Karl-Anthony Towns’ Rookie Campaign in Context

The Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA, especially since they signed over coaching and team control to ex-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. A skilled tactician and defensive mastermind who works well with his locker rooms, he should be able to work wonders with a malleable roster stacked with potential. A year ago, that conversation would have centered around Andrew Wiggins; now, he’s the beta. The most exciting young player on this team, and the one that the entire league should already be afraid of, is rookie Karl-Anthony Towns.

Towns just wrapped up one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory, as well as an overall fantastic season for any big man. He was top-30 in scoring, as well as 8th in the league in FG% and rebounding. On top of that, he swept this season’s Rookie of the Month honors. Here’s Towns’ 2015-16 campaign:

18.3 10.5 2.0 54.3 81.1 1.7

That’s a top-shelf big man any season. Towns is 20. As in he can’t legally buy a beer yet. He can, however, do this. And this. And score 35 points on 12/19. Not to mention shutting down the MVP in OT and take a game over to hand a loss to a team en route to 73 wins. He is really, really good. There aren’t really holes in his game. He does everything well. He’s big enough to play center and power forward without his body breaking down (he played 82 games this year), with stretch skills (34.1% from three-point range, see above game-winner). He’s a legitimate rim protector. I cannot stress enough how good he already is, much less how good he can be. To put this season in context, let’s compare him per 36 minutes to great seasons by some of the best comparable big men of the last 20 years. I’m not gonna tell you who is who until afterward. My game, my rules.

Player A 16.9 10.2 1.2 2.2 1.5 51.6 75.1
Player B 22.1 12.7 4.6 2.0 1.3 49.9 79.1
Player C 20.6 11.7 2.2 1.9 .9 54.3 81.1
Player D 23.0 9.5 4.5 1.3 1.6 49.5 74.9

So let’s take a look here. Player A is the clear weak link in scoring, doesn’t pass as well as any of the others, and gets outrebounded by everyone other than player D. He does get blocks and steals though, and appears to play good defense. Player B is crazy. Scores well, rebounds strongly, facilitates, and gets defensive counting stats. He’s the weakest from a shooting efficiency standpoint, but it’s still pretty much 50%. He also comes in a narrow second place in making his free throws. Player C scores much better than Player A, but not as well as Players B and D. His rebounding is good though, he’s the second best in assists, blocks well, and has insane efficiency numbers. I guess he could get more steals. Player D scores the best, but comes in a solid 4th place in rebounding. He facilitates as well as Player B, but gets the lowest amount of blocks (highest steals though). He’s also the weakest shooter.

These are all excellent seasons, and very comparable from a statistical standpoint. Now, for the big reveal.

Wait for it…

  • Player A is Anthony Davis in 2012-13, his rookie season. He wasn’t nearly as healthy, but it feels fair to include the other ultra-hyped big man of recent drafts who’s a perennial All-Star now.
  • Player B is Kevin Garnett in 2003-04, his MVP season. Opinions can vary on whether he should’ve won the award, but it’s not debatable that he was incredible that year. Also considered: his NBA Championship campaign with the Celtics.
  • Player C is Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015-16, his rookie season. Did I mention yet that he’s really good?
  • Player D is Chris Webber in 2001-02. I almost used the preceding season since he was healthier, but I decided to use this one because of the success of his team that year and because the counting stats were a little better.

Towns’ rookie season is even more impressive in context now. We’re looking at a kid who could easily be All-NBA Third Team his first year. Unlike most rookies, we shouldn’t be talking him in terms of how good he could be. We need to be talking about how much better he can get. We knew he would be good coming in, but if this is where his floor is, we’re looking at first-ballot Hall of Fame as a pretty realistic ceiling. We’re looking at a weird hybrid of peak KG and Chris Webber, mixed with some Tim Duncan, with guard skills and the ability to truly threaten from behind the arc (read: anywhere on the court). Not to mention he makes over 80% of his free throws, punishing opponents who get beat and foul him. And now this player has a top-shelf basketball mind running his team, one who can make him better especially on the defensive end.  Inside the realm of reasonability, his ceiling couldn’t be higher.

Basically, I just spent ~1,000 words telling you that KAT was an absolute monster this year who still has an absurd amount of time to grow. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Unless you’re a Timberwolves fan, in which case swap ‘afraid’ with ‘excited’.

Towns wasn’t just the best rookie this year. He was one of the best big men, and probably one of the 20-25 best players in the league. Today, I’m writing about his ROY campaign; I can’t wait for the chance to write about his MVP season someday.

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