Four – that’s the number of elite centers in the NBA, and only if you include Anthony Davis as a center. Three of those top-tier big-men reside in the Western Conference, with only Joel Embiid using the East as his stomping ground.
In the Minnesota Timberwolves’ second game of the preseason, we saw two of the top-4 go at it. Fiery and competitive, Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic gave each other the business, treating the contest as a regular-season game with seeding on the line.
Jokic, for his part, was everything you would expect – slow and methodical, with flashes of brilliance and the passing chops of an elite point guard. Towns, well, he continued his preseason display of defensive commitment and was a threatening presence on offense – be it from the three-point line or driving the lane. Unfortunately, despite their desire to impact the scoreboard, neither big-man mustered the required rhythm to go on a scoring tear.
Watching this match-up unfold got me thinking, who has the edge when it comes to previous meetings between this pair? And how big is that margin? Not just in games won, but also in scoring efficiency and overall impact?
Minnesota Timberwolves: Towns vs. Jokic historical match-up’s
The caveat here is that the Timberwolves have been notorious underachievers and underperformers for as long as we can remember. So, putting too much stock into games won against a Denver Nuggets team that has been on an upward trend in recent years is not advisable. However, it’s fun to look at the historical meetings between the two highly talented giants; we march onwards.
According to StatHead, Towns and Jokic have faced off a total of eighteen times during regular season basketball, with the Nuggets walking away victorious on twelve of those occasions. But we already expected that outcome, so it’s nothing to dwell on.
However, there are some interesting trends that quickly become apparent. Jokic has never averaged below 30 percent from beyond the arc in a season and has generally trended upwards in recent years. but when guarded by Towns, the reigning MVP struggles to get his shots to fall. In the eighteen regular-season games they’ve competed against each other, Jokic is averaging a freezing cold 23.6 percent from deep on 3.1 attempts per game.
Towns is a mobile big, capable of defending opposing centers out on the perimeter, which is a far cry from the usual drop defense Jokic punishes with his floor spacing. The same can’t be said in reverse, as Jokic’s poor lateral quickness limits him in his defensive effectiveness on the perimeter. It makes sense then, that when competing against the Nuggets, Towns’ has shot 38.7 percent from deep, as there isn’t a corresponding level of pressure on the perimeter.
Jokic leads Towns in triple-doubles when facing each other by a score of 2-to-1, but Towns has the upper hand in double-double games with 13-to-6 (Triple double games were excluded in this count). Town’s superiority in double-double efforts also alludes to his physicality in the post and on the boards, and how that can oftentimes take Jokic out of his comfort zone.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Towns vs. Jokic preseason match-up
In yesterday’s meeting between the Timberwolves and Nuggets, many of the previous match-up details remained true: Jokic shot poorly from deep and Towns used his physicality to stymy the MVP around the rim. However, Jokic did win the statistical battle, finishing just one rebound shy of a triple-double performance.
Towns can take solace in his performance, knowing that his focus on defensive intensity and fighting to contest every shot will continue to pay dividends long into the season (and more likely, his career). Far too long, Towns has been considered an offensive weapon with liabilities on defense, and working to resolve those issues is an admirable development path. With seven contested shots to his name, we’re starting to see a more locked-in version of Towns, and long may it continue.
Unfortunately, Towns’ was unable to punish the Nuggets from deep, as he shot a paltry 0-for-3, but hey, it’s preseason and everyone is working the rust off. There will be plenty of time for Towns’ to start evening up the regular season score with Jokic once the real basketball begins later this month.
Overall, Jokic edged this clash between two stellar big-men, as he orchestrated the offense and fought for rebounds on both sides of the floor. The common theme of Towns’ giving away easy fouls reared its ugly head again and will be another aspect of his in-season development to keep track of. Regardless of the individual match-up, the Timberwolves came away with another victory to make the 2-0 in the preseason which keeps the positive vibes and momentum moving in the right direction.