Booker, Towns Keeping Tabs on Each Other's Success

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by Matt Petersen

The Suns’ tilt against the defending champion Warriors on March 12 wasn’t broadcast nationally, but out-of-market fans were still able to tune in thanks to NBA League Pass.

One viewer in particular was observing closely, nodding in approval as Devin Booker picked apart the Warriors’ defense for 18 points and 11 assists. Phoenix actually led by nine points in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to the unnaturally mature play of the league’s youngest player.

When Booker declared for the draft, NBA circles only had a hint that his game contained so much more than his highly touted shooting stroke. Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 overall pick and quickly rising star for the Minnesota Timberwolves, just smiles and admits that he knew better.

“I was always near that,” Towns said of his former college teammate. “I practiced with him every day.”

Booker Dishes 11 Assists at Golden State

Booker and Towns, who will face off tonight when Minnesota hosts Phoenix, were two members of the juggernaut Kentucky team that nearly completed a perfect season last year before bowing out in the Final Four. They were so dominant, in fact, that Booker – one of the top 13 players selected in the 2015 NBA Draft – didn’t even start for his own college team.

His individual responsibilities were limited for the good of the whole. For the most part, he was a spot-up shooter, asked to keep the floor spread and defenses honest.

“I know I sacrificed a lot and [scouts] had a lot of questions, if I could handle the ball, create my own shot, things like that,” Booker said.

Towns knew that, as well, which is why he was watching the Warriors game so avidly. He saw his former teammate unleashed, wreaking the kind of multi-dimensional havoc most didn’t know Booker could produce.

“He showed it a lot against the Warriors with the floaters,” Towns said. “Devin also can dribble. He showed in the combine that we had at Kentucky and also [at] the NBA combine how great his agility, his quickness and his speed is. For a person his size, for his ability to shoot the ball, to have that kind of athleticism is unheard of.”

It’s hard to hear a single voice in a well-tuned chorus, the only casualty at a program like Kentucky. Even Towns still surprises with an ever-expanding shooting range and ahead-of-his-age footwork.

To the former Wildcats themselves, it’s just the rest of the basketball world finally catching on.

“Whatever team he was going to get drafted to, they were getting a winner and one of the best shooters in this league, possibly that we’ll ever see. I’m just surprised that 12 other teams passed him up.”

— Karl-Anthony Towns on Devin Booker

“Everybody on our team, you could see it in practice,” Booker said. “We knew what we were all capable of and that’s why we’re all succeeding on the next level.”

Indeed, four of the top 12 rookie scorers in the month of March hail from that Kentucky team. Booker leads all of them with 22.1 points per contest. Towns is second at 21.9. And yes, both are aware of the damage the other is doing.

“I told him, ‘Let me get one Rookie of the Month [award], at least,’” Booker laughed. “He’s taking all of them!”

Towns proudly retains his in-season honors, but he willingly admitted that his former teammate might snap his streak of monthly rookie awards.

“The way he’s playing,” Towns said, “he definitely could win it.”

There is a tone of pride when the first overall pick talks about No. 13. That draft gap is normally miles wide, but Towns never felt that distance in terms of talent.

“I never had that worry in my mind about Devin succeeding in the NBA,” Towns said. “Whatever team he was going to get drafted to, they were getting a winner and one of the best shooters in this league, possibly that we’ll ever see.

“I’m just surprised that 12 other teams passed him up.”


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