Baby, flex, scream, and repeat. That was Karl-Anthony Towns’ recipe for success on Friday night. All night he looked to show out against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. He was fast and decisive on the offensive end and played with an intensity as if he were in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
Time and time again, Towns got the ball on the block matched up against Anthony Davis. Each time Towns went to work without hesitation. Davis, who’s made four All-Defensive teams, had no answer for Big KAT’s offensive onslaught. Towns was sending a message to the league live on national television.
“I just know when I step on the court I don’t feel no one can guard me,” Towns said.
What a difference three games make. This is a far cry from his mentality just last week after the Wolves’ third blowout loss in a row.
“We just gotta play better. All of us. It’s pretty much simple as that,” Towns said. “I’ve lost for a long time here. I’m not tryin to fuckin’ lose anymore.”
In just 10 days, the conversation has shifted from what’s wrong with the Wolves? to just how good are the Wolves? The engine that drives that conversation is the post with the most: Karl-Anthony Towns.
But he is right; KAT has lost for a long time in Minnesota. The past two seasons have been especially difficult for the Wolves. So difficult in fact that it seemed like when it came time to talk about the best big man in the league, Towns was left off the list. Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo, Rudy Gobert, and the man that Towns took on last Friday, Anthony Davis. Towns is in contention with all of them to hold the crown.
Towns has every ounce of ability to be the best big man in the league. But without the wins and the accolades, that title seems so distant. In many ways, Towns has lost years of his career toiling on mediocre teams. He’s been able to gather statistical accomplishments, just recently becoming the second player in Timberwolves history to score 10,000 points. Those statistical accomplishments become empty calories when they can’t be backed up with on-court successes.
This year feels different. Towns isn’t just the best player on the Wolves — the Wolves are winning basketball games. All the while Towns is doing things that no other big men have done before.
The question is not about his shooting, though. It’s about all the other parts of his game. Jokic is nowhere near the shooter that Towns is, but his dynamic playmaking set him apart from the rest of the competition. No other big man is quite the offensive force that Jokic is. He is slow and methodical, breaking down the defense with equal parts physicality and finesse. Towns is an offensive force in his own right, but he has yet to show that he can be a heliocentric cog in an offense the way that Jokic can.
Embiid has a defensive edge to his game that Towns lacks. By no means am I saying Towns is a poor defender — I think that is a played-out and antiquated narrative. Embiid is simply a completely different physical specimen. At 7’0”, 280 lbs., Embiid has a natural physicality to his game that Towns simply can’t recreate. Embiid is no slouch on the offensive end either, averaging 25 points per game throughout his career.
So what can Towns do to reinsert himself into the best big man competition? The answer to that question is dependent on Towns’ ability to increase his offensive production. That’s a lot to ask from the greatest-shooting big man of all time. But can Towns push his offensive arsenal to the next level?
Just a couple of weeks ago Chris Finch gave us a look into how that might happen before the Wolves game against the Utah Jazz.
“We want KAT to shoot more 3s, no matter who he is playing,” the coach said. “I mean, he’s one of the best shooters in the league. So I’m fine if he takes 15 to 20 of ’em tonight.”
Last night against the Mavericks Towns only took six threes. In fact, this year he is averaging right around six attempts per game. The Wolves pulled out the victory, but I’m sure Finch will look to find Towns more looks from beyond the arc in Wednesday’s matchup in Dallas. If Towns can increase his 3-point attempt rate and move his scoring average toward 30 per game, the conversation for best big man will get a lot more interesting.