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Midseason Review: Karl-Anthony Towns

The Wolves’ All-Star big man is averaging 24.3 PPG and 9.6 REB through 45 games played in 2021-22.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

There isn’t much that could be considered “unusual” when you look at Karl-Anthony Towns’ offensive statistics this season. His numbers are fantastic, and should be appreciated, but they aren’t surprising. We’re used to this.

His shooting percentages are as good as they’ve been in seasons past, his points per game is about one point higher than his career average, and his blocks, fouls, and turnovers are all about the same as his career per-game averages. It would seem as if it’s a normal year for Towns (All-Star-level numbers on offense).

But what we aren’t used to is Towns doing this for a competitive team.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

This year Towns is shooting 41% from three, but is only taking 5.4 threes per game. That number seems a bit low, considering just how good he is from beyond the arc. He should no doubt be taking more shots, but the presence of D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards — and to a lesser degree Malik Beasley, Jaylen Nowell and Jaden McDaniels — limits just how many are available. Having to distribute shots between quality players isn't necessarily a bad thing, as having a hot hand-style approach is fine as long as guys like Towns don’t get too passive. His “get everyone involved” or “distribute the wealth” mentality isn’t a terrible thing, but he’s too good a player to take less than 15 shots in competitive games.

Playing with Edwards and Russell is unique for Towns (argument could be made for Zach Lavine and Ricky Rubio, I guess). Having three guys who all might be considered three-level scorers gives the Wolves a ton of different options on offense. They really like to run this horns set with Edwards, Russell and Towns (Patrick Beverley, too):

The defense has to respect all three guys here, which means if they slip up, even slightly, the Minnesota Timberwolves can make them pay.

Another reason the Wolves have been in competitive games this season is Towns’ frontcourt partner, Jarred Vanderbilt. It sounds a bit weird, but his emergence has helped Towns a lot.

Vanderbilt and Towns have played 861 minutes together, the Wolves’ second most frequent two man pairing. Per 100 possessions, they’re +8.6. They compliment each other extremely well, as Towns being able to both space the floor and play in the post on offense takes pressure off of Vanderbilt (as do other players, but specifically in the frontcourt), allowing him to lurk in the dunker’s spot. Vanderbilt seemed uncomfortable to start the year on offense, but after some tweaking he’s found a role for himself (credit to Chris Finch, too).

On defense, Vanderbilt does much of what’s necessary for a Towns frontcourt partner. Part of the reason Towns is averaging one less rebound per game is because Vanderbilt is ripping down nine boards per game. Even with that, the Wolves could still use more rebounding (something to keep in mind before the NBA Trade Deadline on Thursday).

Finch’s use of Towns on defense in a blitz-style coverage, instead of drop coverage, has allowed Towns to play to his strengths on defense. He can guard farther out, instead of standing in the paint and protecting the rim. He keeps up pretty well out there, and he’s able to do that because he has a guy like Vanderbilt (Jaden McDaniels to a lesser degree, too) next to him.

For more excellent insight on Towns’ defense: Dane Moore NBA Podcast: Why This Is KAT’s Best Season Yet

Not enough emphasis can be placed on how this scheme change, in addition to Vanderbilt, has changed the Wolves’ defense. And the overall change on defense greatly affects this team as a whole.

The goal for this team has been to become more well-balanced. Not being respectable on both sides of the ball has plagued the Wolves for years. The same could be said for Towns himself, and this year both Towns and the Wolves have become (at the very least) competent on offense and defense.