Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Karl-Anthony Towns leading Wolves in new direction

A look at this week's top 5 contenders for the NBA's MVP award

Karl-Anthony Towns had a clear plan in place for the locker room makeover he envisioned for the Minnesota Timberwolves. No more drama. No more “me.” And a lot more “we.”

When the Timberwolves decided to make structural changes to the front office and coaching staff, Towns made sure that a culture change was a part of the plan as well.

This culture is about family, and we are in this to win,” Towns said. “We aren’t in this for individual accolades, or any of that stuff. This is the culture that we have built here in Minnesota, and the league is recognizing that.”

The league also recognizes that the leader of the Timberwolves’ band is one of the truly unique talents in the game, one who has played his way into the Top 10 of this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.

“I think he [Towns] is the best big man in the league,” said a former Eastern Conference head coach. “He’s got everything. He can play inside and out and he can dominate on both ends. There isn’t anything that’s required at his position that he can’t do.”

The Timberwolves are two games above .500 and on pace to make the playoffs, with coach Ryan Saunders still tweaking his lineups and rotations to get the desired results.

Towns is averaging career highs in scoring (26.3 ppg), rebounding (12.6 rpg) and assists (4.1 apg) while shooting 51.3% overall and 44.4% on 3-pointers. He’s also averaging 1.1 steals (another career high) and 1.5 blocks.

So far, things are going according to plan both on and off the court.

“I have confidence in the integrity and the will in those people in the locker room and I know what they’ll do when they put those jerseys on,” Towns said. “I feel like I’m doing more than I’ve ever done, I’m able to do more than I’ve ever been asked to or been allowed to do. I’m just having fun and showing more and more facets of my game. And there’s a lot more left in me to show.”

Saunders is all in on the master plan, knowing that the Timberwolves’ fate this season rests squarely on the shoulders of their young leader and best player. Having a 7-footer that can shoot 40 percent from the arc provides opportunities most teams can only dream of, while also requiring a coach to help his star balance his approach.

“I’m very happy with Karl with what he’s been able to do, on the court and off the court with this group,” Saunders said. “We do have a younger team and sometimes years of service plays in to you being a veteran. It’s been good for Karl to have to accept that role as well. He’s done a lot of things away from the basketball court, whether it be team gatherings and things that he does with his teammates, but also being a vocal leader, too. He’s had a nice start to the year, but it’s something you’re never satisfied with.”

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The Top 5 this week in the 2019-20 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

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1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week: No. 1

Season stats: 31.1 points, 13.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.4 blocks

Antetokounmpo and the Bucks rolled without their other All-Star, Khris Middleton, in the lineup as “The Greek Freak” did it all (a triple-double, a 50-point game, etc.). He was as devastating as ever with Middleton back in the mix for Wednesday’s win against Atlanta (Milwaukee’s ninth straight), piling up 30 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four blocks.

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 2

Season stats: 25.8 points, 11.0 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals

LeBron ceded the stage to Anthony Davis in the big man’s first trip to New Orleans in a Lakers uniform. Davis dominated, the Lakers got the win and LeBron put on a show of his own (29 points, 11 assists, five rebounds, two steals) with his league-leading 12th game of 20-plus points and 10-plus assists. Under his guidance, the Lakers have tied the best 18-game start in team history.

3. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics

Last week: No. 6

Season stats: 22.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists

While the fans at TD Garden were busy trolling Kyrie Irving on Wednesday, Walker was doing his best to remind everyone why the Celtics are happy with the man who replaced him. Walker torched the Nets for a season-high 39 points, six assists and four rebounds in his first outing after missing one game with a neck injury.

4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week: No. 3

Season stats: 30.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, 9.5 assists, 1.5 steals

Doncic won’t see many teams with the defensive personnel and firepower the Clippers threw at him Tuesday, when his streak of 30-point, 10-assist games came to an end. That one game, however, does not diminish the impact he’s had on the Mavericks this season. He’s still one of the NBA’s most difficult players to guard.

5. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Last week: No. 4

Season stats: 37.7 points 7.8 assists, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals

Harden’s status as the most unstoppable scorer in the league is not in danger. But he’s seeing double teams these days that he readily admits he’s never seen before. If these new schemes have the usual effect, Harden will go back to the lab and come up with a new wrinkle of his own, which is necessary for the Rockets to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race.

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Got thoughts on the Kia MVP chase? Hit me up via e-mail or send me a tweet and I’ll get back to you!

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The Next Five:

6. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

7. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

8. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

9. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

10. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

And five more: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz; Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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