Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns Season Review

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 29: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 29: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns had another strong year in 2018-19 as he made his second consecutive All-Star team and continued to improve on the defensive end of the floor.

Yes, the Minnesota Timberwolves took a step back this year.

And yes, the buck stops with each team’s best player, and in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, stars are truly only considered superstars if they can propel their team to a playoff berth.

Karl-Anthony Towns had a slow start to the year in a season that was marked by a Jimmy Butler-sized cloud and a fired Tom Thibodeau. Sometime after Thibodeau’s ouster, however, Towns began to take the league by storm.

Indeed, it was a tale of two seasons within a season for Towns. And while his spotty play in the first half of the season was absolutely a big part of the long playoff odds that the Wolves faced by the time that Ryan Saunders became interim head coach, his impressive second half matters.

Equally as important, the attention focused on Towns’ second half resurgence was largely centered around his offensive numbers, but his marked improvement on defense during the season in its entirely is a big part of the story.

Towns has gone through a couple of defensive phases thus far in his still-young career. There was the overeager, shot-block-happy rookie version, who was really only effective when it came to compiling Rookie of the Year highlight reels.

Then, the back-slide in Towns’ second season, which was his first under Thibodeau. Whether it was due to learning his new coach’s system or just a sophomore slump, Towns’ effort and potentially his understanding of the scheme took a hit and the second-year big man had a terrible year on defense. Additionally, it was year two of playing alongside another 7-footer in Gorgui Dieng.

The 2017-18 season was Towns’ second under Thibodeau and his first and only season playing alongside an elite wing in Butler, who made things much easier for KAT on both ends of the floor. Towns made his first All-Star team and showed clear improvement in nearly every facet of his game, putting up a crazy shooting line (field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and free throw percentage) of .545/.421/.858.

Additionally, Towns went from possessing the league’s worst Defensive Real Plus-Minus (DRPM) from a center in his first year under Thibodeau at -1.41 to a positive mark of 0.44 in 2017-18.

Then, last year, Towns made another sizable step in the right direction on defense while his offensive game struggled early on. His DRPM clocked in at 0.83 — still No. 52 for centers but also not the end-all, be-all when it comes to ranking players.

On offense, here were Towns’ numbers before and after Feb. 1:

Before Feb. 1: 22.6 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists per game, .498/.376/.849
After Feb. 1: 27.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists per game, .553/.449/.815

Outside of free throw shooting, Towns was better across the board as the season wore on. Part of that was due to opportunity, as Saunders installed parts of an offense that allowed for more touches for Towns than what Thibodeau had been running. Part of that was surely due to the playoff push the Wolves were attempting to make.

There was also, of course, Towns’ run at an All-NBA nomination that ultimately did not come to fruition. If Towns had been named to any of the three All-NBA teams, he would have been eligible to make as much as $33 million more over the life of his contract.

But whatever the reason, Towns played harder and better after Feb. 1 than he had prior to that apparently magical date.

Now, the question remains: can Towns sustain that sort of improvement over an entire 82-game season? And, if so, can he continue to improve enough on defense that he can drag his team into postseason play?

Of course, we don’t know what the Wolves’ roster will look like come fall, but it’s a certainty that Towns will be the best player on the team. Whether or not Minnesota makes the playoffs will largely be up to Towns and the improvement that he still needs to make.

Regardless, Towns improved again in 2018-19, provided that his second-half strides were for real. He needs to continue to improving on defense and in keeping his teammates involved on offense, and if he can do that, the Wolves will be a perennial playoff contender in the near future.

dark. Next. Karl-Anthony Towns is still the future of the Wolves

Now, it’s up to Gersson Rosas and the front office to surround him with a worthy roster…