely nice to see that the organization is getting better and better every year, and I’m glad to be a part of it. I’m still here right now wearing a Timberwolves jersey. I feel very fortunate and honored that the team sees me as a person that can help this team where it needs to be.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.