Roundtable | On Karl-Anthony Towns' Run Of Dominance
This one is pretty simple. Karl-Anthony Towns has been dominating lately. Our Kyle Ratke and Julian Andrews wanted to talk about it. So here we are. Welcome to the roundtable.
Ratke: Here we are in mid-March. It’d be an incredibly long shot for the Timberwolves to make the playoffs. It’s been a weird season and a million things have happened.
Drama to start the season. Jimmy Butler traded. Tom Thibodeau getting fired. A zillion injuries.
With that being said, there are plenty of things for Wolves fans to be optimistic about. There’s Keita Bates-Diop. We’ve written about him here, here and here. Of course, there’s the defensive prowess of a guy like Josh Okogie. But the main reason why Wolves fan should be excited is because of the continued development of Karl-Anthony Towns. This guy has been ridiculous. Over the last month of the season, I’m not sure if there’s been a better player in the NBA.
Since Feb. 13, Towns has averaged 33.9 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 59.4 percent from the field and 49.1 percent from the 3-point line.
Julian, my dude, what about Towns’ game has stuck out to you the most?
Andrews: It's hard to quantify this, but lately Towns has just been scoring on opponents with incredible ease. Earlier in his career, and even earlier this year, it would sometimes seem like Towns was forcing things and trying to go at people in situations where he'd be better served passing the ball or trying to re-establish position. That's completely gone from his game.
Every game Towns goes deeper and deeper into his bag of tricks. He's flashed a step-back game, he's learned when to simplify things in the post and when to use his off-hand. He's driving around stronger players and bullying smaller ones. This is the most offensively polished we've seen Towns.
There are specific things to point to--his improved passing, his increased defensive awareness--that I'm sure we'll get into, but if you're wondering what has stuck out? It's simply how Towns has looked like the best player on the floor every single night. It's been incredible to watch.
Ratke: I get so incredibly annoyed of the narrative around Towns sometimes. The “empty stats” talk that is so often discussed on national broadcasts. Tuesday night’s game against the Nuggets was a great example. Isiah Thomas just went at Towns for literally no reason. While Thomas was a great player, his takes were horrible and honestly, it’s clear he hadn’t done any research at all. He kept talking about how the team wasn’t in the playoff hunt and how that reflects poorly on Towns. The team is currently without three starters and its best bench player! I’m sure that’s in your pregame notes!
It’s just so maddening. And then a lot of the times players like Anthony Davis (also great) is thought of as this “he needs more help!” guy. The Pelicans’ failures are of no fault of Davis’s, but it’s the opposite for Towns? That makes absolutely zero sense.
This narrative needs to change and it will at some point when this team gets back to the postseason with Towns leading the way. But to make the argument that Towns isn’t a star or an All-NBA-caliber player is lazy.
Those national broadcast games are sometimes fun to hear other opinions on the Wolves, but it also makes me realize how lucky we are to have Jim Petersen, Dave Benz and Marney Gellner.
Andrews: Go off Kyle! But I agree. I always wonder how the national media decides who are the "empty stats" guys and who are the "needs more help" guys. Are there meetings? Do fans get 50 percent of the vote?
All jokes aside though, it would be completely fair to argue that the biggest improvement in Towns' game this season has been his passing. That development has, to me, sealed the deal for him as a player who undeniably makes those around him better. No shade on the young guys like Bates-Diop, but do we think Bates-Diop is playing this well if he's not getting a ton of room to cut with Towns demanding so much pressure down low? Probably not. Towns is averaging a career-high in both assists per game and assist percentage, but even his passes that don't lead to assists often force the defense to rotate and scramble in ways that leave a lot of holes open for the Wolves. Sometimes that leads to other players getting open looks and sometimes it ends with Towns getting the ball back in a better situation than he started with. Towns' growth as a facilitator has allowed the Wolves to run their entire offense through him when he's on the court instead of trying to force-feed him in the paint and Towns has responded to that change by becoming the high-efficiency/high-use player we've always known he was capable of being.
The last few weeks have given us some really good insight into what types of players fit well around Towns. The nice thing is that there's already a bunch of them on the roster. Players like Robert Covington, who can shoot, play great defense and can move off the ball are perfect for him as he continues to improve his passing ability and understanding of the game. Bates-Diop and Okogie look like perfect picks for this type of a team (though both need to spend some time shooting this offseason) as does Andrew Wiggins when he's healthy. People forget how athletic Andrew Wiggins is--if he can embrace the style of play that the Wolves have found with Towns in the last few weeks it could really revitalize his career.
