Next up is Karl-Anthony Towns, an almost 20-year-old, 7-foot, 244-pound center/forward from the University of Kentucky, drafted at the top of the list by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
TIMBERWOLVES – 117 HAWKS – 107
For the first 26 minutes Minnesota ran, hit jumpers and layups, and played with youthful energy, while Atlanta showed no rim protection, were routinely late in defensive transitions and dug themselves a 34-point hole. But then, the Hawks reverted to their team-oriented game and the Wolves fell apart—missing shots and making sloppy passes. As a result, and on the basis of a 42-21 third quarter spurt, Atlanta eventually jumped to a 1-point lead late in the final period. But Andrew Wiggins then scored 7 (of his 33) points to save the Wolves from a record-breaking embarrassment.
If Minnesota looked like a young, upcoming team, Atlanta desperately missed DeMarre Carroll’s defense. Also, from the get-go it seemed that the Hawks thought that last season’s 60-win ball club was about to play against last season’s 16-win Wolves.
Here’s what was revealed behind Town’s numbers:
MINUTES PLAYED = 32
He logged 9 minutes to start the first and third quarters, and 7 minutes to finish the second and fourth quarters. A nicely balanced situation. However, he did look noticeably tired at the end of his third rotation.
FGM-A = 5-7
Townes showed a soft touch in hitting both of his mid-range jumpers. A successful dunk and driving layup resulted from nifty assist passes from Ricky Rubio. Towns scored his last bucket when he was in perfect position to turn an airball launched by Wiggins into an easy layup.
One of Towns’ misses came on a driving layup going right (but on the left side of the hoop) when he faded away as he shot. The other was a desperate three-pointer launched just before the buzzer sounded to end the first half.
The Wolves ran a single play for Towns—a staggered weakside screen—that was so loosely executed by both the screeners and the rookie that no shot resulted.
On most of the Wolves’ possessions, Towns was positioned at the top of the key to set screens–five sturdy ones; several poor, no-contact ones that were not always his fault; and a moving-screen that the refs whistled. He made virtually all of his dive-cuts from the top.
He also frequently merely watched the offense unfold from a weakside wing.
Towns ventured into the low-post twice and mid-post once but was unable to establish viable position before getting pushed off his spot.
He never was given a chance to go one-on-one and, indeed, seldom had the ball in an attack zone.
3PM-A = 0-1
He’d previously connected on 1-of-2 from beyond the arc, so this rushed miss gave no indication of his true range.
FTM-A = 7-9
Nice touch here. Smooth hand mechanics. However, bad calls led to 6 of his free throws—including an in-the-act call when he was untouched as he slipped and fell on a dribble-drive. The only legit pair of free throws came when he got crunched as he nabbed a defensive rebound.
On the other hand, when he was clearly banged while shooting a fastbreak layup, all of the three blind mice saw nothing.
REB = 12
Each of his three offensive rebounds was a man-sized grab. So were five of his defensive ‘bounds—but four of these came with no Hawks in the vicinity. But Towns never boxed out his man. Never.
AST = 1
He was rarely asked to make passes in complicated situations, but Towns’ lone assist resulted from an artful pass to a driving Wiggins.
He did make a timely kick-out pass to Ricky Rubio, who missed the wide-open three-ball.
ST = 0
He had enough trouble deciding when to provide help when an opponent drove the lane to anticipate driving lanes or attack any of the Hawks’ handle.
BLK = 3
And they were all critical—layups blocked in the final two minutes when the outcome was still undecided.
Otherwise, he did manage to bring sufficient help to cause at least five potential buckets into misses. This, as opposed to an equal number of late but earnest rotations.
Yet, if Towns interior defense was usually active, his perimeter defense was awful. Giving shooters way too much room and, except for one energetic but futile shot-challenge, watching nearby shots with his hands in his pockets.
He also had some difficulty in defending weakside screens—missing a couple of required switches and failing to anticipate one screen so that he got nailed when it happened.
TO = 2
A bad out-pass and a charging foul. Since he rarely put the ball on the floor and was mostly limited to making simple reverse passes, there were few opportunities when he was in immediate danger of turning the ball over.
PF = 3
He was late coming to help on a drive by Paul Millsap—count it plus one.
In another help situation, he bought a ball-fake by Millsap but his leap was off-balance and created contact—count it plus one (which Millsap missed).
Plus his moving screen.
He did manage to avoid a foul on the only time his defense was directly attacked: Millsap tried to take Towns one-on-one and drove the baseline. This time, the rookie’s long-armed defense caused the veteran to miss an awkward in-tight shot.
PTS = 17
Scoring so many without having his number called is a wonderful accomplishment for a rookie big. At the same time, he did deserve more touches.
NON-STATS: On one in-traffic defensive rebound Towns threw an excellent outlet pass to Kevin Garnett, who received in turn, assisted on a breakaway layup. An example of why the pre-assist-pass that counts as a bonafide assist in the NHL should get like recognition in NBA box scores.
The big fellow was not reluctant to dive on the floor attempting to capture a loose ball. And he always hustled.
He was on the bench late in the third quarter and early in the fourth when the Hawks got back into the game.
Can he handle the ball with his left hand? Does he have some kind of change-of-direction move? Can he spend enough time in the weight room to add strength to his core and lower body? Can he develop into being more than a floating, shooting, dive-cutting, sky-jumping, shot-blocking powerless forward?
As the season progresses, his decision-making in help situations will greatly improve—as will his endurance if he doesn’t hit the rookie wall too forcefully.
Given his incredible athleticism, his sweet shot, his work ethic, his quickness (laterally, off the floorboards, and running the court)—there’s no reason Karl-Anthony Towns shouldn’t be a legitimate All-Star in the 2017-18 season.