Karl-Anthony Towns made his first All-Star Game in the third year in the league in 2017-18, but his Minnesota Timberwolves barely made the playoffs, and this year the Wolves stand at 13-15, 13th in the Western Conference standings.
And granted, he’s playing alongside Andrew Wiggins, one of the worst players in the league, and the one competent star he had alongside him, Jimmy Butler, got traded to Philadelphia for a bag of peanuts.
But Minnesota’s been down this road before. A team with only one NBA star on the roster that couldn’t make the playoffs without at least two (although that might be seriously overrating Stephon Marbury to Kevin Garnett‘s detriment to say that) sounds an awful lot like Minnesota with Kevin Love.
But all this is academic. KAT can’t coach the team (that’s the execrable Tom Thibodeau), he didn’t build the roster (Thibs again), and he isn’t the reason his so-called second-best player sucks (Wiggins accomplishes that all on his own.)
The bigger question here is whether KAT deserves his status as a superstar carrying the Wolves on his back. In other words, is he the kind of leader who can take a G-League team to the playoffs in the West by himself?
And that’s the bar KAT’s going to have to clear in order to rate a Confirmed. So let’s get to it:
The Counting Stats
KAT is averaging 21.5 points a game while making less than half his shots from the field for the first time in his career (he’s at 49.7 percent on 15.6 attempts a game.)
His points per shot attempt (1.37) are the lowest they’ve been since his rookie year (1.30), and he’s scoring just 0.2 more points per game than last year on an extra 1.3 attempts.
Per 36 minutes, however, to keep this apples to apples, his scoring is up (23.0 against 21.5) and so is his rebounding (12.7, a career high, after 12.5 last year.)
He’s even shooting 85.8 percent from the free throw line again, same as last year.
And on an awful Minnesota team where he had to compete for shots in the first 10 games against Butler and Wiggins, and where Wiggins continues to rack up the usage rate against all common sense, KAT is taking the shots he’s getting and making the most of them.
The fact that his team sucks isn’t his fault. The fact that his coach sucks isn’t his fault. He’s just doing work and making shots he’s given.
Oh, and he’s shooting 40.3 percent on 4.6 three-point attempts a game after hitting 42.1 percent on 3.5 a year ago. So far, so awesome.
If counting stats are your jam…why are you here? But if counting stats are your jam, he’s the same KAT he was last year, but better on a per-minute basis at stuffing the stat sheet.
The Advanced Stats
It’s not fair to say KAT’s True Shooting “fell off a cliff”, even though his two-point FG% stands at a woeful 53.6, a far cry from the 58.2 in 2016-17 and 58.5 next year.
Guess who we blame for that? Tom Freaking Thibodeau, that’s who!
KAT is taking just 24.5 percent of his shots inside the restricted area as Minnesota’s clogged toilet offense forces him into way too many close-range jump shots (between 3 and 10 feet), and those aren’t any more efficient on average than the ones out past 16 feet.
Plenty of studies have been done showing that four feet is the cliff off which field goal percentage drops; once you’re further away from the basket than you could lean in and lay it in or dunk it if the defense weren’t there, percentages drop into the high 30s/low 40s and stay there all the way out to 28 feet league-wide.
Point is, I strongly hesitate to blame KAT for this even as yes, he could get more aggressive at attacking the rim. But if the offense doesn’t put him in a good position to take the one dribble needed to work in from the edge of true midrange, what’s he supposed to do? Learn overnight how to Eurostep like he’s Giannis Antetokounmpo? Who’s going to teach him? Giannis himself? Maybe if they traded KAT to Milwaukee, but the Wolves would probably want the Freak in exchange.
Oh, by the way, KAT is hitting 71.0 percent of his shots inside three feet. He’s no Domantas Sabonis (at 81.1 percent one of the best in the league from that close), but 71 percent is highly competent and everything you want from a center in close.
As for the rest of the Big 5, he’s posting a 22.1 PER, .146 WS/48, 3.9 BPM, and 4.1 VORP/82.
The only reason those don’t look like great stats is because of how much better they were in the previous two seasons.
But let’s go ahead and give KAT the benefit of the doubt after two seasons of 5.3 and 5.5 VORP, .618 and .646 TS%, .201 and .230 WS/48, and 4.9 and 5.5 BPM, especially since this year KAT’s finally not a complete garbage defender, posting a plus-1.8 in that side of the BPM calculation and pulling a solid 1.2 Defensive Win Shares out of the trick bag.
There’s not a single reason for the decline of KAT’s advanced stats this year that isn’t directly attributable to his coach. And I’m more than content to blame Thibs for KAT’s lack of ability to get position down low to dominate, since again, his 0-3 foot FG% hasn’t declined one lick, and he’s still a solid three-point shooter at over 40 percent.
Go take a gander at Jimmy Butler’s stats in Philly and you’ll get a solid idea of the effects of Thibs’ coaching on a player’s abilities. Except for the fact that Philly’s offense is a horror show with way too many midrange jumpers (hurting Butler’s overall efficiency), you see a guy thriving in a new place out from under the thumb of having Wiggins as a teammate.
You can’t tell me that if KAT ended up in any other place in need of a center that he wouldn’t quickly re-emerge as the best young big man in the league (sorry Joel Embiid, that’s not you.)
Towns is absolutely deserving of the accolades he’s given, and with his defense improving, his ceiling remains a consistent spot in the argument for First Team All-NBA. And maybe that’s not quite MVP, but you know what? Close enough. I mean, have you seen what Giannis and Steph and LeBron have been doing this year?
Confirmed. I’m not burying KAT on the advanced when he’s a four-VORP player on that dreadful Minnesota team. Just get him a real coach. Look what happened to Giannis when Jason Kidd got swapped out for Mike Budenholzer. That’s what KAT needs.
NEXT WEEK: Rudy Gay. What happens when a good three-point shooter plays for a coach with Scott-Hollins Syndrome?