The Minnesota Timberwolves have not made the playoffs in 14 years. This was the year that they were supposed to make it. They added Jimmy Butler to join two young studs in Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns. Minnesota was the 3rd seed in the west until Jimmy Butler got hurt. Butler's injury caused doubt that the Wolves may miss the playoffs all together with a tough schedule coming up and in the brutally competitive western conference.
Minnesota has survived so far without Butler, going 4-3 and they have Towns to thank. The Wolves are currently the six seed with a 40-29 record. If they want to climb up higher, or not fall lower they will need Towns more than ever. The good news is Minnesota has the third easiest schedule left. Still every game matters when seeds through ten are separated by 4.5 games in the west. Here is how Karl Antony-Towns has stepped up his game, and what he will need to do going forward.
Last night in a 116-111 win at Washington, you saw what Towns can do when he is at his best. Towns had 37 points on 13 of 17 shooting along with ten rebounds, three assists and ten blocks. He hit the dagger three as well that put the Wizards away. For the season Butler shoots 15.8 field goals per game, and Wiggins takes 15.9 compared to only 13.8 for Towns. Towns needs more attempts, he is better than Wiggins and when the offense runs through him, good things happen.
You can see how dominant Towns is in this clip. He gets fouled by Draymond Green and still finishes in the post.
Since Butler went down, Towns is averaging 25.4 points on 15.4 attempts and 61 percent shooting. He is also grabbing 12.5 rebounds per game. Towns has answered the call. Many people thought the Butler injury would doom the Wolves and it has certainly hurt, but Towns is keeping the ship a float. In his third year he is showing the world how good he is now, and he will only get better. Towns this year is averaging career highs in true shooting percentage, assist ratio, rebound ratio and a career low turnover ratio. Even though he gets less touches he has become more efficient and rounded out his game.
Now that he is getting more touches again he is combining volume with efficency. Towns is dominant and that shows as he leads all centers in offensive real plus/minus. Even his defense has improves. Last year he was the worst center in defensive real plus/minus, now he is still bad but he improved from -1.41 to 0.57. The jump from terrible to below average is significant.
Minnesota has 13 games left and every game matters. Seven of the games are playoff contenders, including the next three before the schedule softens up. They need to beat Utah, win one out of two against Denver, win at San Antonio to secure tiebreakers. Minnesota has already secured tiebreakers over OKC, New Orleans and the Clippers. They also tied with Portland and that will come down to division record.
The Wolves main goal if anything else is avoid the seven or eight seed. No one wants the Houston Rockets or the Golden State Warriors in the first round. To do that they need a steady dose of Towns. That means more post ups, where he ranks in the 86th percentile according to Synergy and more three pointers, where he is shooting a ridiculous 42 percent. Towns has stepped up so far, he will continue to do so down the stretch. He is putting the league on notice and that will serve him and the Wolves well for when Butler comes back.