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How Can the Wolves Maximize Karl-Anthony Towns’ Offensive Impact?

The Wolves’ three-time All-Star is one of the most dynamic big men the league has ever seen, but asking him to focus on 3-pointers and post-ups may be the best path forward for Minnesota.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers - Play-In Tournament Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns is a great offensive player and is arguably the greatest shooting big man of all-time. His skillset with the basketball is very dynamic and can lead to great things, but limiting what he does on the offensive end might be the greatest thing for this team in the long run in their pursuit of a championship.

As pointed out by our very own Ryan Eichten, KAT is having a phenomenal season when operating out of the post. He has great touch around the rim and is able to work around defenders that are smaller than him leading to high quality looks that are applying pressure on the defense at the rim.

Towns is also shooting a 39.4% from beyond the arc. On a surface level with no other context, 39.4% from beyond the arc is the mark of a great shooter in this league. Take his shooting stroke paired with his size, and it takes away rim protection from opposing defenses because they simply can not rotate and play in the gaps one pass away. Towns will make defenses pay in that setup, and most coaches are not going to assign a smaller player to check KAT on the perimeter because the 7-footer will just rise up over them. Once you add in the context that he is taking the fewest number of 3-pointers since the 2018-19 season at 4.7 attempts per game, it begs the question — why is the best 3-point shooter on this team not shooting more 3-pointers?

The answer to this question can be found a couple different ways.

First and foremost, Anthony Edwards is the lead scorer on the offensive end and has taken another step forward in his aggressiveness of late, averaging 22 shot attempts over his last five games. Beyond that, Edwards is also averaging 8.8 free throw attempts in the same span. Both of those are inherently good. You want your best player taking the most shots on the team, even if it comes at the expense of everyone else’s shot diet in some small shape or form.

Second, some of it goes directly into Towns having such a great season in the post and who he shares the floor with. Head Coach Chris Finch is utilizing Towns there more often because of KAT’s efficiency on the block and the fact that he is being single-covered more commonly this season. As any coach and player should recognize, putting your players in the spots on the floor they are most successful opens up opportunities for everyone else on the floor and is going to lead to more efficient offense and, hopefully, more wins.

But Towns has also made some very questionable decisions when it comes to passing up looks from beyond the arc and opting to drive instead.

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The offense — and Towns — would be much better here with him pulling the set 3-pointer as opposed to putting the ball on the deck and taking a one-legged fadeaway. It’s not a good shot with seven seconds left on the shot clock.

Towns also turns the ball over too much on drives. Off the catch, Towns has tons of space to fire away. Alperen Şengün is in drop coverage and Kyle Anderson is screening off Aaron Holiday. The spacing is horrendous, with Naz Reid being at the left hash and Anderson essentially hugging Towns. KAT pulling a triple here, again, is a much better option as opposed to driving into Şengün and Jeff Green in what becomes a turnover.

The lack of shooting the 3-ball is an opinion. For all I or anyone else knows, it’s what the team is looking for and is being executed at this point in the season. It also can’t be argued that the shots he is taking from outside aren’t efficient as he is shooting at essentially a 40% clip. The offense would be better off with Towns shooting eight attempts at 36% as opposed to the 40% on 4.7 per game right now. The fans also want to see more shots from that area.

Towns also has an issue with barreling into people and getting called for charges. The worst part of the drives isn’t even the offensive foul call, it’s the inability to hit the open man after he draws three defenders into the painted area. In this particular clip he has Jaden McDaniels open on the right side of the floor and Mike Conley open in the left corner. I broke down something similar in a Twitter thread from the Wolves’ 106-90 win over the Miami Heat back on October 28, 2023. If Towns kept his head up and found open shooters after getting into the lane he would average a career high in assists. His drives to the rim are too predetermined and don’t have any flexibility to end up in any other result besides a shot attempt or turnover.

Beyond that, it feels like Towns gets one of the worst whistles in the league. I have never seen a former All-NBA player get as little benefit of the doubt as Towns does. He gets hacked and beat up a lot. The theoretical is that Towns should continue to drive because he is getting fouled and should be shooting a substantial amount of free throws every game.

The reality is that he doesn’t get the calls and he probably never will. Theory is one hell of a thing and it can provide a lot of hope. The reality of this, however, is a crushing blow of a star that doesn’t get to shine as bright as he possibly can because of things outside of his control. Since the reality differs so far from the theory, it’s time to put the theory away and replant the roots of reality into tangible soil.

It’s not that I don’t ever want to see Towns drive again and get to the cup. I want to see it be more selective, precise, and have some malleability to it. To be able to kick out to the wing and corner shooters after getting one foot in the lane because he draws so much attention. I want the drives to feel less pre-determined and shake off the fleeting sense of hope that something positive is coming because it’s going to result in a tough shot or a turnover.

I want the reality to become more real than it ever has been.

For this Timberwolves offense to reach its fullest potential, Towns needs to trade in drives for shooting 3-pointers more often and getting low post touches more frequently than he is right now. If Finch and Co. can find more structured ways of maximizing Towns’ looks where he is at his best, the Wolves are going to win at an even better rate than they have already.