Getty Images/Timberwolves Illustrations
Karl-Anthony Towns Is An Incredibly Unique NBA Talent
As we recap the 2018-19 Timberwolves season, our Kyle Ratke and Julian Andrews will be taking a look at each player on the roster and how we'll remember their season. We continue with All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns.
KR: We talk about unicorns in the NBA so often, players who are not unicorns are incorrectly called unicorns. I’m starting to forget what an actual unicorn is.
Karl-Anthony Towns’ name is rarely mentioned in those conversations, and it confuses me. This is a player who averaged 24.4 points and 12.4 rebounds while shooting 51.8 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line. A center who can shoot like a guard and bang with the bigs. That seems unique to me and like the definition of what you want in a modern-day big man.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Towns is too good to be a unicorn.
A few things Towns accomplished in 2018-19:
- Made second-straight All-Star team.
- Moved to third all-time in scoring in team history.
- Became the first player since 2003-04 (Kevin Garnett!) to compile 1,800+ points, 900+ rebounds, 250+ assists and 125+ blocks in a single season. He also joined Garnett (1999-00) as the youngest player to do so at age 23.
- Became the second player in NBA history to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line.
At only 23, it’s scary to think about how good Towns is going to be. He’s not in his prime yet. In an interview with The Layup Line in May, Towns told us that he’s working to improve everything this offseason. Offensively, he’s extremely polished. He’s a great scorer from pretty much anywhere. We saw his passing improve immensely in 2018-19 as teams threw more and more double teams at him. His 3.4 assists per game were a career high and a full 1.0 more than last season.
Defensively, Towns also made strides, but this is the area that could really raise his ceiling on what his potential is. It’s hard to say how high that ceiling is considering how good he already is.
Something to be excited about moving forward: Towns and coach Ryan Saunders have a fantastic relationship. More than ever, relationships with coaches matter. Need proof? Under Saunders, Towns raised his scoring average from 22.2 points per game to 28.8 points per game. His field goal percentage increased from 49.5 percent to 54.1 percent and his 3-point percentage increased from 37.9 percent to 42.2 percent.
The future is bright for Karl-Anthony Towns. And with that, the future should be bright for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
JA: When teams don’t meet expectations, players tend to get overlooked. It’s disappointing that Towns’ growth in 2018-19 went under the radar, but if he keeps it up it’s unlikely to be a persistent problem.
Towns set career highs in rebounding, assists, steals, three-pointers and free-throws last season. The way Towns has gone about adding to and diversifying his game has been incredible to watch. Towns has always been an elite scorer, but he’s starting to put together how to be a franchise centerpiece too.
As the primary focus of opposing defenses, Towns was double and triple-teamed on many possessions last year. Opponents brought help from unusual places, tried to force Towns off his spots and generally tried to make sure that anyone else on the Wolves other than Towns would have to beat them. Usually that didn’t work.
Towns has grown by leaps and bounds as a passer this season and when teams come to trap, he typically had an answer. He’s developed great distributing chemistry with Josh Okogie and Andrew Wiggins, who have learned to slash to the rim when their man leaves to help on Towns, and he’s learning to make the right pass even if it doesn’t lead to an assist.
On defense, it’s obvious that Towns came into this season with an increased commitment to defense. He ended up averaging 1.6 blocks and 0.9 steals per game, but the bigger thing was his positioning and activity on the defensive end. Towns has recognized that he needs to stabilize the Wolves on defense even if it doesn’t always lead to stat boosts for him.
While Towns still has a little way to go before he is considered an elite defender, the progress this season was undeniable. His defensive box plus-minus was a career high and his rebounding acumen is one of the single most important defensive strengths the Wolves have—a defensive possession isn’t over until a rebound is secured.
The Wolves are building a future around Towns and everything he’s done so far indicates he’s completely deserving of that responsibility. He’s grown on the court, as a leader in the locker room and as a person. He’s only 23 years old. As Kyle said, the future is bright.