How Karl-Anthony Towns became the NBA’s most versatile scoring center
The Minnesota Timberwolves are having their best season in quite some time, and a big reason for that is Karl-Anthony Towns reemerging as an All-NBA level player. Towns has always been an extraordinary goalscorer, but he’s added something to his game that very few centers can execute consistently. By increasing the volume and versatility of his workouts, Towns continues to emerge as one of the most versatile great scorers of all time.
Whenever the word “never” is used, the initial, almost involuntary reaction is to push back with every ounce of ferocity your body can generate because it has become such a lazy way to describe something. However, when I say Towns continues to emerge as at least one of the most versatile great scorers of all time, is that really so controversial?
Please take a second and really think about how I phrase this. I don’t call him the greatest center of all time or the greatest defender or the greatest post player. I’m talking specifically about the variety of his scoring ways, which has never been done by any other center when you look at the history of the league.
Towns has always had a quality post-up game, although he struggles with the more physical defenders. His length, feel and footwork have always made post-ups a viable option. Plus, Towns is the best big shot of all time. I know he faced backlash earlier this season for saying that, but it’s not really that close. All due respect to Dirk Nowitzki, who walked so players like Towns could run, but Nowitzki’s career average of 38% on 3.4 three-point attempts per game pales in comparison to the average of Towns’ career by 39.7% on 4.1 attempts, especially when we factor in the variety of shots. That’s also not to say that players before Towns were incapable of doing similar things, but this era of basketball has allowed players like Towns to venture into realms that were forbidden in the past.
So, Towns has proven to be a dominant shooter and a legit post player, so what else is there? What Towns has added this season is a bridge to those two worlds. Instead of just worrying about his shot or his inside score, defenders now have to worry about his drives.
This season, Towns is currently averaging 7.8 drives per game, which is the most for any center at 2.3, according to NBA stats. (Side note, when you filter by center they also show Julius Randle at 9.0, but that seems fraudulent considering Randle is more of a power forward.) Of all players, Towns also has the third-highest points percentage. high on drives at 83.5 and the fifth-highest field goal percentage of 57.8. Even though it looks like the Timberwolves are getting a bad whistle on a regular basis, Towns is fouled on 16.4% of his shot attempts (74th percentile), the highest mark of his career, and is victimized a ground foul on 3.4% of the team’s games. (91st percentile), by Cleaning the glass. These two numbers of fouls are directly attributable to the increase in training by the cities. Towns’ inside-out scoring combination has always made him a nightmare for opponents, but now that he’s added a versatile driving repertoire to his game, he’s proving to be one of the league’s top scorers. .
Here we see the cities receive the transfer at the start of the attack at the top of the arc. Towns is a fan of this lane three, so Wendell Carter Jr needs to react quickly to his fake shot. As Carter finishes, Towns attacks Carter’s high foot. Carter initially does a great job of moving his feet to get in the way of Towns, and that defensive effort would be good enough against almost any other center. Towns, however, now has the strength, speed and ball handling to battle through contact and turn the corner on Carter before finishing with the monster dunk.
This time, Towns exploits his defender off the pick-and-pop rather than at the start of the attack. After scouting, Towns comes out on three and drags Jakob Poeltl into an area where he is extremely vulnerable. Towns uses a false shot again, causing Poeltl to barely leave his feet. That subtle bite from Poeltl is enough for Towns to fly over the slower defender and finish with the dunk.
What sets Towns drives apart from other centers is his ability to change angles. Towns isn’t solely reliant on using his strength or his quick first step on straight-line runs. This year, Towns is using his footwork to change both the pace and the angles of his workouts.
Here, Towns receives the ball at the top of the arc with his momentum already going to the edge. Towns doesn’t hesitate against the smaller defender and attacks immediately. Montrezl Harrell does a good job of cutting Towns’ way, but Towns counters easily. As Harrell begins to position himself to take on a potential charge, Towns coordinates his footwork perfectly with his tear as he runs through Harrell with his right foot to change the angle of his drive and finish with his left hand.
While the threat of his shot is a huge factor in how Towns creates lanes of traffic, it’s not solely dependent on that. Here, Towns keeps the ball out of the dribble pass (DHO) and rolls to his right, hoping to capitalize on any defensive confusion. Steven Adams initially does a good job staying with Towns, but as he approaches the lane, Adams is forced to turn his hips to follow Towns. Now that Adams’ hips are parallel to the baseline, it’s nearly impossible for him to meaningfully challenge any shot attempts taken by Towns that aren’t a continuation of his practice. As Towns gets to the block, he plants his right foot firmly, shows an impressive level of deceleration, gets behind Adams with his left foot and readjusts in the air to avoid contest from Jaren Jackson Jr’s weak side.
One of the biggest frustrations with Towns’ post-up play over the years is how easily he’s pushed out of the paint and forced to initiate his post-up much further than desired. This resulted in either a labored post-up attempt or a face-up jumper in the past. Now Towns has the versatility to turn those hampered post-up attempts into fruitful workouts.
Here, Towns receives the ball on the elbow and sets up for the DHO. As he extends the ball, Trendon Watford slides over the ball and Towns counters with a blindingly quick spinning motion. Watford and the weak side defense can barely react in time as Towns finishes with a dunk in the blink of an eye.
This time, Towns is in a similar area of the floor against the smaller but athletic Keon Johnson. Johnson tries to be disruptive with his flashy jazz hands, but Towns is unaffected. With a firm step with his right foot, Towns sends Johnson in the opposite direction before driving to his left and finishing with a float on the glass with his left hand.
Karl-Anthony Towns has always been one of the best scorers in the NBA because he can score into the post or go out and knock down all three. However, more and more centers are doing it every year. Towns has once again emerged from the pack by adding a versatile driving repertoire to his game. He leverages his shooting gravity to generate traffic lanes. He uses his post footwork to change speeds and angles on workouts. Combining his post-up play and shooting with his new driving ability, Towns continued to shine as one of the most versatile scoring centers in the league.