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Monday Musings: Towns and History

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Karl-Anthony Towns is having a historic season on offense.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Karl-Anthony Towns is pretty good at basketball. That has been clear since he has stepped onto the court in NBA’s summer league his rookie season. Towns has been an unstoppable machine on offense during his entire NBA career and he is part of the new “unicorn” bigs that are able to spread the floor from beyond the three-point line, as well as fight down low in the post.

It is hard to say that Towns has not received enough attention for his success, as he was awarded the Rookie of the Year award his first season, continuously is ranked as the top player an NBA GM would start a team with, and just went to his first All-Star game. However, what Towns is doing this season is not just great, it is approaching historic.

Towns current shooting splits this season are 54.5 percent from the field, 41 percent from three, and 85 percent from the free-throw line. This approaches the casually thrown out “50-40-90” club that we often use to discern whether a player is having a historic shooting season.

In the history of the NBA, of players who have taken at least 50 three-point attempts, there are 38 players all-time who have been above the 50-40-85 line in a season, which Towns will likely hit for the season. On this list includes Steph Curry, Larry Bird, Kevin Durant, Manu Ginobili, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Reggie Miller.

Of this group, for players that are 6’10” and above, there are only three names. Meyers Leonard in the 2014-2015 season (which we can exclude as his BPM of 0.2 is well below Towns’ 5.3) and Dirk Nowitzki in 2006-2007 when he won the NBA’s MVP Award.

Now, I am not here to disparage Dirk Nowitzki, who is currently the best shooting big man of all time, but Towns is putting up this type of season a full six years earlier than when Dirk shot this well.

Towns’ stats this season are actually relatively in line with Dirk during his MVP season in 2006-2007.

Dirk vs Towns

Player PTS/game RBS/game AST/game BLK/game FG% 3pt % FT% PER TS USG% WS/48 BPM
Player PTS/game RBS/game AST/game BLK/game FG% 3pt % FT% PER TS USG% WS/48 BPM
Dirk 24.6 8.9 3.4 0.8 50.2 41.6 90.4 27.6 0.605 28.9 0.278 6.7
Towns 20.5 12.2 2.4 1.4 54.5 41.4 84.5 24.6 0.647 22.3 0.227 5.3
Data from Basketball Reference

Now, Towns is nowhere close to the MVP discussion this season. Over the last few years, guys like James Harden and Russell Westbrook have put up absolutely insane, and historic, numbers in order to win that award.

Compared to his peers today, at least shooting wise, Towns has a distinct advantage over the other “unicorn” bigs this season:

  • Joel Embiid: 48.6 from the field, 31.1 from three, 75.8 from the free throw line
  • Kristaps Porzingis: 43.9 from the field, 39.3 from three, 79.3 from the free throw line
  • Myles Turner: 49.3 from the field, 38 from three, 76 from the free throw line
  • Nikola Jokic: 49.5 from the field, 38 from three, 84.4 from the free throw line

In advanced stats, only Jokic is even with Towns. Jokic’s shooting is actually pretty close to Towns, as he has been having his own bump in shooting percentages this year, particularly from behind the arc.

Of course, this is also not to say that the defensive impact that Joel Embiid is able to bring to the table does not matter, but Towns is clearly the superior player on offense at this point.

What has made Towns so successful is just how diverse his game is on offense. This is clear just from watching the game last night, as he can score with ease from anywhere on the court.

It’s truly incredible that amidst this season, with all of the ups and downs that the Wolves have had, that it has gone somewhat unnoticed that Towns is having such an incredible season. Part of that is due to the fact that there is so much focus on his defense, as the efficacy of the Wolves’ teams defense seems to rest entirely on if Towns playing well on that end of the court. His league-leading double-doubles have become rote, an expected outcome from one of the best big men in the league.

But what he is doing is not usual, it has been exceptional. At 22-years-old he is turning in one of the best shooting seasons ever for a player his size. It seems implausible for Towns to be able to improve even more on offense, but he has been doing so every season since he came into the league. There may come a time in the near future where the title of the best shooting big man in the history of the NBA is passed to a new name.