Season Of Greatness For Towns Hindered By Injuries, Instability

C | 6’11, 248 lbs

2019-20 season: 35 games, 35 starts, 33.9 MPG, 26.5 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 4.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 50.8 FG%, 41.2 3P%, 79.6 FT%

The first two months of the 2019-20 NBA season appeared to be promising for Karl-Anthony Towns.

The fifth-year player, who had only missed five games in his career before the start of the season, averaged career highs in scoring (26.3 ppg), rebounding (12.6 rpg) and assists (4.1 apg) all while shooting 51.3% from the field and 44.4% from 3-point range through November.

At the time, he was the only player in the league averaging at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and four assists per game while shooting 50% from the field and 40% from deep. His dominance led to his name being thrown around in early MVP talks after the first 16 games of the Timberwolves’ season.

However, injuries ultimately limited the greatness Towns was embarking on.

Towns played in the Timberwolves’ first seven games in December but went down with a knee injury in his 39-point, 12-rebound, 3-assist performance against the Los Angeles Clippers and would be sidelined for Minnesota’s next 15 games.

When Towns was deemed healthy enough to play in mid-January, it took two games for him to regain his rhythm. But after that, we once again saw the brilliant offensive player Towns has proven to be.

Towns averaged 26.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 blocks per game from Jan. 17 to Feb. 10 and shot 49.8% from the field and 39.5% from behind the arc. He was once again the only player to put up such numbers during that 12-game span.

Towns joined the elite 8,000-point club on Feb. 3 and became the ninth-youngest player in NBA history to reach the milestone. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O’Neal, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dwight Howard were the only players to reach 8,000 career points at a younger age than the 24-year-old Towns who would have likely accomplished the feat earlier had it not been for his December knee injury.

But one week later, Towns’ season would come to a halt due to injury once again.

Towns played his final game of the 2019-20 season on Feb. 10 and finished the shortened season on the bench after suffering a wrist injury in a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Towns only played two games with Minnesota’s refurbished, post-trade-deadline roster, but those two games were enough to keep fans optimistic of what’s to come for the Timberwolves.

The Timberwolves recorded a 27-point win against the Clippers on Feb. 8 even without newly-added All-Star D’Angelo Russell. Towns contributed 22 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists while his team recorded a 136.0 offensive rating in arguably Minnesota’s best game of the season.

Towns and the Timberwolves went on to challenge the Toronto Raptors in their next game and added Russell into the mix this time. The Raptors ended up claiming a 137-126 win over the Timberwolves that night, but the Timberwolves shot 18-for-40 from 3-point range while Towns and Russell combined for 7-for-11 shooting from deep.

Minnesota recorded a 124.1 offensive rating during those two games, which was good for third-best in the league during Towns’ limited time with his new teammates.

But the Timberwolves also allowed Toronto to score 137 points and record an effective field goal percentage of 66.9% in Towns’ final game of the season.

It was well-known that while the Timberwolves’ offense would be boosted by the trade deadline moves, their defense would need some extra attention. Any significant team defensive improvement will have to start with Towns.

The Timberwolves recorded 11.5 more points per 100 possessions (98th percentile for centers) when Towns was on the court but also allowed 6.2 more points per 100 possessions with Towns on the court (10thpercentile), according to Cleaning the Glass.

It’s probable that more roster stability will add to Towns’ defensive progression, but knowing Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas, it’s unlikely Minnesota’s roster will be at a standstill in the months and even seasons to come.

Towns’ defensive leadership will come, but for now, his 2020 offseason should continue to be spent being a leader in supporting COVID-19 detection efforts and using his platform to call for justice for George Floyd.