As we near halfway through the season, it’s time to look and see where the Wolves are stacking up on both ends of the floor. It has become clear that this team’s defensive limitations have held this team back. Their defensive rating is seventh worst in the NBA, and their defensive transition numbers are the worst in the league.
But I want to take more of a look at the offense, the side of the ball that has seen more success. Because while it’s been the better or the two, there’s still plenty to analyze.
A few things have been made clear early on in the Thibs era.
For the most part, the offense will revolve around Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Karl-Anthony Towns. While this shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, as any good team runs offenses through its best players, it does mean a change.
As time has gone on, teams are learning that not only that Wolves mainstay Ricky Rubio’s shooting is not improving, his willingness to give it a go is decreasing. This is allowing defenders to play under screens, as well as double bigs (currently, Karl-Anthony Towns) in the post without retreating back off the pass.
He’s doing fine on paper. Excellent, even. His averages are over 20 and 10 in the season’s first handful of months, and is on pace for some deserved All-Star consideration. As of right now, he’s 7th in the frontcourt for All-Star voting, all while this is going on.
And the eye test does nothing but help his All-Star case. On the floor, he still dazzles like he did his rookie year, with his quick instincts, supreme athleticism, and high IQ. While he’s still figuring himself out offensively, his elbow/post game is already approaching top-notch variety. Especially his footwork.
Still, in the first two months of the season, I was slightly more sour on the offense of Karl-Anthony Towns than the average fan. And it had to do with his passing of the basketball, specifically in the post.
To be clear, Towns is a good passer, and generally willing to do so. His ability to make the tough pass in traffic is improving, but there. I’m confident he’s going to get there. But, right now, there’s a ways to go.
For now, the term “tunnel vision” comes to mind, especially when coming out of the post. His post game is obscenely good for a 21 year old, but his ability to recognize when to shoot and when to pass is still improving.
Take this as an example. Originally, Towns has Jimmy Butler in good position. This forces the defense to collapse completely. By the time Towns is ready to put up his shot, he has 4 defenders surrounding him. By the time the defense has hit the paint, Rubio, Wiggins, and LaVine all had wide open looks.
This was in December, but the habit formed in early November, and had remained frustrating (albeit infrequent) over the past two months.
But then something happened: either Thibs talked to Towns, or KAT simply had something click, but on December 28th, Towns had his first triple double, and his patience made him appear to almost be a different player.
Part of this game, against the Denver Nuggets, may have happened because Towns wasn’t shooting well from the field. He finished with 15 points, 7 shy of his season average, and shot well below 50 percent from the game. But even if that’s the case, KAT’s ability to alter his game for the better of the team, especially in the case of taking fewer shots, is huge for his development.
In most games early this season, he had somewhat of a habit to miss cutters after the double team, as he’d try to use his crafty footwork to get around 2 defenders. In this game, he saw the whole floor.
This was the most patient game of his career. He let plays develop before him, and let the offense run its course instead of forcing things. This left more open looks for capable teammates.
In fairness to Towns, his assist rate has increased this season. Through 38 games, Towns is at 112 assists, just 57 away from his total from last season (he played 82 games a year ago). The question, though, is less about his assist numbers, and more about how often he takes good looks in the post. He’s had at least 5 assists in 4 of his last 7 games, and has only fallen below 4 assists once since Christmas day.
Thankfully for Towns, the stats strongly suggest his tunnel vision might be extremely infrequent. Of the 15 players that receive the most post touches (KAT is 15th), Towns is 3rd among them in pass percentage. He is passing the ball. But the tunnel vision in the post had been something any serious fan had noticed.
It’s important to remember how good his footwork can be. It borders on elite, and it’s perfectly fair for him to have supreme confidence in the paint, even against a double team.
Last season, Towns took about 5.7 shots per game that were 5 feet towards the hoop or less, and NBA.com says he takes about 2.6 of them were “post shots”. This year, that number has gone up to about 7.8 shots from the post per game. Perhaps not shockingly, his percentages from that distances have taken a (small) dip of 4 percent.
Either way, when stacked up against some of his post peers, he matches up quite well.
|Player||Post Touches||Post FGA||Post FG%||Pass%|
Seeing numbers like these are assuring going forward. KAT will likely never have the post passing prowess that Marc Gasol has, but it’s good to see that his numbers at least approach the big man sharing savant.
`As time goes on, Towns is going to be a better basketball player. That much is obvious. What remains unclear is how he’ll improve, and what he’ll choose to prioritize offensively. Will he go the Gasol route, and become a pass-first center that has all the scoring ability necessary, if needed. Or maybe he’ll become more shoot-first, a la Boogie.
More than likely, he will continue to ascend somewhere in the mdidle. Wolves fans are lucky. KAT has certain attributes of both Gasol and Boogie, but not just exclusive to them. He has top-notch footwork, handles the ball like a guard, and can run faster than just about any center in the league (especially the ones with that kind of post prowess).
But he isn’t fully there yet offensively (or defensively). It’s scary to think about where he’ll be at age 23, especially when considering the short-term improvement that his passing has shown just through this season. His passing, and willingness to pass, are both there, and are both getting better.
KAT is already the focal point of the offense, and other teams know that. As he and his teammates learn how to play within this new offense, the Wolves will get better. As KAT improves, the Wolves improve. And he’s improving fast.