- Associated Press - Thursday, March 3, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The rookie wall is out there waiting for everyone. Everyone, it seems, except for Karl-Anthony Towns.

The Minnesota Timberwolves center picked up his fourth straight Western Conference rookie of the month award on Thursday, further separating himself from the pack in what has been a very strong rookie class.

Towns led all rookies with 21.1 points and 11.8 rebounds per game for the Timberwolves in February, including a handful of monster nights like the 26 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks he had against Chicago on Feb. 6, the 35 points, 11 boards and three blocks in a win over Toronto on Feb. 10 and the 30 points, 15 rebounds and four assists in a win over New Orleans on Feb. 27.

The No. 1 overall pick entered the season with high expectations coming out of Kentucky but has managed to exceed them every step of the way.

“A lot of things could’ve gone wrong for me and things continue to go right,” Towns said. “I’m just counting my blessings and riding the wave as long as possible. Hopefully all these accolades translate to more wins for us in the future.”

The Timberwolves are just 19-42 on the season, the third-worst record in the West. But with a young core featuring Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, there is a belief that this season is the last truly difficult one they will have to endure for some time.

Towns has seen his role and his playing time increase as the season has progressed, with coach Sam Mitchell limiting his minutes earlier in the season in hopes of keeping him fresh all the way through. The plan has proven prescient because Towns has had to play heavy minutes lately thanks to injuries to fellow big men Kevin Garnett, Nikola Pekovic and Nemanja Bjelica.

His production has also validated his pre-NBA plan, playing for John Calipari at powerhouse Kentucky and working out with Don MacLean before the draft. All that work helped mold Towns into the quintessential modern big man, a 7-footer who can run the floor, shoot the 3 and score in the post.

Mitchell has even been experimenting in recent games with running Towns off screens like a small forward.

“I’ve worked tremendously hard on my craft,” Towns said. “I’ve been able to prove to the coaches they can trust me with more responsibility. Allowing me to expand my game even more is an honor. I just want to make sure I utilize it to the best of our team’s advantage.”

And the gregarious 20-year-old has handled all the attention like a 10-year veteran. He has quickly emerged as one of the team’s spokesmen and thrown himself into community activities to ingratiate himself with fans in his new home. On Thursday, a group of high school students was getting a tour of the Timberwolves’ practice facility when Towns surprised them by meeting them and spending time answering questions.

“I’ve been used to pressure,” Towns said. “It’s always been given to me. I’ve failed under pressure, I’ve succeeded under pressure. So I know how it feels to be on both sides of the coin. I just went in and played my best and tried my best.”

Towns and Wiggins have made the Timberwolves the first team to have a player win four rookie of the month awards in back-to-back years.

“Just like Wiggs knows, we’re competitors,” Towns said with a smile. “And I’m trying to be better than him. I’m pushing.”

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