During the talent boom sweeping the NBA over recent years, one theme has become quite popular with NBA Twitter and the blogosphere alike: the debate over “NBA Unicorns.” Various definitions of the actual word “unicorn” include phrases like “rare, immensely valuable, and remarkably special.” In NBA circles, the word has been loosely translated to mean a player (usually a seven-footer) with unlimited skills, range, and ability to do things on the court never witnessed before.
The Ringer’s Bill Simmons did a deep dive on the topic, highlighting guys like Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but left Karl-Anthony Towns off his list because quote “I’ve seen you before.”
Other major sites like Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report have recently joined the fray, focusing in on guys like Porzingis and Embiid, comparing them respectively to players like Dirk Nowitzki and Hakeem Olajuwon, while giving little to no screen space to include Mr. Towns.
While the Greek Freak is clearly playing at another level this year and deserving of any and all accolades thrown his way, the NBA universe as a whole seems absurdly focused on the talents of Porzingis and Embiid as of late, while simultaneously ignoring (and often criticizing) the skillset of the player known simply as “KAT.” Why is that?
Maybe it’s because of social media. Much like Towns’ performance on the court, his off the court presence (primarily in places like Twitter and Instagram) isn’t sexy. His counterparts, Embiid and Porzingis, are well-versed in the social media age, roasting opponents after victories and attempting to “slide in” more frequently than a speedy second basemen.
For example, after defeating the Wolves 118-112 on December 12th, Embiid had this light-hearted back and forth with Towns on Instagram:
While Embiid technically outplayed Towns that night both on the court (28/12/8 vs. 19/16/2) and off it, he ended up sitting out an entire week just a game later due to “fatigue” from a triple overtime loss to the Thunder. The 76ers went on to lose six of their next eight after beating the Wolves, highlighted by four DNP’s from the Philadelphia big man.
Injuries and fatigue have also been a common theme as of late for Kristaps Porzingis. Just yesterday, Zinger was quoted on ESPN saying “I’m tired, I’m so tired right now” in response to playing the second night of a back-to-back game against the Washington Wizards. During his three years in the league, Porzingis has already missed multiple games due to a variety of foot and knee injuries.
Meanwhile, “the forgotten unicorn” Karl-Anthony Towns just completed his 203rd straight basketball game Wednesday night in Brooklyn. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 203 straight games out of a possible 203 contests since Towns entered the league back in 2015.
Conversely, Porzingis has played in 170 out of a possible 202 games (84%) since joining the same rookie class as Towns, and the social media darling Joel Embiid has appeared in only 59 of a possible 283 games (21%) since getting drafted a year prior to Towns and Porzingis.
While durability clearly favors KAT, the statistics of these other two big men must be noticeably greater to support them as frontrunners for the unicorn crown, right? Well, according to Basketball Reference, not so much:
Not only has Towns demonstrated the ability to play game in and game out, his efficiency from literally everywhere on the court has trumped that of both Porzingis and Embiid. Additionally, while his block numbers have been underwhelming for a player his size, Towns scoring and knack for cleaning the glass has been on par or significantly better than his fellow unicorn brethren.
So why exactly is Towns often left out of the popular “unicorn debate” in places like Reddit, Twitter, and NBA blogs? Beats me. In the most recent GM survey conducted by NBA.com, Towns successfully defended his title as “player you'd most likely want to start a franchise with today” for the second straight year, narrowly defeating Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.
While that collective sentiment from GM’s may have shifted with the recent play of the Greek Freak, it does show that Towns still has a large population of fans scattered amongst NBA front offices. But online and in NBA fan circles? Not so much.
In the end, maybe the NBA universe is right, maybe Towns really isn’t a unicorn. After all, unicorns are often described by many as “mythical” and “hard to find.” But in the case of durable Karl-Anthony Towns, you’ll know exactly where to find him: on the court, night in and night out, dropping 20 and 10.