Season-by-season since 2019-20, Karl-Anthony Towns has played in 54.6%, 69.4%, 90.2% and 33.3% of Minnesota Timberwolves games.
Guess which of those teams made the playoffs.
Towns has become a player who can be counted on to get bumped and bruised. His battle with illness before the season very understandably got him off on the wrong foot as far as physical shape goes. It’s frankly just a huge bummer of a situation for him and the franchise.
All of that is true, but it does not take away from the fact that Karl is one of the most specially talented basketball players in the NBA. His versatility and gravity on the offensive end demands more than a one-on-one matchup; often it’s two more bodies being thrown at him to force the ball out of his hands. We haven’t seen that kind of sellout defensive strategy applied to any other Timberwolf in Towns’ absence.
If Towns is to return to the lineup before season’s end — if he doesn’t, the season very well could end sooner than anyone hoped — he would automatically boost the frontcourt production and playmaking a hundred-fold (we can only Naz Reid so much).
Since it’s been so long since KAT graced the floor, we’re going to look back at some of his best play types in his 21-game sample to show what the complexion of the offense might look like when he’s back at full strength.
Here’s a compilation of all the possessions this season that involved a Towns post-up catch and the defense bringing a hard double-team to him.
Naturally, each time the offense is initiated by a Towns post catch, it sends the defense in scramble mode to bring two to the ball. Someone is left open and then extra passes are made to gain more advantage.
According to Synergy, Minnesota scored 1.4 points per possession in these playtypes, good for the 94th percentile in the NBA. And they were nearly as effective even when the extra defender didn’t commit — 1.2 points per possession on non-double team post-ups for Towns, in the 87th percentile.
Whether it’s finding Karl in transition or weaving some false motion around the floor to get him the touch in the pinch post, the Wolves were very good at moving off of him for cuts, spot-up threes or simply attacking bad rotations to the rim. They don’t have another option that demands such attention right now.
I wouldn’t personally classify many shots as “bad ones” for Towns. He forces without rhythm at times, yes, but he’s so skilled it’s hard to say you wouldn’t live with most of his shots — at least from an efficiency standpoint. The jump hook has been one of his best since his Kentucky days.
The initial action is similar to his ability to play-make out of the post-up for others, but when teams decide to leave single coverage on Towns, it’s mostly barbecue chicken. Draymond Green, Bobby Portis and other smaller front-court defenders can only deny his best paint shots for so long.
Once again, the Wolves don’t really have anyone else to throw the ball to on the block for a bucket, much less create the post-up on a drive from the perimeter. Naz Reid is a perimeter driver and Rudy Gobert is a catch-and-finish offensive player. Having Towns back to straddle that skillset will change the offensive complexion greatly.
How many 7-footers have this kind of fluidity with the ball in their hands?
Karl’s ability to get to the rim opens up so much more of his isolation abilities. Creating space with step-backs is a guard’s game, and the Wolves are sorely missing another shot creator beyond Anthony Edwards in late-game situations. Towns is 12 for 18 on midrange two-pointers this season, per Synergy.
That’s not a sustainable shooting percentage on a low-efficiency attempt — putting up 1.33 points per shot from the midrange would be far past an elite clip. But the gaps in Minnesota’s offense are clearly filled by Towns’ shot profile and gravity to make plays for others.
The team took a risk in exchanging shotmaking for floor general duties to help their biggest investment of this season. If the Wolves are to make a dent in the playoff standings before April, their most versatile player being back in the lineup will have to be the hole-patching, season-saving factor.