By now it feels like a past life. But not long ago, games between the Timberwolves and Knicks were among the small pleasures of the early NBA season: heated clashes between two flawed teams that still tried hard, and more importantly, sported the NBA’s two most intriguing sophomores, both seven-footers with range. In their first meeting, Kristaps Porzingis dropped 29 points and 8 rebounds; Karl-Anthony Towns poured in 47 and 18 of his own, and lost a thriller. Their teams had yet to reveal themselves as complete ass, and the season seemed ripe with modest possibility.
Then the Knicks steadily self-immolated as only they can, the Wolves’ young talent struggled to cohere into anything worthwhile—due in part to Zach LaVine’s torn ACL—and both squads landed on similarly weak footing. The 31-49 Wolves sit 13th in the West, and the 30-51 Knicks are 12th in the East, and both are basically unwatchable. The once-mighty Porzingis, now griping about “trust” issues and giving postgame interviews with a deadened look in his eyes, made only mild improvements in his second year. He’s upped his scoring by 3.8 points a game to 18.1 points, owing largely to improved shooting—up to 49.3 percent from 45.4 percent on two-point field goals, and up to 35.7 percent from 33.3 percent on threes. But all his other counting stats have held disappointingly, eerily steady. MSG hasn’t been the most nurturing environment a 21-year-old could ask for.
But what about KAT? Sure haven’t thought about that guy in a while. Turns out this is what he’s been up to since the All-Star break: 28.5 points and 13.1 rebounds per game, shooting 59.7 percent from the floor and 42.5 percent from the arc. Last night he posted 40 points and 21 rebounds on 17-of-22 shooting, shredding the Lakers’ lacy defense to score at the rim effectively at will. Towns has a sneaky way of lumbering into the paint, backing his guy down with his imposing size, and then wriggling out of his clutches with precise footwork. That’s how he beats Julius Randle, first at 0:59 and then even better at 4:06 below:
And then there was that three, too. It was amusing to watch KAT toy around with his old-man set shot earlier this season, and though he’s only taking 3.3 a game this season, you have to hope he keeps at it, stretching opposing centers out to unfamiliar territory and making them look dumb. Towns is averaging 36.9 minutes a game this season, fifth in the league—teammate Andrew Wiggins clocks in at 37.3 for third—but heavy run from an unrelenting Tom Thibodeau hasn’t seemed to take a toll on his level of play, or his apparent sense of joy.
Both Porzingis and Towns have probably ceded the stage to Nikola Jokic as this season’s most promising second-year player, and with good reason—the soft titan nearly willed his Nuggets into a playoff spot. But they’ll both surely be happy for rest, and a reset. Setting aside any other major offseason moves, Porzingis will at least be liberated from Derrick Rose, and hopefully paired with a point guard more interested in getting him the ball; Towns will get LaVine back. Both teams will likely suck yet again, but maybe in a fresh, more interesting manner that doesn’t stunt their budding stars.
h/t to Tommy