NBA

Karl-Anthony Towns represents the change in how the big guys dominate the NBA

ADVERTISEMENT

With Karl-Anthony Towns, it was always complicated.

Since entering the league, Towns has been at the center of heated debate:

ADVERTISEMENT

Should a center be a defensive anchor and post-movement scholar? Or is dominating with guard skills the hardest hitting version of a big man?

Just a decade ago, this question was easy to answer. The idea of ​​the perfect cross had the size and athleticism of Shaquille O’Neal, the footwork and touch of Hakeem Olajuwon, the defensive prowess of Kevin Garnett, and maybe, if the person describing the perfect cross felt nervous that day, Tim Duncan’s mid-range shot jumped.

Since then, the idea of ​​the perfect tall man has changed.

In today’s NBA, players with more traditional skills coveted in the 90s and early 2000s are seeing their value diminish year by year. Players like Mitchell Robinson of the New York Knicks, Jakob Poeltl of the San Antonio Spurs and Andre Drummond of the Chicago Bulls have all been reduced to playing a role, and they are not alone.

Players of their archetypes were considered key parts of the franchise in previous NBA eras. But in today’s game, they’re settling for salaries at or below the league average, only to serve as rim runners and shot blockers if they ever hope to join a contending team.

All of this rapid change in the NBA comes down to one crucial thing, the ability to make the 3-point shot.

Karl-Anthony Towns after winning the 2022 3-point contest
Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Towns, for multiple reasons, has always been at the center of this ongoing battle between old school and new school since joining the Minnesota Timberwolves as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. in 2015.

In his only year at Kentucky in 2014-15, Towns became the top player in his class at the end of the year, but he wasn’t always a shoo-in to be the overall No. 1 pick. .

Prior to this college season, college evaluators viewed the Duke Jahili Okafor Center as the prize for its recruiting class. With his fully developed postgame, Okafor was everything teams were looking for in a center throughout NBA history.

Okafor was to be the first overall pick for years in anticipation sims, earning comparisons with players such as Duncan due to his shrewd post skills and measured yet skilful style of play.

Towns was always seen as a top prospect, but Okafor was seen as the easy first pick after both players’ senior seasons in high school.

However, during Okafor and Towns’ season in college, basketball changed overnight.

Teams like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets revolutionized the game during the 2014-2016 lineup. According to shottracker.com, from 2014 to 2018, the league average of 3-point attempts per game increased from 22 to 29.

This seismic change in the way basketball was played was exceptional for players like Towns, as it underscored the need to constantly be able to have five players on the court who could shoot.

In addition to helping the KATs of the world, the change has dug the grave for players like Okafor. Players who thrived in the early 2000s at center found themselves having to completely change their games to stay in the league, and those who didn’t quickly found themselves out of the NBA.

Now that we’ve gone through the change that allowed KAT to be a franchise player, let’s see what a special talent Towns is.

For starters, Towns is a really dynamic shooter, not just at his position, but league-wide. Towns is already the all-time leader in 3-pointers made by a true center, and he set that record by shooting a whopping 39.7 percent from 3 during his career.

In just seven seasons, Towns has already etched his name in the history books. But Towns’ 3-point shot is more than just a screaming number, it’s an experience.

Towns isn’t your typical stand-up, stand up and wait for a driving and kicking opportunity shot center. Towns has demonstrated the ability to shoot on the move time and time again, something almost no one in his position can do.

In the first clip, Towns shows his ability to completely manipulate the defense through a screen, calling teammate D’Angelo Russell to now cross teammate Rudy Gobert. Russell won’t mean much in terms of screening Gobert, but a little touch from Russell forces Gobert to only step back a few inches.

Instead of doing what most people his size would do and using the gap to run Gobert to the edge, Towns immediately recognizes the opportunity to step back 3, using his quick release and similar to that of a guard to get the shot. on Gobert’s outstretched hands.

Later in the clip, Towns again uses Russell’s tiny body to protect Gobert. This time, Towns uses his unusual mobility to throw Gobert into Russell once, backtrack around Russell to create the look of him rolling to the edge, then back up behind Russell and stand right in front of the halfback’s logo. Timberwolves field, collect a pass from Russell and immediately shoot a 3 from Curry or Dame range.

These are just a few examples of KAT’s extraordinary shooting prowess, and Wolves fans know better than anyone how Towns demonstrates his spectacular skills from game to game.

Along with his shooting ability, Towns is also one of the best rebounders in the NBA, averaging over 10 rebounds per game in all but one of his NBA seasons, and the one he didn’t. he pulled out 9.8 rebounds per game, so let’s go ahead and round that one up.

While Towns’ dynamic guard-style 3-point shooting and game-changing rebound are the most statistically notable aspects of his game, there are other parts of his game that deserve their blooms as well.

Towns’ ability to put the ball on the ground is also something we haven’t seen his size in NBA history. Countless times, Towns has shown the ability to put the ball on the ground and break down his defender like a starting point guard, but it’s not just the fact that Towns can put his defenders on skates that makes him a skill. so helpful.

Towns’ primary use of his grip is to set up his deadly recoil. As seen in the two clips above, Towns’ particular ability to put the ball on the ground often drives his defenders away and uses that unease, mixed with an impressive ability to decelerate, to create space to shoot long defenders. .

In certain situations, Towns also uses his sneakiness to create passing lanes to open up his teammates, a skill that will come into effect more than ever this season, as Minnesota has done a good job of filling out its roster with more shooters to surround Towns. and her co-star Anthony Edwards.

While Towns is everything the modern basketball fan could want centrally on the offensive end, defensively Towns has been average at best at this point in his career.

Towns shows the ability, at times, to be a source of disruption on the defensive end, but he’s never been able to be consistently positive on that side of the court for Minnesota.

Towns is a decent rim defender and a capable low post guy. He never averaged less than one block per game in any of his seven seasons, but he received criticism, fair or not, for doing old Hassan Whiteside, looking for blocks. but being a negative defender overall.

Towns’ biggest flaw when it comes to defense is his inconsistent effort, but that seemed to change in last season’s playoff appearance, and when Towns really buckles up, he can be a really good defensive player.

Even though Towns wants to continue using most of his energy on the offensive side, Minnesota’s acquisition of Gobert relieves KAT of rim protector duties, and he can use his sneakiness and athleticism to help Gobert on the weak side or play high level perimeter defense. on some powerful attackers.

Despite lacking some of the defensive skills to make him an Olajuwon-level shot blocker, Towns is the perfect modern big man.

From his ability to shoot all three at a high enough level to win the three-point contest, to his ability to make trick passes at playmaker level, Towns is the very idea of ​​the ‘stretch big’ come to life. , and then multiplied by ten.

With Gobert’s arrival in Minnesota, Towns’ biggest weakness has now been addressed.

While he may not look like Hakeem on the low block, Towns is a 6-foot-11, 250-pound sharpshooter, who unlocks all the other elements of his game that make him an extremely offensive weapon. versatile. In 20 years, maybe the next generation of centers will be going to KAT camp to learn how to lace up the 30-footer, instead of going to Hakeem camp to learn how to have perfect footwork down there.

ADVERTISEMENT