It was a big year for Karl Anthony Towns last year. While his numbers were down from the year before thanks to the arrival of Jimmy Butler, Towns looked better. He made his first All-Star team, his first All-NBA team(third team) and his first playoff appearance. Towns also had his best defensive season by far, posting a positive defensive RPM of .44 for the first time in his career.
For the season Towns averaged 21.3 points 12.3 rebounds and a career-best 64% true shooting percentage thanks to shooting an absurd 42% from deep. The best center in the NBA is a common debate, and when it comes up, Towns is usually mentioned in the top five, but not the best. Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid were ahead of him on the All-NBA teams, and Towns poor performance in the playoffs didn’t help his case as best in the game.
Going into his fourth season, there is pressure and questions surrounding Towns and the Wolves. There are rumors Jimmy Butler is unhappy and wants to be traded. Then there are all the jokes about Tom Thibedau recreating the “TimberBulls.” The fact that Andrew Wiggins is coming off a massively disappointing year. Then with Towns, his performance in the playoffs left a bad taste in a lot of people in mouths.
There is no question the talent is there with Towns, but this season is essential. For the Wolves to return to the playoffs and keep the team together, Towns will need to take another step on both ends. If he does, he could be the best center in the NBA.
Understanding His Strengths as a Player
Towns skillset on offense is ridiculous. According to Bball Index, Town received an A in finishing, roll gravity, rebounding and perimeter shooting. No other player in the league graded out higher in perimeter shooting, one on one and roll gravity combined. The most significant improvement in Towns game last season was his three-point shooting which jumped from 36 to 42% on 3.5 attempts per game. Minnesota was the worst three-point shooting team in the league last year, and Towns was there best shooter, they needed Towns shooting a lot of times.
Not a lot of seven-foot centers can square up from beyond the arc, jab step twice and drill a three with a hand right in his face. Towns is more than just a catch and shoot deep throat he can get his shot off with ease.
His ability to shoot opens up a lot on offense. Especially as a roller. Towns has excellent hands and can finish at the rim. He finished in the 77th percentile in finishing at the rim. The ability to roll or pop makes him a deadly cover. Towns is great at using his size to seal a defender and then using a series of fakes to get defenders to bite. This is a big reason Towns draws a lot of fouls, and at the line, he shoots 85%.
This is Towns at his best. He is so quick for his size, and when he gets the ball he knows what to do with it. One of the best in-game dunkers who can elevate over just about everybody.
The guy can flat out score, but he rounded out other parts of his game last season. Towns had a career-high assist percentage at 10.5% last season, which was in the 69th percentile. He is no Jokic, but he is a solid playmaker, who can make the basic reads. For a player with such a high usage, he is extremely efficient and doesn’t turn the ball over often.
What Happened in the Playoffs and Where He Can Improve
Towns is close to complete offensively but struggled in the playoffs against Houston. In the playoffs, he only averaged 15.2 points, 13.4 rebounds on 46% shooting from the field and 27% shooting from three as the Wolves lost in five. His confidence looked shattered at times and only shot 73% from the line. So what happened? Part of it was on Thibodeau who didn’t get him enough touches. When they did get him the ball, it was in predictable post-ups that Houston could easily double. Minnesota’s lack of spacing killed them far more in the playoffs than it did in the regular season, especially against an elite defense.
Houston took away Towns three-point attempts. He only averaged 2.2 attempts per series. Being forced off the three-point line, and then doubled in post-ups, took away a lot of Towns go-to moves. He was forced to take midrange jumpers, which he hit a fair amount of, but Houston lived with it. This is where Towns needs to find ways to get aggressive and score. Attack the offensive glass more, run in transition, cut, get going on the move more. When his go to’s are taken away, Towns must get better at adapting and finding other ways to score.
To be fair only elite teams are capable of this, but Towns can’t let that happen in the playoffs happen again. Clint Capela’s physicality also bothered him, and I think Towns could get a little stronger.
Can He Improve Defensively?
Towns defense has been under constant scrutiny since he came in the league. The criticism was fair, as his first two years, he was a disaster. Last year he wasn’t Rudy Gobert, but he became an average defender. Towns is an excellent defensive rebounder, a solid shot blocker, and rim protector. The problem is his effort comes and goes, and he sometimes chases blocks he will never get. Where he struggles most is when he has to defend on the perimeter. He graded out as a C- in perimeter defense.
Still, it was encouraging to see Towns take a big step forward last season on defense. When he was locked in, he had some big-time defensive moments. He has too many mental lapses and lazy sequences. He needs to be better more consistently. You can see the ability though, watch this play.
Towns does a good job here of pushing Nikola Vucevic out of the paint. Once Vucevic gets the ball, Towns holds his own as Vucevic tried to back him down. Then he doesn’t bite on any of his fakes and then forces him into a tough shot which is an airball.
What He Means for the Future of the Timberwolves
Towns is a beast and frankly is underappreciated by Wolves fans. The Wolves still haven’t extended Towns yet, and there are rumors he could be traded. If things start south this year for Minnesota, Butler could be traded, Towns could be traded, and Thibs could be fired.
There is a universe where it all works and if it does Towns will have to be one of the best centers in the NBA night in and night out. It is up to him to improve, and for the Wolves to maximize his success. There is a good team lying in Minnesota, before Butler went down they were 34-22 and the three seed in the west. Butler, Towns, and Wiggins together had a +10 net rating. This is a team that could go either way, but Towns is on the way up. I would bet on Towns becoming an unstoppable monster and the best center in the NBA.