2015 NBA Summer League

Murder Most Foul: Karl-Anthony Towns’ Busy Summer Hands


In three Summer League games so far, Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 7.3 personal fouls per game. Not per 36 minutes, but PER GAME, because in keeping with the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” marketing slogan, you don’t foul out until your tenth foul. Against the Lakers and Jazz, Towns had 9. That’s a lot of fouls.

And it’s actually no reason to be concerned. We tend to split stats into good things (points! rebounds! steals!) and bad things (fouls! turnovers!), but there’s nothing inherently moral about any of these stats. Steals are good, but if you’re constantly gambling for them, that could be a problem. Fouls and turnovers can be problematic, but when it comes to young players, they’re actually indicators of activity, and that can be a good thing.

Here are all the players in the 3-point era who averaged more than four fouls per game while playing in at least 40 games and averaging 20 minutes per game in their rookie season:


The list includes such illustrious names as Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, DeMarcus Cousins, Bill Laimbeer and Kenyon Martin (who had a decent if not stellar career). Roy Hibbert averaged 7.7 personal fouls per 36 minutes his rookie year, eventually cutting that to less than half that (3.6) in his fourth season. Ben Wallace averaged 4.9 per 36 his rookie season before settling in around 2.2 per 36 for the rest of his career.

The thing about fouls is that unlike putting the ball through the hoop, it’s something that’s judged subjectively and differently by every official. Your ability to draw fouls and avoid them getting called on you relies both on reputation and a nuanced physical understanding of what’s going to be called a foul and what isn’t. The Wolves’ own Nikola Pekovic went from barely being able to stay on the floor his rookie year (7.3 PF per 36) to never cracking 3 per 36 since.

Just as you don’t worry about point guards and superstars turning the ball over a lot early on (Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan and Larry Bird all averaged over 3.1 turnovers per game their rookie seasons), you shouldn’t worry too much about big men — especially ones who should develop into defensive stoppers — committing fouls. Not in their rookie years, and especially not in Summer League.

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5 thoughts on “Murder Most Foul: Karl-Anthony Towns’ Busy Summer Hands

  1. Imo Summer League fouls are a good thing. As mentioned, it shows activity and most importantly KAT is learning what refs will call and won’t call in certain situations. I see Summer League play as trial and error…kind of like NFL preseason games. You don’t show any “real” playcalls/sets in Summer League or preseason games. None that will be used this coming season anyway. KAT can only be taught so much off the court by mentors…some things need to be learned with muscle memory.

  2. I’m not too concerned about the fouls, for all the reasons Steve points out, though it makes sense that they’re a talking point.

    It’s kind of disappointing that they’re not using summer league to have Towns explore other aspects of his game. I get why a set offense helps them evaluate Brown, Payne, and other potential roster fringe; I was just hoping to see more of Towns setting screens and then popping or rolling, since they’re not going to just give him the ball on the block when the season starts. Giving him the same post-up options on every possession has revealed how good his passing is, but it’d be nice to see how much Draymond Green is in his offensive game: pushing the ball in transition, passing off the dribble, and taking more 3s.

    1. I wonder how much of the questionable strategies and sets are attributable to having a fairly inexperienced coach for the summer league. Has Ryan Saunders filled this role before? How much of his play-calling is dictated by Flip?

  3. The ESPN NBA Lockdown podcast had some interesting thoughts on KG coming to practice during summer league on Monday.

    Amin Elhassan: “One of the things that I really enjoyed yesterday was that the Timberwolves had a practice, and not only Andrew Wiggins participated, but Kevin Garnett was there, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a vet that old showing up to summer league just to get a workout in.”

    Tom Penn: “We were doing our SportsCenter segments, and I look over my shoulder, and I couldn’t believe it. Seeing KG in a summer league outfit, like stretching with the guys, and then through the entire shootaround and practice, going, one by one, with his arm around Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach LaVine? I was, like, ‘Holy cow, Flip Saunders, I get it now. I see it; I get it.’ To have KG here as a teammate — not a coach, but a teammate — who’s gonna be battling with these guys on the floor, for him to be committed to teaching them like that now, was just — I still can’t believe it; it was awesome.”

    It really surprised me that that was considered so unique, and it seemed like one of those genuine compliments, which is so rare when people talk about sports.

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