For as well as Karl-Anthony Towns has played in recent weeks for the Minnesota Timberwolves, he can’t lose sight of where his bread-and-butter should be: in the paint.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s acknowledge that Towns needs to get back to dominating near the basket. His overall field goal percentage is down this season, and it’s at least in part due to settling for more outside jumpers.
This season, the Timberwolves traded away All-Star Jimmy Butler and fired their coach, but have still found a way to correct the ship and play team basketball en route to a still-in-the-hunt record of 21-22. And, of course, much of the success is due to the resurgence of Towns.
Currently, the Wolves sit in the No. 11 spot in the highly competitive Western Conference but are only two games out of the playoffs.
Against the New Orleans Pelicans, KAT showed truly how special of a player he is against Davis, a fellow All-Star. KAT played a solid, all-around game as the Wolves came away with a 110-106 victory. He scored 27 points and had a career-high 27 rebounds along with four blocks, three assists, and two steals while shooting 3-for-8 from the 3-point line. He also blocked Davis twice in the span of a minute late in the game.
While Towns started slowly in the fall, he has picked it up each month. His monthly scoring averages went from 18.9 in October, to 21.6 in November, to 23.3 in December, and so far 27 points per game in January to go along with 15.3 rebounds per contest.
Overall, KAT ranks seventh among centers with a real plus/minus of 2.77. In the 21 Wolves victories, Towns has shot 3-pointers at a 45 percent clip and pulled down 14.4 rebounds per game. When the Wolves lose, however, these numbers dip to 31 percent and 10.8, respectively.
In just his second year in the league, he averaged over 25 points a game. With Butler gone, the offense now pretty much runs through Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and occasionally Derrick Rose. He needs to work on playing some more two-man game with Wiggins in the flow of the offense and the other players, including Dario Saric, Josh Okogie, and Jeff Teague, have step up to nail open jumpers.
Towns also needs to be focused every possession of the game, and he can’t settle for outside jumpers when he can get easy points in the paint. In his first three seasons in the league, he averaged almost identical shooting percentages from the field, all between 54 and 55 percent.
This year, that number is down to 49 percent as he is uncharacteristically taking more shots away from the rim. Only 28 percent of his field goal attempts have been within zero to three feet of the hoop, and 30 percent are in the three to 10-foot range. He can dominate any time on the low block, but the more that KAT becomes a jump shooter, the more it gives the chance for teams to get long rebounds and easy fast-break points.
Towns is still shooting the 3-pointer well at 38 percent, which is great for a big man, and his ability to stretch the defense forces opposing centers to move away from the rim. This creates openings for a slashing Wiggins and others, and that’s where KAT has to make a conscious effort to find the open man instead of hoisting the long-distance (and not-very-high-percentage) 2-point shot.
The season is barely more than halfway through. As long as Towns continues to step-up and dominates closer to the rim, the Wolves should gradually move up in the standings and challenge for a playoff spot.