Timberwolves Mid-Season Player Review: Karl-Anthony Towns

Dec 1, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett (21) and center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) against the Orlando Magic at Target Center. The Magic defeated the Timberwolves 96-93. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 1, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett (21) and center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) against the Orlando Magic at Target Center. The Magic defeated the Timberwolves 96-93. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

After taking a look at both the Timberwolves as a whole and Andrew Wiggins at the halfway point of this season, it’s time to examine how Karl-Anthony Towns has performed thus far.

Towns came out of the University of Kentucky this past year with sky-high expectations as a well-rounded player that could have a large impact on both ends of the court. Somehow, Towns has blown far past those expectations, turning in a half-season that sees him leading the Rookie of the Year race.

With averages of 15.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks, there isn’t much about Towns’ game that can be criticized at this point.

The only area of his game that has a stat suggest that he hasn’t been great is defense. His defensive rating, according to nba.com/stats, sits at a below-average 104.5. Now, the team defense around KAT hasn’t been great, but a player’s individual defensive rating is supposed to take that into account.

However, the eye-test completely contradicts that rating. Towns has been a monster in the post, ranking 11th in the league in blocks per game. It is also clear that he is absorbing communication on defense from Kevin Garnett; you can see him actively talking players through pick-and-rolls and on rotations as the ball swings around the perimeter.

It is extremely rare to see a rookie come into the league and make an immediate, significant impact on defense. Rookies usually struggle with the speed of the NBA and some of the tenets of NBA-style defense, but with KG’s unrelenting guidance and his own hard work, Towns has already developed into a great defensive player.

He has many defensive highlights this season, but here are just two of them:

There are almost certainly still holes in his defense, and that no doubt affects his defensive rating. Teams will try to exploit whatever weaknesses Towns has on defense, but overall, his hustle, instincts, and talent have made him one of the better defenders in the league as a 20-year old rookie.

On the other end of the floor, Towns is already shooting at an elite level for a big man, making 52.9 percent of his shots to go along with an incredible 38.9 percent from deep and 85.6 percent from the stripe.

Towns’ three-point percentage is tops on the team among regular rotation players, which is kind of crazy considering that the Wolves have sharpshooters such as Nemanja Bjelica and Kevin Martin.

More from Dunking with Wolves

His free throw percentage is unsurpassed by centers who take as many attempts per game as he does. To say that Towns is a good shooter would be a major understatement. As a 20 year-old rookie, he is already one of the best-shooting big men in the entire league.

Towns’ offensive game is extremely versatile, and he has each part polished well beyond his age of 20. While Jahlil Okafor was regarded as the most polished scorer going into last year’s draft, he is almost exclusively a post scorer. Towns has expanded his game well beyond that single area and is a deadly offensive force from anywhere in the offensive half of the court.

In addition to his ridiculous scoring ability, Towns has shown vision on offense that is nearly at a point guard level. He sees plays developing for cutters before they actually happen and is able to zing the ball to them before the defense is able to react. There have been so many passing highlights from Towns this year, but here are just a couple of them:

It is also obvious that Towns has the motor in him that all great players have. He never wants to let his teammates down and just wants to win. It is already clear at this stage in his career that he doesn’t care how well he does as long as the Timberwolves do as well as they can.

The first vine shows that Towns’ motor never stops. He had two Nuggets big men between him and the rim. For most players, that would mean that they weren’t getting the rebound and they would jog back on defense. Towns, however, slips to the baseline side and then launches over both Nuggets players to grab the board and finish in one motion.

The last Vine perfectly encapsulates Towns’ attitude on the court: he took a pretty good shot and made it, but he apologized to Wiggins for not passing it to him because Towns felt that Wiggins probably had the better shot there.

Now, it’s hard to tell whether that is even true. Towns took an open mid-range jumper, which has been money this year. The defender bit hard on Towns’ pass fake and probably would have been near Wiggins as the ball was arriving. That didn’t matter to Towns, though; he saw a situation where he probably should have made the extra pass but didn’t, and then he felt bad enough to apologize on the court.

You can see a hint of KG in his on-court persona. Towns is unselfish, sometimes to a fault. There are times every single game where he has an open mid-range shot or three that he doesn’t take and instead swings the ball to keep the offense moving. That stuff hasn’t come from coaching. That is something that is just in him.

Towns has taken well to KG’s legendarily ferocious teaching, and a big reason why is because he has a lot of KG’s characteristics already in him. As a lifelong Timberwolves fan that grew up watching KG lead the Timberwolves to their best seasons, I cannot overstate how exciting it is to see Towns exhibiting some of the same traits that made The Big Ticket one of the best players on the planet.

Next: Is David Blatt a Possibility for Timberwolves?

Simply put, Towns has been a revelation for the Wolves this season. Even those that were highest on Towns coming out of Kentucky have to be surprised by how great he’s been in the NBA. He has one of the most versatile offensive games in the league, his vision is outstanding, and his defense is already making a significant impact.

Towns has been nothing less than incredible for the Timberwolves this season, and the combined potential of him and Wiggins stretches beyond the sky.