Karl-Anthony Towns Is Changing His Playoff Reputation In Real Time

Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

For years, “Playoff KAT” was a derogatory term. Can you use it in a sentence? There goes Playoff KAT, picking up his third offensive foul in the first quarter. Playoff KAT is in the building tonight, and he’s shooting 3-12.

During his first eight NBA seasons, Karl-Anthony Towns earned the reputation as a playoff faller who sabotaged his team’s first-round efforts by doing the opposite of what you’re supposed to do on a basketball court. In the regular season, KAT plays like your normal first-overall pick who has the weight of a dying franchise on his shoulders.

In his near decade as Minnesota’s frontman, the 28-year-old unicorn averages almost 23 points, 11 rebounds, 2.7 turnovers, and 3.4 fouls a game on 52/40/84 shooting splits while appearing in four All-Star games and earning two third-team All-NBA nods. But that’s “Regular Season KAT,” a really solid NBA star. But when April comes, and his tax return is in the hands of the United States government, Regular Season KAT retreats and Playoff KAT emerges from his hibernation to foul out of another elimination game.

Across his first three career playoff appearances, all first-round exits, Playoff KAT averaged 18.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.6 turnovers, and 3.8 fouls per game while his shooting dropped to 47/33/80. He made his playoff debut in 2018 with the 8th-seeded Timberwolves and scored eight points and five points in his first two games, respectively, against the top-seeded Houston Rockets. Sure, it’s a rough introduction to the postseason, but KAT was 22 years old and in his third season. There was plenty of time to study the Jimmy Butler playoff tough guy manifesto.

Well, Jimmy Butler set the manifesto on fire and almost burned down the Target Center on his way out. KAT lived in NBA limbo for three years until a new alpha arrived, Anthony Edwards. In Ant’s second NBA season, he and KAT led a scrappy Wolves squad filled with role players who clawed their way to the seventh seed and a matchup with Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies.

KAT had put together arguably his best NBA season yet. The Wolves lost to the Grizzlies in six games, but they were the better team and could have won the series had they gotten better play from their best player. Alas, Playoff KAT appeared to get into early and constant foul trouble in Games 2 and 3, both Wolves losses. They combined to turn the ball over 13 total times in Games 4 and 5 to all but give the series to the Grizzlies.

Towns opened last year’s five-game first-round loss to the Denver Nuggets with 11 points in Game 1 on 5-15 from the field and 1-7 from three and followed it up with 10 points, five fouls, and five turnovers on 3-12 shooting. He then fouled out of Games 4 and 5. Playoff KAT had hit rock bottom, with a good portion of the fan base begging to trade him away during the offseason. Tim Connelly held firm, and the Wolves rattled off one of the best regular seasons in franchise history. But as the snow started to thaw around Minnesota and the Wolves entered the playoffs for a third straight season, those around the fandom began to worry that Playoff KAT would return, see his shadow, and barrel into the nearest defender.

But lo and behold, as the Timberwolves swept the Suns and dominated the first two games against the Nuggets, Towns is doing something we’ve never seen before. He’s playing calm, smart basketball into the postseason for the first time in his nine-year career. Through six games this year, KAT is averaging 20.7 points, nine rebounds, and only 1.7 turnovers per game on a blistering 57/54/85 shooting split with a truly mind-melting 70% true shooting percentage. Towns looks like a different player out there this year. He’s picking his spots, taking what the defense gives him, and not forcing it like in years past.

Towns has slowed things down and isn’t getting baited into the dumbest foul you’ve ever seen like previous postseasons. He’s actually averaging more fouls per game this postseason than any of his last three appearances. He has committed four or more fouls in all six games the Wolves have played, but they’re coming in the flow of a 48-minute game instead of coming out too hot and having to sit for the entire second quarter. I am aware he committed a foul on the opening tipoff, but that’s been his only real transgression. Even Jamal Murray’s heating pad tantrum can’t seem to phase this version of KAT. He’s locked in.

Wolves fans know good things always end in tears, flames, and a KAT off-arm hooking call. However, this feels different. KAT is finally playing alongside a true alpha who likes him and is being compared to Michael Jordan. Rudy Gobert is a four-time Defensive Player of the Year and will just be obtaining his dad strength in time for Game 3. Naz Reid is the Sixth Man of the Year and has an open invitation to my wedding. (RSVPs are due by mid-June, Naz.) Jaden McDaniels and Nickeil Alexander-Walker are starring in the new Law & Order spinoff, and Mike Conley is literally the best teammate of all time. Not to mention whatever Charles Xavier mind meld Chris Finch and Micah Nori have going on, and this is the best situation for Playoff KAT (complimentary) to be born.

Can you use Playoff KAT in a sentence in 2024? There goes Playoff KAT, beating the hell out of the league MVP again.

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