TORONTO — The big men are back at the NBA's All-Star weekend. Karl-Anthony Towns showed that.
The Minnesota Timberwolves rookie center beat Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas to win the Skills Challenge on Saturday night, further validating the evolution of the big man from a plodding post player to a playmaking force.
In the first year that frontcourt players were allowed to compete against the guards in the event that puts a premium on ball-handling, passing and perimeter shooting, Towns beat Golden State's Draymond Green and Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins in the big men side of the bracket before edging Thomas in the finals.
"I'm glad I was able to help the bigs come out with this trophy," said Towns, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft. "This is bigger than me. This is for all the bigs out there, with the game changing the way it is, to show that bigs can stand up with guards and skillwise."
It's been four years since the NBA decided to eliminate the center position on the All-Star ballot in response to the dearth of talent at the position and the evolution of the game from post-centric offenses to pace and space.
With his ability to handle the ball, shoot the 3 and make the extra pass, Towns is the epitome of the improving big man. But heading into the competition, there were doubts that the big fellas could keep up with the small fries. Even Towns' teammate, point guard Ricky Rubio, joked last week that he had no chance.
"I like proving people wrong, so I'm glad I was able to make a lot of people wrong," Towns said. "I was able to make critics wrong, Vegas wrong, Ricky Rubio wrong. So I'm just so ecstatic right now."
The course required players to weave through some obstacles, throw a pass through a target, dribble the length of the court for a layup and then make a 3-pointer.
After Towns hoisted the trophy, Green, Davis and Cousins joined him on the podium to celebrate.
It's already been a banner weekend for the young Wolves. Zach LaVine won the MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night in a game that also featured Canadian star Andrew Wiggins scoring 29 points.
The night competitions also include the 3-point shooting and dunk contests.