Now in his fifth NBA season, the first pick in the 2015 NBA Draft has had a staggering statistical start to the season that isn’t necessarily getting the attention it deserves.
What does that come down to you ask? Well, there is a number of potential reasons to ponder. First of all, with the likes of Luka Doncic, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo leading their teams to much acclaim, Karl-Anthony Towns is leading a Minnesota Timberwolves team with a 10-8 record, currently good enough for the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
Another reason is the Timberwolves’ level of mediocrity since the 6’11 center arrived from Coach Cal and Kentucky in the summer of 2015. In his five seasons with the franchise, the team has made the playoffs only once (2017-18) with the assistance of Jimmy Butler. Notably, ending the 14-year postseason drought for the people of Minnesota, no team in the association had gone longer without a postseason appearance than the Minnesota Timberwolves.
However, since 2015-16, the team has recorded just one season above .500. Claims can certainly be made about the lack of talent on those rosters in the early years but like the other transcendent players of this generation, Towns must successfully lead from the front to garner the attention his production deserves.
In the 16 games Towns has played so far this season, he is averaging a staggering 26.3 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists – all career highs for the 24-year-old. And his 32.9 minutes per game rank as the second-lowest average of his career. The highest dates back to the 2016-17 campaign under the tutelage of Tom Thibodeau, in which he averaged 37 minutes per game, putting up his previous career-high in points (25.1).
Long-time admirers of Towns are fully aware of the elite scoring and rebounding abilities he possesses, but it is his marksman-like three-point shooting this season that particularly stands out. The big man is shooting 44 percent from the three-point line, almost nine percent above the league average of 35.6 percent for this season.
Absurdly, Towns is attempting the fifth most threes per game in the entire league (8.9) behind Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, Buddy Hield, and James Harden. For context, Lillard who is also attempting 8.9 threes per game, is making 37 percent of them. In comparison, the closest centers on that list are Brook Lopez and Jaren Jackson Jr who are attempting 5.2 and 5.0 threes, respectively, hitting 29 and 42 percent.
The most surprising stat is still to come. Karl-Anthony Towns, a 6’11 center, is making the second most threes per game (3.9) in the league behind Harden. He has, in the opening 16 games, made two threes per game more than any other center in the league. Comparatively, Aron Baynes and Miles Turner are knocking down 1.9 threes per game at 44 and 45 percent, respectively.
KAT is stuffing the stats sheet in several additional categories, ranking in the top 10 in rebounds (sixth) and top 15 in blocked shots (14th), and averaging a career-high 4.1 assists. The Timberwolves franchise cornerstone sits behind only Nikola Jokic (6.0) and Bam Adebayo (4.5) for centers this season in passing.
With the level of development in a number of key offensive categories, just how much of the ball is Towns courting? Well, in terms of usage rate, this season (27.7 percent) ranks as the second-highest usage rate of his career. The previous high was just last season at 27.9. Andrew Wiggins currently possesses a higher usage rate than Towns this season at 27.9 percent. These figures put neither of the two Timberwolves in the NBA’s top 20 players for usage rate this season.
Currently ranked by Basketball Reference in sixth place in the 2019-20 MVP Award Tracker, Karl Anthony Towns is having a season for the ages. Although he only really holds an outsiders’ chance at claiming the MVP this season due to the sheer brilliance of the other candidates, the signs are certainly positive for the two-time All-Star building towards those storied heights at some point in his career.
Through four seasons, similarity scores in best to worst (win shares), and KAT is followed by Bill Russell and Shaquille O’Neal with Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming as other notable members of the 10-man list – an indication of the illustrious company Towns is already surrounded by in his early career.
Karl-Anthony Towns is currently producing one of the most remarkable seasons in recent NBA history. Fortunately for us, with Towns extraordinarily, the best is yet to come.
Sports Journalism student at the University of Huddersfield. Student Press Officer for Bradford Dragons basketball.