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Karl-Anthony Towns Has Made Huge Strides On Defense

by Julian Andrews
Web Editorial Associate Follow

Karl-Anthony Towns is quickly becoming an elite defender. 

Read that again, Wolves fans: Karl-Anthony Towns is quickly becoming an elite defender.

For years, Towns has suffered criticism about his work on the defensive side of the ball. While he was a good defender in college, he initially had trouble translating that to the NBA. I wrote last week about how Towns’ defensive development is on a similar track as other high-impact NBA defensive big men, and though the Wolves have struggled in their last few games, there’s no reason to dampen the optimism surrounding Towns’ ownership of his defense. 

Through 11 games, Towns is averaging 2.1 blocks per game. He’s blocked multiple shots in seven games and four or more in three. His 23 total blocks rank fourth in the NBA behind only JaVale McGee, Myles Turner and Joel Embiid. He has blocked more shots than Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside.

That’s quite a list, and it’s made even more impressive by the fact that of those players, only Davis and Embiid carry large roles for their teams on offense as well. Towns is truly a two-way threat. 

Towns also ranks eighth in the league in total rebounding and averages 10.3 rebounds per game. That is a regression from previous years, but still extremely elite. The Timberwolves as a team have been worse at rebounding as a whole and Towns is probably suffering from that as teams can commit more players to boxing him out.

What’s so impressive about Towns’ rising block totals is that he’s blocking more shots without helping in a way that leaves his man open. If you look at his block on Tobias Harris from Monday night, you can see that towns recognizes that Harris has beaten Taj Gibson and comes over to contest, but he keeps his body between Harris and Boban Marjanovic the entire time. This makes a dump-off unavailable and forces Harris to go for a shot that Towns easily swats.

Later in the game, Towns exhibited a similar move on Danilo Gallinari. He knows that Gallinari has a size advantage on Derrick Rose and can finish over the top, so he puts himself between Gallinari and Montrezl Harris, comes from the weak side and punishes Gallinari for trying to finish from below the basket.

Towns has improved his understanding on the defensive end as well as his physicality. In a highlight-reel block of LeBron James last week, Towns used his surprisingly quick feet to stay with James, and after jumping just a little too early on his first attempt, Towns recovers and gets the block on a second effort. It’s not every player that can catch up to and block James. Towns has been surprising opponents with his quickness this season. He’s clearly been hard at work.

While the offensive explosion in the league overall and the Timberwolves’ struggles on defense as a whole make it hard to use advanced stats year to year, there are indicators that Towns’ performance is no fluke. His block percentage and defensive box plus-minus are both at career highs and Towns is also averaging more steals per game than ever before. 

There’s still work to be done. Sometimes Towns gets beaten to rebounds because he gives up position on defense, he also still needs to work on his positioning when he gets pulled out onto the perimeter. However, there are a lot of positive signs to point to with Towns’ defense. This is just the beginning.