How Karl-Anthony Towns Earned His First All-Star Selection

Karl-Anthony Towns has had a great year and has earned his first All-Star selection.

Coming out of college Karl-Anthony Towns was considered an elite talent that would change the direction of a franchise. He had a creative offensive game, was a skilled passer, enjoyed protecting the rim, and was a strong rebounder. Early in his professional career, he displayed his ability to stretch the floor and other offensive abilities that he was not permitted to utilize in college. He consistently improved and developed his offensive game but never seemed to be able to put it all together on both ends of the floor. As this trend continued, the concerns surrounding Towns grew. Some believed that his ineptitude on the defensive end was becoming dangerously close to unfixable and he would turn into a player similar to Enes Kanter or Al Jefferson, very skilled offensively but a defensive liability.

The start of this year seemed like a broken record. Towns continued to dominate on offense but he was verging on embarrassingly bad on defense. Once December hit, the Timberwolves were starting to play their best basketball in years. The new arrivals were having an impact, team chemistry was improving, and Towns was finally starting to play defense. Over the last few months, Towns has been able to continue his offensive dominance while being a positive on defense. Towns has finally started to show his full range of potential which has led to the earning of his first All-Star selection.

Dominance on Offense

While Towns’ points per game are down this year, he is still having the best offensive season of his young career. This may seem wrong as his box score stats are generally down across the board but this is only due to the new additions to the team in the offseason. His advanced stats have improved and are some of the best in the league. He has posted his highest offensive rating of 113.8 (7th among players playing at least 30 minutes a game), a true shooting percentage of 63.3 (4th in the league), and a PER of 24 (11th in the league).

Towns has continued to show his ability to score at every level on offense. He is one of the best post scorers in the league, per Synergy he is in the 78th percentile in points per possession. His patience, footwork, balance, and touch around the rim make him a threat every time he touches the ball. In the below clip he is able to establish position near the basket. He then shows the ability to stop his momentum, dribble back the other way to create more options to score. This simple dribble towards the lane gets the defender moving and anticipating Towns to go up with a right-handed hook, a shot he frequently uses. He then executes a beautiful up-and-under move for the easy basket.

While he is deadly in the post he has also turned into the best three-point shooter on the team shooting 40% on 3.7 attempts. With the changing of the game, there are plenty of big men who are now forcing three-point attempts because they see it as a necessity to play. Many of these attempts are heavily guarded or forced off the dribble. This is not the case when it comes to Towns. It is extremely rare to see anything other than a catch and shoot three from Towns as 95.7% of his three-point attempts are of this variety. He also doesn’t force the shot when he is heavily guarded as 96.8% of his three-point attempts come when he is considered open (closest defender is four feet or farther away). When you put these together it shows that Towns is consistently making the right decisions when he gets the ball on the perimeter. When he is open he doesn’t hesitate and is able to shoot in rhythm. If the defender is tightly guarding him he is aware enough to pass out of it or drive past them to get to the rim as they close out on him. The below clip is a great example of this as Aldridge is slow to close out on him. Towns then hesitates just enough to freeze Aldridge for a second. This allows Towns to use his superior athleticism to drive past him and finish with a nice floater.

Towns has some of the highest offensive versatility in the league as he averages 1.138 points per possession in the pick-and-roll (61st percentile), 1 point per possession while posting up (78th percentile), 1.262 points per possession in transition (80th percentile), and 1.188 points per possession while spotting up (87th percentile).

Defensive Improvement

Coming into this year the biggest indictment on Towns was his lack of defensive ability and awareness. He consistently missed rotations, made the wrong decision on weak side block attempts (often resulting in an easy put-back for his own man), and beaten in the post due to an over-eagerness to jump on fakes. While there were some early season struggles, Towns has improved to be a positive on defense posting the best defensive rating of his career of 107.3. He has done a much better job of moving his feet, staying grounded, and making better decisions when helping from the weak side.

Here Towns plays great defense in a scenario he used to frequently get abused in. He does a great job of moving his feet to keep Westbrook in front of him and stays upright to avoid fouling and block Westbrook’s layup. Most impressively here is his ability to keep his block inbounds so he can throw an outlet pass that leads to an easy basket.

Towns has had a bigger impact on defense besides just blocking shots. His defensive field goal percentage of 60.6 is misleading. He is third in the league with 13.4 contested shots per game. Opponents are finishing difficult shots but more importantly is the fact that he is in the right spots to contest and alter these shots, something that hasn’t happened in the past. Even though the 60.6% seems high, these opponents usually shoot 61.6%. Not a huge difference but a step in the right direction and a good sign moving forward. He has also posted the sixth-best defensive rebounding percentage of 30.3. The past few years this number was much lower as teams would consistently earn second-chance points against the Timberwolves. Towns has started doing a lot of the small things on a more consistent basis to help his team win.

Towns has become a true force on offense and has greatly improved on defense. He is proving that he truly is that franchise cornerstone he was drafted as and is helping to lead the Timberwolves to their first playoff appearance in over a decade. In a loaded Western Conference Towns has earned his first of many All-Star selections.

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