Karl-Anthony Towns is having a historic season and it’s largely gone unnoticed

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 11: Karl-Anthony Towns. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 11: Karl-Anthony Towns. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

We’ve witnessed a historical season from the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, and it’s entirely possible that fans haven’t taken enough notice.

In the nascent of the NBA season, back in early November, when Timberwolves and Tom Thibodeau slander was abundant, Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer wrote the following.

"[I]n large part because of his struggles on defense, Towns finds himself far away from the MVP discussion that he was projected to be in the middle of sooner rather than later. As the hype builds around Kristaps Porzingis and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Towns has become the forgotten unicorn."

The forgotten unicorn.

This statement shocked me at the time. Having watched the Timberwolves fervently for the greater portion of my life, Karl-Anthony Towns was a rare moment of serendipity for the fanbase, a benediction who would take the Timberwolves to the promise land. I mean, yeah, he’s bad at defense, but he’s 22. He’ll get better, right?

I refuted this claim, as my severe Minnesota bias often allows me to do, but I knew Kevin to be a good NBA writer — one of the best, in my opinion, up there with Zach Lowe and Howard Beck, not to mention being over a decade younger than each of them. Thus, the respect I had for him and his inarguable basketball intellect forced me to further contemplate his statement, and as I thought about it, investigating it further through the likes of Reddit and digging deep into the comment section of Canis Hoopus, I found that this sentiment was one shared by many, in and out of the Timberwolves Community.

Kevin O’Connor wasn’t the hermit I thought he was; he wasn’t the reincarnation of Skip Bayless — no, he was simply the designated speaker of a larger group, a sizable Secret Society Designated to Malign Karl-Anthony Towns (commonly known as SSDMKAT.

Found mostly in their native habitat of the hidden corners of Reddit and long-ago abandoned NBA chat rooms, these gophers come out of their hibernation for seven months a year to slander Karl Anthony-Towns, using defensive metrics and the sacred Real Plus-Minus, in which he ranks 66th among 81 qualifying centers. They bring up location and positioning metrics, using specific pieces of game film to support their theses.

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This society has grown too large, gone too long without facing true, fervent opposition. I have decided I need to abolish the society, once and for all, begging only the question of how. As any fireman knows, the only way to fight fire is with a bigger, greater fire, so that is what I’ll do.

They want to give me a statistical argument? I’ll beat them at their own game. Karl-Anthony Towns is conclusively the best NBA player age 22 or under (see how I conveniently molded this to exclude Giannis and Embiid?) and I will definitively prove it.

Reference the title. Karl-Anthony Towns is having one of the greatest seasons, particularly on the offensive side, in NBA history.

He is the only player in NBA history to average north of 20 points and 12 rebounds with a 40+ 3-point percentage and a true shooting percentage over 60. That has too many qualifiers for you? How about being the only player to ever have a 20+ points per game season with a usage rate under 23 while maintaining a PER over 24.5 (note that PER is a stat that favors high-usage players).

Still too complex for the Karl-Anthony Towns naysayers? I’ll dumb it down further. Over the course of NBA history, Karl-Anthony Towns is the only player to average 21+ points per game and 12+ rebounds per game, on a usage under 23 percent. Yet, the most impressive aspect of these accomplishments is not even the fact that he accomplished them — it’s the fact that he accomplished them in his age-22 season.

To focus in on his achievements in his own career, this past season marked a career high in Value Over Replacement-Player (VORP), Box Plus/Minus (BPM), both offensive and defensive win-shares (OWS and DWS), win-shares per-48 minutes (WS/48), True Shooting Percentage (TS%), net rating, and player efficiency rating (PER), just to cite a few metrics. Arguably most impressive aspect of these feats is that all of this was done on a career-low usage, at just 22.9 percent. As for his career lows this season, in offensive rebounding percentage. and assist percentage, well, they’re sats that hold little value relative to those aforementioned.

Now, what is the first lesson that we all learned in our third-grade basketball leagues? Basketball is played on both sides of the ball. We’ve all heard the cliché “defense wins championships,” (bunch of titles you got over there, Pacers) but in the modern NBA, offense objectively holds far greater importance than defense.

To prove this point, let’s take KAT and Player B, to be revealed later, and compare them on an NBA norm relativity scale, weighing both offense and defense equally. On a scale of 0 to 100, KAT marks in at 87.48 while Player B scores a 94.58.

Player B? Ekpe Udoh. This, of course, is a very corrupted way to evaluate level of play and production, but it just goes to show the flaw in evaluating offense and defense as equals, or even near-equals. In terms of value, if Ekpe Udoh is the Earth, then Karl-Anthony Towns is the freaking galaxy. There is no perfect ratio in which to quantify offensive value versus that of defense, but through the given example and evidenced through regular-season results, offense is worth astronomically more.

Now, having made my point about the value of offense versus defense, most defensive metrics haven’t even ranked Karl-Anthony Towns as a distinct negative this season. While there is obviously no perfect way to quantify defensive production, or arguably even a good way, the metrics available tell a tale of mediocrity this season.

Outside of Real Plus/Minus (RPM), Towns has fared near or above replacement-level in the likes of defensive rating, Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM), and Defensive Win-Shares (DWS). The eye test of course, on most occasions, tells us a different story, but the commonality between the subjective and objective evaluation of his defensive game is that he has indisputably shown improvement over the course of his young career.

Now, to begin the final statistical case: the continual improvement Towns has made in his three seasons. Much of the legacy and lore concerning the “unicorn” is the vast strides they take under the league’s providence, evidenced by Giannis’ famed progression in regards to counting statistics, or Porzingis’ multiple jumps taken in New York. Yet, above all of these statistical feats, those of Karl-Anthony Towns arguably stand alone. As evidenced in the graphs below, Towns has steadily improved in four of the advanced metrics which bear the most weight.

His improvement in WS/48 continued its pace of drastic progression this season as did his TS%, and although his VORP and BPM only showed marginal improvement, it is improvement nonetheless. Of course, this pattern of progression is unsustainable, but it is tangible evidence of the improvement Karl-Anthony Towns has shown under just three years of NBA tutelage and the promise of what is yet to come.

This piece may have come across as disparaging, a diatribe of sorts to the NBA beliefs of Kevin O’Connor and many other NBA writers much smarter than me who hold the same opinion. I hold great contrition to this perception of my writing, as I truly hold the utmost respect for their work. This is not an assault, a discrediting of their work, but rather an expressing and defense of a contrarian view.

Having said that, I wrote this piece not to play devil’s advocate or propagate a foreign idea, but because I truly believe it. I truly believe that Karl-Anthony Towns has not received enough recognition as the world-class, All-NBA caliber player he is.

Over the past three years, he has been the most consistent Timberwolves player, and without complaint has played second and third-fiddle despite being the greatest talent this organization has seen in over a decade. From day one, his speech and manner in conducting himself have been that of a 10-year veteran, and he has never deferred blame to anyone but himself. He is self-admittedly on a quest to be the greatest to ever play, and his first three seasons of play do not allow that possibility to be ruled out.

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So I say this not to Timberwolves fans, but to the outside NBA Community, especially The Society: It’s time we start giving Karl-Anthony Towns the love respect he deserves.