Last season several impressive rookie centers made their debut, including Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks, Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and Jahlil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers. While all of these players are promising, one rookie was just on a different level: Karl-Anthony Towns. He received every first-place vote for the Rookie of the Year award, and appears primed to become the league’s next superstar.
Karl-Anthony Towns, 2015-16
82 games played
2,627 minutes played (second among centers)
18.3 points per game (third among centers)
10.5 rebounds per game (eighth among centers)
2.0 assists per game (sixth among centers)
1.7 blocks per game (fifth among centers)
0.7 steals per game (13th among centers)
.559 2-point percentage (14th among centers)
.341 3-point percentage (third among centers)
.811 free throw percentage (fourth among centers)
.590 true shooting percentage (13th among centers)
As a 20-year-old rookie, Towns was one of the most valuable centers in the league. In fact, his rookie year was among the best of all time. Only three players have ever had a PER above 22 in their age-20 rookie season: Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Paul, and Towns.
His raw box score numbers are certainly impressive, but digging deeper usually enables you to find a weakness in a player’s game. Is this true with Towns?
Let’s start by examining his efficiency around the rim. He made 70.1 percent of his attempts between 0-2 feet last year, which ranks 16th out of 110 players with at least 200 attempts at the rim in 2015-16. Only three of the players more efficient than him (LeBron James, DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard) actually attempted as many shots at the rim. So Towns grades out very well as a dive man, particularly since he’s a very good offensive rebounder.
What about as a post player? In the 3-9 feet range Towns made 46.5 percent of his shots, which ranks 24th out of 121 players with at least 100 attempts in 2016. Towns once again has one of the higher field goal attempt totals in this zone, while being slightly more efficient than fellow rookie Jahlil Okafor, who is known as a post-scoring specialist.
Moving further from the basket, next we’ll consider everything between 10 feet and the 3-point arc. Can he drain the mid-range jumper? 94 players attempted at least 200 shots in this zone. Towns ranked fifth with a field goal percentage of 48.2, ahead of both Chris Paul (sixth) and Dirk Nowitzki (seventh). One year in and he’s already among the best mid-range scorers in the game.
We’ve already considered his skill as a three-point shooter, one of the few centers that is actually viable from that range. Towns has an unbelievably complete skill set. He’s elite both as a dive man and as a jump shooter. He’s a skilled post scorer that can protect the rim on the other end. He’s active enough to grab steals, and powerful enough to more than hold his own on the boards. He’s a deft passer for a big man and can hold up while playing a ton of minutes. And all this as a 20-year-old rookie. What will he do during his encore performance?
Tim Duncan once said to LeBron James “this is going to be your league in a little while.” Perhaps LeBron will be delivering that message to Karl-Anthony Towns in the not-too-distant future.