In the midst of another lottery-bound season for the Timberwolves, rookie sensation Karl-Anthony Towns is more than a pleasant distraction from the sobering reality that postseason basketball will not take place in downtown Minneapolis in mid-April for the twelfth straight year.
His 36 double-doubles lead all first-year players and surpassed Kevin Love for the most by a Wolves rookie in franchise history. Towns is averaging 17.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game while posting .545/.344/.823 shooting splits on his way to winning all four rookie of the month awards in the Western Conference thus far.
Now that Byron Scott is finally letting D'Angelo Russell do his thing in March, a 6-month clean sweep of ROTM awards isn't guaranteed, but the rookie of the year award certainly is. That contest has already been wrapped up—even Kristaps Porzingis, a unicorn in his own right, has conceded the race.
How about some additional stats to wrap your head around?
Towns is third in the league in total rebounds (666) behind only Andre Drummond (950) and DeAndre Jordan (847). Only seven bigs have more blocks than Towns' 114 and his 4.6 block percentage is tied for 10th with perennial swat artist, Serge Ibaka. He already ranks 15th in PER at an absurd 23.18 and he's 18th in offensive win shares at 4.4.
Sam Mitchell has called him the best shooter on the team, and his true shooting percentage (.593) and effective field goal percentage (.557) wouldn't disagree. Towns is so incredible that every game thread here at Canis Hoopus should probably start with the same comment: "God bless the basketball overlords for delivering Sir KAT of Kentucky to Minneapolis." If Towns' PER holds, it will go down as the all-time best Player Efficiency Rating by a 20-year-old rookie.
All-time best PER by 20-year-old rookies:— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) March 8, 2016
23.2 Karl-Anthony Towns
22.9 Shaquille O'Neal
22.1 Chris Paul
21.7 Chris Webber
20.6 Magic Johnson
Towns is finishing with stat lines that basically nobody posts in their first NBA season. For instance, he became the youngest player to go for at least 30 points and 15 rebounds since LeBron, who you've likely heard of once or twice through the years. No rookie has gone for 30/15 since Blake Griffin in 2011. KAT even threw down a magical slam in transition, after anticipating the pass and stealing said pass, during that wonderful performance in New Orleans. None of it felt different than what he's been doing all season long (ho-hum).
Entering the league, there were questions about how he would deal with foul trouble at the next level—he averaged 5.0 fouls per-36 minutes at Kentucky. That number is down to 3.5 in the NBA. File his decreased foul rate, normally something rookies struggle with, as Wolves fans witnessed with Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng early in their respective careers, as yet another impressive aspect of his sensational campaign.
The Big KAT has made an immediate impact in Minneapolis, putting himself among the game's most elite rookies of all time, while showing the NBA what the new-age center looks like. His skill set is awe-inspiring for a franchise that spent the past decade flushing top picks down the drain. Towns' ferocious style, harnessed by his mentor Kevin Garnett, the single most influential character in Karl-Anthony's life according to his father Karl Sr., is matched only by the insanely high standards he sets for himself.
Karl-Anthony Towns on KG's monster slam over Blake Griffin back in early December: "I felt like KG was me, and I was KG."
I asked Towns about stretching his game out to the perimeter early in the year. Karlito, his imaginary motivational character that we heard about last season, made an appearance.
"I missed a free throw, that’s the real story you should write," Towns responded. In those moments, you can almost smell the fire burning inside of his giant 7-foot frame.
The talk around town (no pun) isn’t necessarily centered around what he can become—he’s already shown enough to know we are witnessing the birth of the next Big Ticket—it's what he already is, and how critical that development is for the Wolves organization. This is the best big man to enter the league since former Kentucky Wildcat Anthony Davis, who went first overall to New Orleans in 2012 and was everybody’s first pick in the annual "who would you take #1 overall if the NBA had a fantasy draft with all 30 teams" just a year ago.
Ask yourself, who is that pick now? What skill does Special K not possess? Moreover, three years from now, how much better is he going to be in every aspect of his game? Sometimes it's hard to comprehend how quickly he's risen to stardom.
Towns further proved that he is one of a kind by beating out Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, and Isaiah Thomas on his way to winning the skills challenge during the All-Star break. That’s right, an NBA center beat a speedy 5'9" point guard in a contest that calls for dribbling quickly, passing accurately, and hitting a 3-pointer to oust your opponent.
He can score from anywhere on the floor with smooth right-handed hook shots, Dirk-level midrange jumpers (with an insanely smooth touch that has made him essentially automatic), pick-and-rolls, pick-and-pops, floaters, drop steps in the post, beastly dunks in transition, he nails step backs with ease and can even come off screens.
The Wolves have run some very interesting offensive sets to get him open looks as the season has progressed, as Zach Harper discusses here. When Towns dropped 35 on the Raptors in a comeback win right before the All-Star break, his array of skills were on full display. Toronto simply had no answer for him throughout the night.
Four months ago, Zach Lowe wrote an article titled "Hope burns bright in Minnesota."
Much of that piece detailed the early season success of Karl-Anthony Towns, how the duo of Towns and Wiggins represents the dream foundation for any rebuilding team, and that it was OK to feel hope again in Minnesota. A lot has changed since then, but one thing has remained: Towns is already the best basketball player in Minneapolis, and there's no doubting he's well on his way to being one of the league's top 10 players.
Labeling Towns as the league’s single best asset is not an exaggeration given the sample we have to chew on. Since it's NBA Rookie Week at SB Nation, let's take the time to remind ourselves that the Wolves happen to have the brightest star in a loaded class, and the most skilled rookie since Anthony Davis entered the league four years ago. Towns has been everything and more. Did I mention he's 21-61 from 3-point land? KAT is the prototype modern NBA center.
He's like a dream come true.