Ratke: I agree – the biggest improvements to Towns’ game have been his passing and defense. And he doesn’t do stupid stuff anymore. Earlier in his career, it was more style than substance.
While I love the fact that he implemented the Dirk Nowitzki step-back shot into his game, it’s an inefficient shot. Really, it’s just a prettier midrange jumper, which is deemed as illegal in 34 states.
Now, Towns is just getting to work. He’s nearly unstoppable in the paint and you can’t give him any room at all on the perimeter.
Back to this empty stats argument because Isiah Thomas now owns real estate in my brain. In Towns’ top-10 games this year based on Basketball-Reference’s Game Score, the Wolves are 7-3. That seems significant. When Towns is at his best, this team is at its best.
In sports – and this is especially true in the sports memorabilia business –- we move onto the next thing very quickly. It wasn’t too long ago when NBA GMs picked Towns over every player to start their teams with.
Towns is still getting better. We’re still four or five years away from his peak.
Towns is only 23 years old and he’s averaging 24.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and career highs of 3.2 assists and 1.7 blocks per game.
His 40.3 percent from the 3-point line is better than Paul George, J.J. Redick and Jamal Murray.
If this team has a healthy Covington and if the point guard position didn’t get hit by the injury bus last month, there’s no doubt in my mind this team is still in playoff contention. And we’d be talking about Towns differently. But here we are. You have to look at the entire picture with things like this.
Andrews: It's true. The Wolves have had a ton of bad luck this year so even though you'd like to be closer to the playoffs at this point in the season you still have to feel very good about where this franchise is headed with a centerpiece like Towns.
But nothing is ever a finished product! Seeing what Towns does next will be exciting. While he's improved almost every area of his game this year, if he could take even another step on defense during the offseason it could totally transform the Wolves. We see every day how hard Towns works and how much he loves basketball so I think it's fair to count on him improving, the only question at this point is where his ceiling is.
A two-part question for you, Kyle: What do you want to see Towns working on over the summer and, if he does that, where does that put him in terms of his place in the league? Are we looking at a First-Team All-NBA player? An MVP candidate?
Ratke: Towns is such a well-rounded player. You’d probably just like to see him get a little better at everything, right? Defensively, he probably has the most room to grow, and he’s already taken a huge step this season.
Yes, to Towns being a possible All NBA First Team candidate. MVP is tricky, especially for a big man. The last post player to win MVP was in 2006-07 when Nowitzki won.
His numbers are right on par with guys like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Davis this season.
And even if Embiid and Davis might edge Towns in some categories, it’s worth noting that Towns has played in 65 games this season while Embiid and Davis have played in 56 and 53 games, respectively.
You know what true empty stats are, Julian?! Games you don’t even play in!
It’s hard to justify, for me at least, putting someone on an All NBA Team if that player misses 20-25 percent of the season.
Sometimes the best ability is availability.
Andrews: Towns is insanely durable for a big man. When he missed a few games this year (the first time he'd ever done that) I almost lost my mind I was so worried, then I had to remind myself that Towns has been absolutely incredible at keeping himself healthy and ready to play every single game. What more could you want from a star?
The battles between Towns and the three big men you named could end up being some of the best games of the next few years. We already saw Towns play incredibly well against Davis earlier in the year and he absolutely killed Jokic the other night in Denver. Embiid has definitely given KAT some trouble this year, but I imagine Towns has been training like he's in a Rocky movie to get ready for their next battle later this month, so I expect big things.
We're so lucky to be in a time in the league with so much unique talent at the center position. You can make legitimate arguments in favor of all these guys being the best depending on what you value in an NBA player, but I think what sticks out about Towns is, as we've mentioned, his versatility. Towns is definitely the best three-point shooter of that group, he's the most efficient, he's probably the best at taking care of the basketball behind Davis, and he's probably the most durable as well. At some point these things start to add up.
I don't think it's a stretch to say Towns could be the best big man in basketball sometime in the next few years.
Ratke: Good work, Julian. I don't know exactly what we solved with this roundtable, but it was a fun little back and forth. Hopefully Isiah Thomas didn't read it.
As always, thanks for reading. Enjoy your weekend.