Not stellar, but Towns and Russell make Summer League debuts


LAS VEGAS — They were smooth, entirely ready for the stage they were on — which, it turned out, was a buzzing, standing-room-only Thomas & Mack Center here, perhaps the biggest crowd ever on hand to see a Summer League game. The Timberwolves beat the Lakers, 81-68, but that was hardly what mattered.

What mattered was that this was the opening game for two eagerly awaited rookies.

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For the Timberwolves, first overall draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns overcame a slow start, flashing his impressive combination of size and athleticism, battling through double-teams and finishing with 12 points and three rebounds. He flashed the potential to become a very good passer as he recognizes extra defensive pressure,

handing out four assists.

On the other side was the guy Lakers fans from far and wide crowded into the arena to see: D’Angelo Russell, the second pick out of Ohio State, on whose talent and development the future of the franchise hinges.

Russell was dazzling out of the gate before petering out. In the game’s opening minutes, Russell made a free throw, set up a Tarik Black layup with a nice pass inside, fed Jordan Clarkson with a no-look pass for a 3-pointer, knocked down a 3-pointer himself and yanked a steal. He threw Clarkson a half-court bounce-pass after the steal, but Clarkson could not finish, keeping an otherwise outstanding play off the highlight reel.

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Still, Russell posted four points, two assists and a steal in the game’s first three minutes, but settled down thereafter, finishing with eight points and seven assists, shooting 3 for 8 from the field.

Russell did not chalk up his so-so numbers to the notion of fear about making his grand entrance into Lakerdom. He was just getting comfortable, trying — and at times failing — to avoid the trap of forcing the action. 

“I felt like, it’s a flow,” he said. “I could not really get myself going individually, and we were doing a lot — we were doing too much. Everybody was trying to do more than what their job was. I know I got caught up trying to do somebody else’s job a few times. It’s something I learn from.”

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Towns got off to an ignoble start, missing an air-ball 3-pointer. He smiled about it after the game. “I didn’t even want to shoot the basketball,” he said. “It was just, rookie jitters. I’m not going to be perfect. Just because I am the No. 1 pick doesn’t mean I’m going to be perfect.”

He wasn’t. Towns committed nine fouls (players get 10 in Summer League ball) and four turnovers, and shot 4 for 10 from the floor. Russell wasn’t either, with seven fouls and five turnovers. He lamented his mental errors, while Towns acknowledged his prodigious foul number.

But both showed flashes of what they might do down the line, and got their first game out of the way. “Summer League,” Towns said. “How many people even get the chance to do this? I have been blessed. I thought everything went OK, I definitely got my feet wet.”

And there figures to be much more to come.