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Wednesday Musings: Karl-Anthony Towns and Stardom

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How Karl-Anthony Towns became a Star

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Like his fellow teammate Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns has been seemingly destined for stardom ever since he stepped foot in the NBA. His rookie season, while on a bad Wolves team, showed just how sky-high his potential was and his offensive abilities were leagues ahead of where many thought he was in college. Towns became one of the most deadly players in the league in the pick-and-pop with Ricky Rubio and was one of the premier scoring big men. With Kevin Garnett in his ear all season long, it seemed like Towns’ potential was boundless. The Wolves had a de facto star in the making.

In his second year, Towns started slow and seemed to be trying to do too much after a rookie of a year campaign. However, throughout the year he improved, especially on offense, and his post-All Star Break stats were an incredible (per game) 28.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game while having the shooting splits of 60-43-84. That is absolutely insane and slight uptick in free throw percentage from the fabled 50-40-90 shooting splits.

Coming into his third year, it was hard to imagine how Towns could be even better on offense. In the offseason survey of all the NBA GMs, Towns led all votes as the player that most GMs would choose as the best player to start a franchise with.

Of course, we know that Towns has never had an issue on offense, rather he has had problems on defense. In the beginning of this season, Towns was probably the biggest reason why the Wolves were so abysmal on that end of the court. Most viscerally, he was chasing for blocks, which left his man wide open to grab an offensive rebound and putback dunk.

This led to the first backlash of Towns young career, where he was commonly being put on blast online for his poor defensive efforts.

The nickname “Karl-Anthony Kanter” was being bandied about and it became very clear that if Towns was ever going to be considered one of the best players in the league, he was going to have to start playing defense.

But a funny thing happened. Towns did start improving on defense, even drastically so. What caused the turnaround is unclear, whether it was Towns’ responding to public criticism, a young player finally figuring out a system, or a coaching decision to reign in Towns’ aggressiveness for blocks. Whatever it was, it has been working.

Towns’ defensive rating since that December 12th game against the 76ers has been 103.2, a far cry from his 108.3 defensive rating leading up to that date.

Town’s overall stats since December 13th are 19.9 points per game, 12.6 rebounds, 3 assists, 0.9 steals, and 1.9 blocks. His shooting splits are 55.5-48.1-83. He has somehow retained all of his offensive prowess, while even shooting better from deep, while increasing his efforts on the defensive end of the court.

Comparing Towns to his contemporaries of the other star centers DeMarcus Cousins, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, DeAndre Jordan, and Nikola Jokic:

  • Towns is the best three-point shooter of the bunch and second best at free-throws
  • Towns is only behind DeAndre Jordan (who does not shoot outside the paint) in two-point percentage and effective field goal percentage
  • He is middle of the pack in blocks, steals, and assists, and rebounds
  • While he is 4th in points per game, he holds the 2nd lowest usage this year, likely due to all of the high-usage players on the Wolves
  • Towns outpaces all of them in WS/48 and PER, and while he is 3rd in raw BPM, he is first in OBPM and in VORP. He is also 2nd in RPM and is heads and shoulders above any other center in ORPM

Outside of DeMarcus Cousins, there is no other center in the NBA that is having as good of a statistical season as Towns. Joel Embiid is close, but he obviously has nowhere near the durability of Towns.

KAT also has a distinct advantage on the other two, which is that he is on a legitimately good NBA team.

Towns is having the best season of his, so far, short career and has fully become one of those top-twenty players in the NBA that we saw the potential of his rookie year. His development has been astounding and we often take for granted just how good he is on offense. Towns won player of the week for the Western Conference earlier this year and we were surprised! As if it was not notable that he was casually was dropping 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 assists per game while shooting 55 percent from the field!

This is Towns official coming out year, which needs no further proof other than his first appearance at the All-Star game. This will be his first year in the NBA playoffs and, if his current trajectory continues, likely first-time All-NBA honors.

The star that all of us saw during Towns first moments as a Timberwolf, when he was slinging no-look passes and shooting threes in the summer league, has come to fruition. He has graduated from the up-and-coming player to a full-blown star in today’s NBA. This All-Star appearance is just the first one, it will certainly not be the last.