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Turns Out Karl-Anthony Towns Is Still Pretty Good

It’s wild to remember that this time last season the Timberwolves were cruising to 47 wins in a deeper Western Conference, headed for their first playoff appearance in 14 years. With Jimmy Butler reunited with head coach Tom Thibodeau, and Karl-Anthony Towns ascending, and Andrew Wiggins uhh making a lot of money, that was supposed to be the start of a long period of relevance for a perennial also-ran.

Then the whole cheesebutt saga happened, and the good feelings and optimism went away, and now the Timberwolves are back near the very bottom of the West. Jim Butts is gone; Thibs is gone; Wiggins is a damn train wreck. This is depressing as shit, but also true: It’s possible to go whole weeks without being reminded that Towns, the sole remaining source of even a little bit of Timberwolves excitement, even exists. He’s an even less relevant, less established version of Anthony Davis, without a trade demand controversy to thrust him into national prominence. This is a bummer, because when he’s on, Towns can be one of the most spectacular offensive players in the NBA. Check it out:

That’s Towns just eviscerating Oklahoma City’s fourth-ranked defense, to the tune of 41 points on sizzling 56/60/80 shooting splits, in a 131–120 Timberwolves victory. Towns shows the total scoring package, right there: brutal backdowns against smaller post defenders; smooth jumpers over a flummoxed Steven Adams; a gorgeous first-step drive and finish in traffic; an even more gorgeous step-back jumper late in the shot clock; and, of course, two spectacular, thunderous second-half dunks. Towns’s proficiency as a three-shooting pick-and-pop big can feel downright unfair, and that’s before he reacts to an overzealous closeout by dunking a help defender into the center of the earth. When he’s cooking, it’s not clear that there even is a right way to defend him.

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Towns has averaged a ridiculous 36 points, 16 rebounds, and four assists over his last five games. He’s shooting better than 47 percent on nearly seven three-point attempts per game over that stretch, and better than 60 percent from the floor overall. In depressingly familiar news, the Wolves have only won two of those games. It’s a testament to the overall shittiness of Minnesota’s roster and Towns’s own deficiencies as a defender that he’s got a relatively unimpressive 2.2 net rating over a stretch of games in which he has been virtually unstoppable as a scorer and rebounder. Defense is the main weakness in his game, and it’s a pretty fuckin’ huge one—while he’s lately been destroying opponents on offense, during this run the Timberwolves are a horrifying 12.3 points per hundred possessions better defensively with Towns off the court.

That’s a career-long trend for Towns in Minnesota, but even now it’s too early to abandon the hope that he’ll figure it out on that end and become a two-way force. And with Minnesota back in the lottery this season, it’s possible they could score a player who can be to Towns what Wiggins is supposed to be, which is a legitimate and reliable second fiddle. Or, hell, maybe Towns will sign up with Klutch Sports and pull a Davis, and force his way out of the frozen north. In the meantime, he can still put together a hell of a highlight reel, even if it’s from a position of total irrelevance.

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