With both the Timberwolves and the Pelicans fighting for their playoff lives, the latest chapter of the Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis player debate might have a logical conclusion.
Two Kentucky Wildcat products with prodigious talents, both with agility and skill-sets that defy their nearly seven-foot tall frames, and each of them number-one overall picks in their respective drafts.
The comparison between Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis is a debate that is all too easily set up by both a similar path to the NBA and seemingly extraterrestrial physical gifts.
Towns and Davis both didn’t take their time in imposing their dominance on their opponents as each have career averages of over 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. The variety of ways in which each has the ability to impact a game is mesmerizing and creates an interesting argument as to who is a more valuable player.
As we move into the final stretch of this season, this debate has the potential to be thoroughly clarified. Both now find themselves without their co-stars and are going to be forced to carry their respective squads in a Western Conference playoff race that is setting up to be one for the ages.
Anthony Davis has evolved from defensive wunderkind with freakish potential into a full-blown nightmare for opposing teams on a nightly basis. His statistical output has steadily grown every year of his career, currently sitting at a staggering 28.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game so far during the 2017-18 campaign.
Scarier still, he has morphed his game into the modern-day big man who can space the floor at a high level. During his first three seasons in the NBA, he never attempted over 0.2 3-pointers in a game. Flashing forward to this year, Davis is averaging a career-high 2.2 3-point attempts per game and hitting at a career-high mark of 35.4 percent.
Recently, his basketball prowess has been pushed to the limit with the loss of co-star DeMarcus Cousins on Jan. 26 to a season-ending Achilles injury. Initially thought to be a death sentence for the already talent-deprived roster of the New Orleans Pelicans, Davis decided to channel the special powers brought to him by his uni-brow and went completely bonkers on the rest of the league.
In the month of February, directly following the Cousins injury, Davis
a breathtaking line of 35.0 points, 13 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 2.2 blocks per game. It was a run that inspired his Pelicans to surge up the standings, currently playing with a nine-game winning streak and vaulting up to fourth in the Western Conference.
Simply put, it’s time for Karl-Anthony Towns to step up.
Yes, it is just his third NBA season. Yes, he has already won Rookie of the Year, received his first All-Star bid and become a household name across the professional basketball world. Yes, he has the potential to become one of the all-time greats and revolutionize his position with offensive versatility and defensive tools.
But it’s time to take all of his gaudy numbers and incredible talents and funnel them into winning basketball games at a time where his team needs him more than ever before with team leader Jimmy Butler stuck on the sideline due to injury.
His season statistics suggest that he is already among the league’s elite when it comes to production. His 20.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game with shooting splits of 86.5/54.7/41.4 sets an almost historic level of efficiency for a shooting big man.
However, much of this production has come playing as the second option behind Butler, and teams have not been able to solely game plan against Towns as the primary scoring threat.
Although we do have precedent as to how capable Towns is to put up numbers as the first option (see last year’s stats – 25.1 points per game), we have not seen KAT do this on a team battling the intensity for playoff seeding when every game brings much added pressure. It’s one thing to post massive statistical lines on teams that aren’t truly fighting for anything substantial. It’s another thing entirely to perform in a grueling playoff chase when your team is depending mightily on your excellence.
Who will prove more valuable?
The similarity of the situations each player finds themselves in perhaps presents the purist format to end the debate of which player NBA teams would rather have.
Anthony Davis has dragged a haphazard roster that includes over-the-hump veterans, NBA journeymen, and severe lack of star power to a nearly double-digit winning streak almost singlehandedly. To put it into perspective, the Pelicans start Emeka Okafor, who before recently hadn’t played in an NBA basketball game since 2013 (!!!!!), and somehow have actually risen in the standings since he was inserted into that role. It’s truly insane to comprehend.
On the other side of the aisle is KAT, who on paper has more to work with in terms of talent. The sidekick of Towns is now Andrew Wiggins, who more or less cancels out with Davis’ beta in Jrue Holiday. Moving down the roster is where the talent discrepancy becomes more apparent.
The current versions of Jeff Teague and Rajon Rondo visibly lean in the Wolves direction. The Pelicans have no other frontcourt player who carries the same pedigree as Taj Gibson. Jamal Crawford brings a level of experience and success off the bench that New Orleans doesn’t match.
If Towns truly wants to be mentioned in a class with Anthony Davis, now is the time he must prove his worth. His supporting cast is, at worst, noticeably better than his Kentucky counterpart and the injury to his co-star occurred much later on in the season.
It is time for KAT to show that he is no longer a young player who can produce extravagant stat lines and entertain the masses with high-flying highlights. He can no longer be a one-way player who is negligent in his responsibilities of getting stops on the defensive end. He cannot let his temper get the best of him and get ejected from games with crucial playoff implications.
Because in order to be in a class with Anthony Davis, nearly-superhuman efforts on a gamely basis are needed. Most importantly, stepping in to a role of second half domination and the role of team closer will be necessary to not just keep the Wolves afloat, but reestablish them as a top-four seed in the Western Conference.
If Towns fails to do this, and Davis continues to lead his team’s surge through the finish line of the regular season, there will no longer be a debate over which player brings more value to his franchise.
It will undoubtedly be an uphill battle for KAT, but it is time for him to prove to the fan base, and perhaps even himself, that he has what it takes to throw a team on his back and take them where they want to go. The end result will indisputably be exciting to watch.