Karl-Anthony Towns is balling right now for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The birthday boy averaged 22.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and just over two assists per game on a blistering 49/41/93 shooting split during Minnesota’s seven-game win streak. That includes a heroic 33-point game in Tuesday’s win over the Golden State Warriors after the early-game shenanigans. He was also the only Wolves player interested in trying to win in Phoenix on the second night of a back-to-back. Towns had 25 points on 10-17 shooting in Minnesota’s first loss in November. It took a week to find his rhythm, especially after a calf strain felled Towns for 52 games last season. However, the 28-year-old is starting to look like his old self, for better and worse.
For all his offensive (and defensive!) production to start his ninth season in the NBA, Towns still hasn’t developed as a 7-foot playmaker. The big man has assisted on only 25 of his teammates’ baskets this season. For those who can’t do the math, that’s 2.3 assists per game, his lowest per-game output since his rookie year. Towns has also committed 28 turnovers in Minnesota’s first 11 games, which is his lowest per-game output since the Jimmy Butler season.
For years, Wolves coaches and fans have begged Towns to see the entire court. They want him to take on an expanded role as a primary facilitator in Minnesota’s offense, similar to Nikola Jokic or, more realistically, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
There were some flashes. However, there have been far more instances where Towns makes a bad read and whips a bad pass up the court right into the hands of an opportune defender. Or, worst of all, he’ll make the dreaded behind-the-head pass that signals the beginning of the apocalypse. Of the 88 NBA players listed at 6’10” and above who have logged minutes this season, Towns’ assist-to-turnover ratio ranks 53rd. He’s recorded more than three assists in only one game this season while committing more than three turnovers in three games, including a seven-turnover (and six-foul) meltdown in Minnesota’s overtime win against the Boston Celtics.
Towns is officially in his late 20s and his 9th NBA season. Let’s face it, he’s past the point of his career where he’s adding major dimensions to his game. But that doesn’t mean all is lost for KAT’s development. Instead of trying to for passes and breaking the team’s back with mind-numbing decisions and turnovers, KAT should steer into the skid and focus all his energy on doing what he does best: shoot the ball as many times as possible.
You already saw glimpses of what this could be during Tuesday’s game in San Francisco. Towns touched the ball 68 times in the 104-101 win over the Warriors. With those 68 touches, KAT passed 35 times and put up 26 shots. He made 12 shots, including 5-13 from three. When he wasn’t tossing outlet passes directly to Brandin Podziemski, Towns was in attack mode. In the fourth quarter, he scored 11 points on 4-9 shooting and 3-5 from three and had zero turnovers. Towns is an offensive mismatch and can shoot over smaller defenders, use his gravity to pump fake and drive to the basket, or use his size in the post and score around the basket. As dominant as Towns can be on offense when he’s looking to score, his slow situation processor can still get him in trouble.
Towns sometimes has a penchant to grab the ball, take ages to size up the defense, and then methodically decide to take a shot or drive. He’ll often drive into a double team and create more ugly turnovers or awkward shots. He makes 34 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes this season, and his effective field goal percentage drops the longer he touches the ball.
Towns’ effective field goal percentage goes from 53 percent when he touches the ball for under two seconds to 43 percent if he holds the ball for six seconds or longer. Towns will need to figure out the right time to throw up a quick three or catch the defense off-balance and get to the basket. The quicker he makes his decisions, the more effective his new brand of me-first offense will become. Hopefully, it can also reduce his awkward offensive fouls in the process.
It’s no disrespect to tell Towns he’ll never be a facilitating big and that he should worry only about his scoring. The man I imagine KAT compares himself to the most, Dirk Nowitzki, was never much of a facilitator. Nowitzki averaged two assists to 2.8 turnovers (and 26 points) on nearly 21 shots per game during his NBA Finals MVP run against the Miami Heat in 2011. Speaking of the Heatles, the player I compare Towns to the most, Hall of Famer Chris Bosh, never averaged more than 2.6 assists in a season. Bosh was still an 11-time All-Star, All-NBA second team in 2006-07. And, oh yeah, he won two championships with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Heat.
The Timberwolves are officially Anthony Edwards’ team. They have Mike Conley, Kyle Anderson, Ant, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Shake Milton, and Jordan McLaughlin to run the show. Towns no longer needs to keep expanding his game to become a top-tier playmaker in the league. To put his stamp on a championship contender, KAT needs to do one thing and one thing only: get buckets. The weight of being a generational offensive hub is gone. In its place should rise one of the tallest and most accurate volume shooters of all time.