Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves might not need to trade Karl-Anthony Towns after all

MINNEAPOLIS, MN-The KAT Renaissance is upon us. Yes, you read that right. Yes, I am referring to the KAT you know. Karl-AnthonyTowns. Heading into the year with low expectations after an injury-riddled year this past season, he has far exceeded them and could now be a deciding factor for an NBA title contender. 

His numbers show only a marginal increase in his traditional stats from the previous year: 22.0 points per game(PPG), 9.0 rebounds per game (RPG), and 3.0 assists per game (APG). 

He is shooting 50.0% from the field, 40.3% from behind the arc with an effective field goal % of 56.4. (True shooting of 61.3%).

A few of KAT’s numbers are slightly below his career averages. Don’t ring the alarm bells. This is mostly due to the Timberwolves’ plan to have Anthony Edwards as the face of their franchise so Edwards is now their primary scorer. He has adapted accordingly.

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. KAT deserves credit for how he has handled this role change. He just turned 28 this month and he is in what is historically known as his prime years. It is not an easy thing to embrace this change. 

Players thrive on their egos. It is how they defy the insane odds stacked against them and make it to the league. Taking a ‘demotion’ to a number 2 role during the prime of your career will definitely bruise your ego. Towns has taken the role and is excelling at it.

How good has he been defensively?

Barely 15 games into the season, the Timberwolves are first in the Western Conference with an 11-4 record. They have a defensive rating of 106.1, the lowest in the league. They have a net rating of 7.4, the third highest in the league.

There is momentum around the league to label them as championship contenders. Yes, it is early in the season. Still, there is substance to this claim.

As we decipher their championship credentials, there is almost a general consensus that KAT should be traded to make the money work and for the team to take the next step. 

The Timberwolves don’t have to trade him away. Karl has been pulling his weight on defense. His fouls per game are slightly lower than in previous years, though it would be naive to assume his foul issues are all in the rearview. 

In the twin tower lineup with Gobert, KAT has had to take a more perimeter-oriented role on defense, mostly guarding mobile 3-and-D wings. In this role last year, he had his struggles. He had a defensive rating of 113.7. Now that number is at a career low of 104.9, albeit a small sample size. It is the 5th lowest mark in the league.

I know skeptics will scoff at that number and rightfully so, the individual defensive rating metric can be misleading when used in a vacuum. 

Here’s another metric then. From 15 feet or further (including 3-pointers), he is restricting opponents to a field goal % of 34.8. It is tied for 12th lowest among qualifying center-forwards that have played at least 10 minutes in 10 games this season. Last year, his opponents’ field goal % was at 36.3 from the same range.

His defense from less than 6 feet has also improved. This year, it is at 51.9%  compared to 58.0% from last year and 61.3% from his all-star 2021/22 season. He is suffocating drives at the rim. 

A silver lining offensively

KAT started the season slowly offensively but has gathered momentum recently. Towns has scored 20 or more in nine straight games, averaging 25.6 points, 8.9 boards, 3.2 assists, 2.6 threes, 1.0 steals, and 0.9 blocks over that stretch while posting a 57.9/53.5/90.7 shooting line. This is light and day when compared to his first 6 games where he averaged just 16.7 points on 38.1/23.5/90.0 shooting splits. He’s getting better as the season goes along. 

Not only is he back to his efficient shooting self, he is adding facets to his game. He is now running some pick-and-roll plays as the ball handler or as the roll man. As a ball handler, he’s in the 77th percentile. As the roll man, he’s in the slightly impressive 65.3 percentile. He’s allowing the Timberwolves to experiment with him as a player to hunt his shots with Gobert screening for him or he screening for Conley/Shake Milton. Chris Finch is already coming up with plays for the playoffs.

He has the 14th-highest plus-minus in the league (+96). Anthony Edwards is 1st in the league. The last time the Timberwolves had 2 players in the top 20 was back in the 2017/2018 season. Yes, it is the same year Jimmy Butler led them to the playoffs. 

He has been very clutch this year. With an effective field goal percentage of 133%, he’s among the very best in the league in scoring during these tense moments. In tight affairs, he gives the Timberwolves a vital option, to depend on him to make game-winning shots. 

We could be witnessing the best season from the 2-time All NBA big man. If we try to create a perfect star to complement Anthony Edwards, we would create a shooting big man. Hello, Karl Anthony-Towns. Why trade away the perfect fit? Why not ride it out for the next 2 seasons, operate in the luxury tax, and maximize this potential championship-contending window?

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