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Karl-Anthony Towns and His Chase for a 50-40-90 Season

Karl-Anthony Towns is off to one of the most efficient starts to a season in his career, as he is on pace for a 50-40-90 season and NBA statistical immortality.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

After a brutal start to the season, Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns has put together one of the best stretches of his career. Over the past 10 games, Towns is scoring 24.8 points per game while shooting 58.3% from the field, 52.2% on 3-point shots, and 91.3% on free throws.

This recent scoring surge from KAT has brought his shooting numbers on the season up to 50.6% from the field, 40% from deep, and 90.9% from the stripe, which puts him on pace to join one of professional basketball’s elite clubs.

The “50-40-90” club describes a season in which a player shoots 50%, 40%, and 90% on field goals, 3-pointers, and free throws, respectively. To make the club requires an elite shooter to have one of their better career seasons from many different areas of the court.

The one caveat is the player must qualify to be a league leader in each shooting category, which requires them to make at least 300 field goals, 82 3-pointers, and 125 free throws.

With less than a fifth of the season completed for the Timberwolves, there is still a long way to go. But if Towns were to keep these shooting splits at this level the entire season, it would put him in one of the most exclusive statistical clubs in sports.


Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The 50-40-90 Club

A 50-40-90 season has only been achieved 14 times by nine different NBA players. Those players are Larry Bird (x2), Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash (x4), Stephen Curry, Malcolm Brogdon, Kyrie Irving, and most recently Kevin Durant, who did it both last season and in 2012-13.

That is already an incredible list of players but if you filter it down to the players that also scored at least 20 points per game like Towns will this year, you are left with just Nowtizki, Irving, Durant, Bird, and Curry — who in 2015-16 became the only player to join the club while scoring 30 points per game, which he did during his 2015-16 unanimous MVP campaign.

The reason why the 50-40-90 season is so difficult to achieve is the unique player type it requires to shoot so well across all three categories. Usually, guards don’t shoot well enough inside the arc to reach 50% on field goals and there aren’t many bigs that can shoot both 40% from downtown and 90% of free throws.

The guards in the club are some of the greatest shooters in the history of basketball as is necessary for a guard to make more than half of their shots from the field.

The two wing players on this list, Bird and Durant, are two of the greatest scoring players in the history of basketball with a combined 25 All-Star appearances between the two of them.

Brogdon, admittedly, is a bit of an oddity on this list. He has both the lowest points per game and minutes played of any player in the club. His season could be considered an outlier, possibly helped by one of the best players of his generation, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The most similar player type to Towns, and maybe not coincidentally the only possible exception to Towns’ claim of best shooting big man of all-time, Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki’s ability to shoot the 3 for someone listed at seven feet tall makes him somewhat of a unicorn and his one-legged fadeaway jump shot remains one of the most iconic shots in NBA history.

If Towns were to join the 50-40-90 club, he would most likely join Nowitzki, along with Bird, also the only players with eight or more rebounds per game to go along with the stellar shooting splits.


Philadelphia 76ers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

KAT’s Chances to Join the Club

The biggest obstacle to Towns joining the 50-40-90 club is his free throw shooting. Towns has no problem with achieving a field goal percentage of 50 and a three-point percentage of 40 as he has done so in the same season four different times.

The closest Towns has ever come was in the 2017-18 season when he had shooting splits of 54-42-85, becoming the only player to hit such marks while also having 11 or more rebounds per game.

For Towns to join the club, he will need the best free throw shooting year of his career. His best free throw shooting season was his shortened campaign last year when he shot 87.4%. For his career, Towns has made his free throws at an 83.7% rate.

It will take somewhat of an outlier free throw shooting year from Towns to have a free throw percentage of 90 for the entire season. While not likely, it is certainly far from unheard of for a player to shoot just over six points above their career average in a single season, especially considering how good of a shooter Towns is from pretty much everywhere on the court.

If Towns can accomplish this incredible feat, he will join one of the most prestigious statistical clubs in all of sports alongside some of the greatest shooters in NBA history, and Malcolm Brogdon.