On Monday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team desperate to snap their then-four-game losing streak, blew yet another double-digit lead. This time, it was an overtime thriller against the Memphis Grizzlies.
It was similar to their first eight contests: Jaden McDaniels fouling out of the game, Malik Beasley shooting poorly from 3, Taurean Prince looking unplayable at times, etc. But fans also witnessed star center Karl-Anthony Towns work primarily from out on the perimeter within the team’s offense, something not seen in quite some time.
One of the constant negatives hovering over the team this year has been that Towns has not been a dominant presence when posting up. And although KAT tried to make his money away from the basket on Monday night, we still saw glimpses of just how bad he is when facing away from the rim.
Towns stands at 6’11”, 248 pounds, but he could not maneuver around Memphis’ smallest defenders. By struggling to get a bucket while being guarded by both Ja Morant and Desmond Bane in the post, it is evident that he is not a player who excels with his back turned towards the basket.
For most of Minnesota’s games so far, head coach Chris Finch looks like he sees Towns playing a similar role as Denver Nuggets center and last year’s MVP, Nikola Jokic. He appears to want him to be a premier offensive big with above-average passing who can create offense for the entire five-man lineup. But the difference between the contending Nuggets and the bottom-feeding Timberwolves is that Denver has surrounded their prized center with capable perimeter shooters.
Not including Towns, the Wolves have only two players who’ve played in multiple games this season who have shot above the league average (34.2%) from beyond the arc. Those players are:
Yes, Beverley is the only other player on this roster besides Towns (46.7%), who is shooting above 40% from 3-point territory.
It’s no secret that Minnesota leads the league in 3-point attempts, including catch-and-shoot threes. But they are only ranked 25th in the league when it comes to catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage, shooting a nauseating 31.8%. With an assembled roster that is seemingly unable to shoot threes consistently, there is no reason for opponents to do anything besides double-team or even triple-team, the most skilled offensive player in a Wolves jersey.
The results? The Timberwolves score the ball just under a third of the time whenever KAT catches the ball in post-up situations.
And the double teams have been anything but kind to Towns’ average of turnovers per game. KAT has been horrific at taking care of the rock in the post this year. Whether the opposing defense strips the ball or that KAT gets anxious and throws it away, he currently is turning the ball over more than half of his post-up possessions. As a result, he has a league-worst turnover frequency percentage (51.9%).
Following the loss to Memphis, Towns is turning the ball over the sixth-most times per game in the league (4.3). That may not seem terrible for a player of KAT’s stature. He is just beneath the likes of high-level, ball-dominant players like Paul George and James Harden. However, the seventh-year center is the only player in the top-10 in turnovers per game, averaging more turnovers than assists (3.4).
Chris Finch has repeatedly displayed the self-awareness to change the team’s plan of action when things go wrong tenure as the head coach. Although the Wolves came away with a loss in Memphis, Finch and his staff have moved in the right direction. They allowed KAT to play out on the perimeter instead of what we saw in Minnesota’s first few games.
Having Towns play away from the hoop opens up an array of possibilities on the offensive end for Finch to play around with. It also provides the necessary spacing that hopeful franchise-savior Anthony Edwards needs to attack the rim and reach his maximum potential. However, it also unwraps an entirely new set of questions over who plays alongside the center if the Grizzlies is a sign of what is to come regarding KAT’s position on offense.