Karl-Anthony Towns’ offense has been great everywhere … except in the post. Why?
Year after year, Towns has averaged about one point per post-up, per NBA.com. That number has dropped significantly this season, down to 0.68 points per post up. In fact, 77 post-up possessions have led to 24 turnovers
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jarred Vanderbilt was lurking, waiting for the right moment to strike.
He had seen this defensive setup from opponents countless times already this season — with the other team’s power forward guarding Karl-Anthony Towns in the post and the center “guarding” Vanderbilt — aka planting in the paint to serve as a help defender.
But a defender can only sit in the paint without guarding someone for 2.9 seconds before a technical foul is supposed to be whistled. So when Hawks center Clint Capela was due to exit the paint, Vanderbilt was set to strike. Sure enough, as Capela backed out, Vanderbilt jutted past him to the front of the rim. Towns hit the cutter for an easy layup.
“I know now a lot of teams are putting their fours on KAT and having the five weakside,” Vanderbilt said. “So me just trying to counter that, whenever he’s sitting in the lane, I know (my defender) has to come out at some point, and (I’m) using that as a point when to cut and find an open lane and find those gaps. Just trying to make myself more available to help KAT out when he’s getting double teamed.”
That’s one way in which Minnesota can use the extra attention Towns gets in the post to its offensive advantage. The Timberwolves need a lot more of that.
Because the entire offense has been a struggle for much of this season, and Towns’ post-ups are no exception. What used to be an automatic bucket has turned into an area of concern.
Year after year, Towns has averaged about one point per post-up, per NBA.com. That number has dropped significantly this season, down to 0.68 points per post up. In fact, 77 post-up possessions have led to 24 turnovers.
In Monday’s loss to Atlanta, Towns was 7 for 15 on shots in the paint.
“I had to talk to myself while talking to the teammates and telling them let’s not look for certain things to bail us out. Let’s just make the layups, make the twos, regardless if they’re hard or not, and just get the job done,” Towns said. “We just got to finish. It’s as simple as that. We can come up here and make all the excuses we want, but at the end of the day we missed the shots. Got to get in the gym and work harder.”
Towns is making 61 percent of his shots inside five feet this season. That may sound good, but it pales in comparison to his 2019-20 numbers, when he hit 70 percent of looks from that range. This while Towns continues to shine everywhere else on the offensive end. He is averaging 24.3 points a game, shooting a gaudy 45 percent from deep.
Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said some of Towns’ issues in the post-ups — what used to be the strength of the center’s game in the early stages of his seven-year pro career — have to do with the change in defensive coverage, those “soft double teams.”
“It’s not like a hard double on him where he’s had to pass out of it. I think that’s part of it,” Finch said. “Part of it is the physicality has been up down there. He doesn’t seem to get a very good whistle down in the post. He’s gotten a lot of offensive fouls. Maybe some of that is he’s gun-shy to make a quick move. I don’t know. His finishing hasn’t been where he wants it.”
That won’t get any easier Wednesday, when the Wolves welcome Utah — and NBA defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert — to Target Center. Gobert is perhaps the league’s top rim protector. Towns traditionally has attacked Gobert from the perimeter, firing away at will.
Perhaps that’s the most prudent path moving forward.
“We’ve moved away from posting him up a little bit because of all the different looks we’re seeing,” Finch said. “He’s been doing a good job attacking space. It’s something we will go back to.”