When Karl-Anthony Towns returns in a couple of weeks from his wrist fracture, the Minnesota Timberwolves need him to anchor their struggling defense.
It is yet another lost season for the Timberwolves. What began as a promising start with Andrew Wiggins looking like a superstar morphed into the Wolves trading away the former No. 1 overall pick for All-Star D’Angelo Russell to team with his buddy, Karl-Anthony Towns.
As the Wolves gear up for next season, there is one glaring improvement that they must make if they want to become a playoff team: KAT needs to play defense.
Towns currently ranks 405 of 513 players in NBA.com’s defensive win shares, and has an awful 115.4 defensive rating. That means a starting lineup of five Towns would yield 115 points to any opponent. The Wolves are actually a minus 2.2 points per 100 possessions with KAT on the court, according to Basketball-Reference.
The numbers get even worse, as Towns averages 3.3 turnovers per game and opponents average 11.8 points off of turnovers against Minnesota, and he rarely hustles on defense. After some turnovers, the Wolves are essentially stuck playing five-on-four. Opponents also average 8.9 second-chance points and 8.6 points off fast breaks.
It has happened on several occasions over the course of the season where KAT is the last person to cross the half-court line on offense. He is passed the ball at the top of the key and hoists up a long-distance shot, misses badly, and the defense rebounds the ball and goes on a fast break. All too often, KAT jogs down to be the last person on the other side of the court.
Also, KAT is towards the bottom in the league giving up 35 points in the paint per game. There is no reason for teams to take perimeter shots against the Wolves. They can simply take the ball to the basket and they’re almost guaranteed to score. How can a 6-foot-11 franchise player allow so many easy buckets?
It’s an offensive-minded league and KAT’s offense speaks for itself. He’s averaging a double-double with 26.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. He’s knocking down over three 3-pointers per game while shooting 41.2 percent from long distance.
The franchise acquiesced to his request by trading for Russell, KAT’s friend form their AAU days, and it’s ignited a spark for T-Wolves fans. KAT and Russell have been wanting to play together for years and now they are getting an opportunity to do that.
But their friendship could turn sour fast if Towns does not hustle on the defensive end. Losing takes a toll and no player ever wants to be remembered for putting up big numbers on bad teams.
No one is saying KAT needs to turn into a Hakeem Olajuwon defensive maestro. He just needs to try.
If KAT plays inspired basketball on both ends of the court, he in turn makes his teammates better as they will appreciate that all-out effort. However, the more they see him jogging on defense, the losing will continue for the Timberwolves.