Coming into this season, Karl-Anthony Towns claimed that he had been held to 60 percent of his potential. Of course, many of us scoffed at Towns typical press machinations. But maybe we should have been taking him a little more seriously.
Karl-Anthony Towns has long been part of the NBA’s new “Unicorn” designation, primarily reserved for the new-age Bigs who can defend the rims and shoot threes. Over the last few years, this designation has evolved to include players like Ben Simmons and Giannis Antetokounmpo who are simply unlike anyone else in the NBA. For example, here is The Ringer’s “Great Unicorn Rankings” from the summer, which included Towns, Giannis, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony Davis, and Nikola Jokic.
The article ranked Towns 5th of the bunch, which was fair considering that this group is comprised of most of the frontrunners for the MVP race. Of course, just a few years ago, Towns would have been considered much closer to the top.
Like the other Unicorns, Towns has one skill that separates him from the rest. Giannis is simply too fast and strong to be stopped. Embiid too large and skilled down low on offense and defense. Anthony Davis too fast and athletic. Nikola Jokic too smart and skilled at making the offense whirl.
Towns’ skill is a little simpler than the rest. He is really good at shooting the basketball into the hoop from far away.
For some reason, it has taken a long time for a team to recognize that Towns is one of the best three-point shooters in the league. Towns was not allowed to leave the paint in college. Under Sam Mitchell, the Wolves recognized that Towns was the best three-point shooter on the team, but the holistic development of the Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Towns trio took importance over featuring Towns. Thibs brought a new approach, bringing a bevy of players to the Wolves that were featured over Towns. Most tellingly, in the Wolves lone playoff season, Towns ranked 5th in usage among all Wolves.
Now, the Wolves are finally unleashing Towns’ ability to shoot from deep. Over the first three games, Towns is averaging 9.7 three-point attempts per game, making them at an eye-popping 51.7 percent clip. His three-point attempt rate has nearly doubled, going from .27 last year to .475 this year. Of course, Towns is not going to continue to make over half of his three-point attempts. But after two seasons of Towns shooting 42.1 and 40 percent from deep, we can feel fairly confident that number is not going to dip below a 40 percent rate.
If Towns can keep up the three-point rate, he is going to shatter three-point records for big men. The most threes from a forward or center hit in a season was 178 by Clifford Robinson in 1995-1996, which was when the three-point line was moved closer. If Towns can hit threes at a 40 percent rate while taking 10 threes a game, he will be on track for 328 threes in the season.
Even among all players in the last two seasons, only three players, Paul George once, Steph Curry and James Harden twice, have shot more than 9.7 threes a game. Of them, only Steph Curry hit those threes at a higher percentage than Towns’ average the past two years.
That is insane. Towns only three-point shooting contemporaries are MVP-level guards like Curry, Harden, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, and Kyrie Irving. Teams sell out their entire defense to prevent these players from shooting threes. They do this by sticking their best wing defender on them, having them chase them around the floor and never leaving them out of sight.
How many teams have an opposing center that is athletic enough to do that? Maybe just Clint Capela, Anthony Davis, and Bam Adebayo? Who is guarding this?
If a team tries to go small on Towns, he is one of the best low-post scorers in the game and is significantly improved at passing out of the double team. If they have their center stick Towns on the perimeter, the Wolves will have acres of space for driving lanes.
By doubling his three-point attempt rate, Towns is upgrading from an average three-point shooting threat to a floor-warping force of nature on the level of the greatest three-point shooters in NBA history. If this continues, along with his substantial improvement on defense, Towns’ may not have been joking about there being another 40 percent left to his potential.