By Charlie Gibson
Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the players I am most curious to keep an eye on this season. In a league that considers itself downsizing, the 19 year old center was the highest rated prospect in any of the last three NBA drafts—the best since Anthony Davis. Towns is the best prospect at the center position to enter the league since DeMarcus Cousins, and the first center to go number one since Greg Oden. He plays in a part of America called Minnesota, which is why he hasn’t gotten as much attention, on say twitter, as big city rookies D’Angelo Russell and Kristaps Porzingis. That will change.
Towns started the season with +600 rookie of the year odds because the Wolves have a crowded frontcourt and because rookie big men can have a hard time getting the ball enough to win ROY. Four games in, Towns should now be considered the favorite for the award. The frontcourt doesn’t seem quite so crowded anymore with Pekovic injured, Dieng playing reduced minutes, and Bennett in Toronto. Towns has played 114 minutes so far this year and put up 35 rebounds, 11 blocks, and 59 points.
KAT stands 6’11, weighs 247 pounds, boasts a 7’3 wingspan, and could participate in the Slam Dunk Contest or the Three Point Shootout. The incredibly fluid teenager has the skills and athleticism of a defensive anchor and pick and roll big. And he has the jump shot of a floor-spacer. And he has the sense and feel to make the right pass. He looks so smooth out there that you think he must be keeping a level head. Basically he can do some of everything. Chad Ford, on ESPN, describes “seeing all of those skills usually reserved for guards in a man with size-20 shoes and a 9-5 standing reach.” Andrew Sharp, Grantland (RIP) Wizards fan, describes Towns as “a small-ball cheat code.”
As we guess and predict what kind of career Towns will have we must go back and examine how he got here. New to the NBA, Towns has been on the radar for years. He grew up the son of a basketball coach in a two parent, working class household. His mother was from the Dominican Republic, so at the age of 16 he played on the DR national team. John Calipari became the coach of the DR team, and in 2012 they missed the Olympics by one qualifying spot. During his day job Karl-Anthony won three high school state championships in New Jersey. He then stayed under the tutelage of Calipari and played one year at Kentucky and helped the team go 38-1.
Dominant big men are tons of fun, and Towns should be just that. But it can also take a few years for young giants to figure everything out. The NBA is a mental grind as well as a physical one. Bigs have huge defensive responsibilities and it is hard to walk right in and have a positive impact. Of the last 11 rookies of the year, only Emeka Okafor, in ‘05, was a center. The last rookie to win the award at either pivot spot was Blake Griffin, five years ago (when he was, ahem, a sophomore). Amare Stoudemire won the award as a center, and Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, and Chris Webber all played some minutes at the five while winning. Stud big men Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins were not yet dominant as rookies. This is a change from the previous generation when true centers, Shaq, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and Ralph Sampson all won the award.
The Timberwolves have paired Karl-Anthony with last year’s ROY and number one pick, Andrew Wiggins, to assemble the best young core in the league. I would take Towns and Wiggins over Giannis and Jabari, Gobert and Exum, Russell and Randle and Clarkson, or Mudiay and Nurkic. I’d also take them over the assets controlled by Boston or Philadelphia. This could be an adjustment year for Towns, or he could be the best young big we’ve seen in a couple years. If I’m not tuning in to watch, I’m at least checking his box scores.
Karl-Anthony Towns Player Comparisons: Rookie Seasons of Notable Centers
|Amare Stoudemire (ROY)||20||13.5||8.8||1.9|
|Shaq Daddy (ROY)||20||23.4||13.9||4.2|
|Emeka Okafor (ROY)||22||15.1||10.9||2.5|