Can Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid Play Together?

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn (USA TODAY Sports)

The Two Towers is not just the best film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy; it’s also one of the most fascinating team-building tactics in NBA history. In the pace-and-space era, the “Two Towers” strategy is all but extinct. But if you put any stock in the NBA preseason, we could see a resurgence in Minnesota with Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid. After beating the Los Angeles Clippers 128-100 on Monday, Chris Finch hinted that he’d like to know what happens when his two biggest players are on the court at the same time.

Reid is having a solid preseason, averaging 11.3 points in Minnesota’s three contests. He’s also anchoring a stout defensive unit with an insane 86.9 defensive rating. The third-year center from LSU has also slimmed down during the offseason while expanding his game. During the preseason game against the Clippers, Reid showed off his handles and passing ability while leading the Timberwolves on a beautiful fast break. It’s not every day a team has two centers with immense skillsets, giving the Wolves extensive lineup flexibility.

For years it was damn near impossible to find two centers over 6’9” who could tie their shoes, let alone share a basketball court. However, in the mid-80’s the Houston Rockets finally decided to see what would happen if they put their two biggest players on the court together and told everyone else to get the hell out of the way. Houston drafted 7’4” Ralph Sampson first overall in 1983, then turned around the next year and took another seven-footer, Hakeem Olajuwon, 1-1. The Rockets made it to the NBA Finals in 1986, where they lost in six games to the Boston Celtics.

The Twin Towers strategy hit a high-water mark in 1999 when Tim Duncan and David Robinson teamed up to win the San Antonio Spurs’ first championship. Since then the rise of the 3-pointer has all but ended the importance of having one good center, let alone two.

With Minnesota’s endless uncertainty at power forward and Reid’s excellent showing so far in the preseason, it might be a good idea to explore playing Reid and Towns together. The numbers don’t exactly back up the idea of a two-center lineup. Last season, Naz and KAT shared the court for 160 minutes across 42 games (3.8 minutes per game) with a minus-2.4 net rating. That’s not super promising for a team that has playoff aspirations. But on-court cohesion takes time, something that former president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas didn’t want to give the KAT-Naz experiment.

According to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski, Rosas influenced lineup, and in-game decisions former head coach Ryan Saunders made. Once Finch took over, he had more autonomy to play with different lineup combinations, a good sign for the deployment of KAT-Naz.

Finch oversaw one of the most recent attempts at a Twin Towers lineup as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Pelicans beginning in the 2017-18 season. The year before, the Pelicans traded for the often disgruntled big man DeMarcus Cousins, placing him right next to franchise cornerstone Anthony Davis. Boogie and AD played 1,095 minutes together across 42 games (26 minutes per game) with a solid 5.3 net rating, propelling the Pelicans to the second round of the playoffs. However, Cousins missed the playoffs with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The obvious caveat is that Davis is better than Towns, and prime Cousins is far more talented than Reid. So how can Finch make the two-center lineup work again, this time with less talent? Luckily for Finch, both Towns and Reid can shoot threes. Towns is already the greatest shooting big man of all time, and Naz showed that he can stroke it, knocking down 35.1 percent of his threes last season.

For much of the NBA’s 75-year history, big-man combinations clogged up the paint, but KAT and Naz can both space the floor, giving D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards room to attack the rim. Finch can deploy any number of play types knowing that his two centers can hit a shot. They can interchange with each other in the pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop. They can also employ an increasingly popular “horns” scheme where both big men set screens with one rolling to the basket while the other pops out to the 3-point line. With Finch running the show, the few minutes Towns and Reid share the floor could be devastating for opposing defenses.

It’s far too early to tell if the KAT-Naz pairing is going to be as good as The Two Towers or if they’re going to fall apart faster than the third Hobbit movie. Having two centers who can ball together used to be a good thing. It’s time a team makes it work in the 3-point era.

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