• Ziad Aziz

Karl-Anthony Towns: The Mike Trout of Basketball

I’d like to dissect the first part of the title, Karl-Anthony Towns. Naturally, he’ll be the subject of this enlightening piece of sports journalism you’ll read today. This won’t be about Mike Trout, he’s a baseball player, I write about basketball. Not baseball, remember? Okay, great, now we can start! Wait, actually, I fibbed. And I shouldn’t fib, because that’ll break the trust we’ve carefully constructed roughly 50 words ago. And without trust, how are we supposed to take this reader-writer relationship to the next paragraph? I beg you to graciously accept my apology, and let me be clear, this article will be just a tiny-weeny bit about Mike Trout, but not a lot! You might even forget about him half way through (hopefully). We’ll mostly spotlight Karl-Anthony Towns, the really tall and multidimensional basketball guy who was mentioned in the first sentence. Man, but seriously, that Mike Trout fellow has a swing of legends, and covers center field with the power and grace of a centaur. Now I’m not saying Karl-Anthony Towns is the basketball equivalent to Mike Trout, but he could very well be on his way to making a similar impact on the hardwood.

Towns is young, really young. So young that he can’t legally pass on a perfectly good beer and say, “How ‘bout a Redd’s Apple Ale?” He’s still got a few more weeks before he can start a tab at a bar in the Twin Cities. The 20-year-old Phenom has a set of skills that are maturing and diversifying at an exponential rate. He is only the 5th player in NBA history to win the Rookie of the Year award unanimously (Damian Lillard last claimed 100 percent of the votes in 2013). So, like what Mike Trout is doing on the baseball diamond, Towns is making a lot noise in a variety of ways early on in his budding career.

Now I have to mention Mike Trout again, because this is where it becomes relevant. Trout is consistently referred to as a “5 Tool Player”. In baseball terms, this means: he has top tier running speed, arm strength, while hitting for average, hitting for power, and is a prolific fielder. Trout possesses all 5 crucial skillsets, which makes him an exceptional baseball player as he is consistently voted in the top two for AL MVP, winning the prestigious award in 2014. I’d like to be bold and exclaim that Towns is quickly growing into a “5 Tool Basketball Player”. Towns has the ability to pass, shoot, post, defend, and rebound at a tremendously high level.

Shall we excavate further? I say aye! Passing is an art that goes typically underappreciated if it’s not some no-look behind-the-back pass that’s threaded between a pair of defender’s legs for an easy assist. Okay, I poured it on a little bit there, however in essence, passing doesn’t draw the “Oohs and Ahhs” like a thunderous dunk, or vicious rejection. Efficient, fundamentally sound passing is not going to put fannies in those seats. And yet, Towns is excellent at the often un-practiced skill by big men. In the post with his back to the basket, Towns has above average floor vision. He seamlessly finds cutters to the basket, and routinely hits open teammates along the perimeter as double teams converge on him. LeBron James is probably the best example at showcasing his passing ability from the post (or anywhere for that matter), but among Centers, Towns ranks up there with the best and the numbers support it. Last year only three Centers averaged more assists per game than Towns (2.0 apg); Mark Gasol (3.8 apg), Al Horford (2.8 apg), DeMarcus Cousins (2.7 apg). And only DeMarcus Cousins averaged more when he was rookie in 2010-11 (2.5 apg), making Towns’ production that much more impressive. Whether it’s hitting Shabazz Muhammad for a corner three, or running the floor and serving the springy Zach LaVine a perfect alley-oop, it’s definitive that Towns is developing scary versatility.

Did I mention he can shoot the ball? Oh, silly me, it seems as though I did. So let’s talk about it! Towns can not only shoot the ball well, but he can do it from multiple spots on the floor. He’s morphing into an offensive Rubik’s Cube, where defenders struggle to figure out how to stop him. Even though he makes most of his money within 0-9 feet from the basket, he can stretch the floor and play along the perimeter. Towns has the ability to slice to the paint with the efficiency of a guard, and is lethal at hitting jumpers from the elbow. Last year he shot an incredible 50 percent from 16 feet out, and hasn’t missed a shot this year from that distance (albeit four games into the season, yet impressive nonetheless). While on the low block, Towns can either use his strength and size to back a defender down and finish with a well-practiced hook shot, or spin baseline cultivating in a reverse dunk. Furthermore, Towns can exhaust defenses by catching the ball in the post, then turning to face the basket to execute an eyebrow-raising step back shot. Listed at 7 feet tall, it’s a little absurd that he attempted 88 three-pointers last season, making 34 percent of them which is the league average. Overall, Towns averaged 18.3 points per game last year as a rookie, and looks to pad that number this sophomore campaign as he’s already on pace to do so.

Mr. Towns is still a little more than four years away from the frontal lobe of his brain becoming fully developed, which is associated with adulthood. The kid still has some growing to do. Weighing 244 pounds, He can add another 20-30 lbs. of muscle to his frame, while still maintaining his quickness. The added weight will aide his defensive presence around the basket, defending bigger players, and protecting the rim. Towns is a very good defender, averaging close to 2 blocks and 1 steal per game last year. He will need to be more disciplined, and learn to not bite on head fakes and focus on staying grounded. However, I think head coach Tom Thibodeau is more than qualified to instill defensive priorities in his young center. Towns also rebounds exceptionally well. He averaged 10.5 total rebounds per game with 3.5 coming on the offensive end of the floor. Rebounding is a “want-to”, great rebounders such as Charles Barkley possess a relentlessness on the boards rather than overwhelming size. So these stats display Towns’ hunger and tenacity to crash the boards and get second chance points.

To put it frankly, Karl-Anthony Towns is a beast. A multi-faceted, marauding, adolescent animal, who plays basketball a lot better than many people his age and older. I imagine he was picked first in many school yard pick-up games in New Jersey, and the Minnesota Timberwolves followed suit, selecting Towns as the number one overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. In the infancy of the 2016-17 NBA season, we are witnessing Towns’ hard off-season work flourish as he’s improving his numbers and doing it with more variety. He’s an Amazon stock, so buy now to laugh at your friends who didn’t invest in Karl-Anthony Towns.

Sources: Basketball-reference, Baseball-reference

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