Minnesota Timberwolves

Three ways Minnesota Timberwolves centre Karl-Anthony Towns is a basketball unicorn

It's crazy how quickly things can change.

Ahead of the 2017-18 season, NBA.com's John Schuhmann conducted a survey in which he asked every general manager in the league a series of questions from which team will win the NBA title to which rookie will be the best player in five years.

The result that caught a lot of attention at the time: Karl-Anthony Towns being the player the league's general managers would most want to start a franchise around, beating out the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant.

Schuhmann conducted the same survey ahead of the 2019-20 season, only this time Towns wasn't even among the players who received votes.

It didn't come as a huge surprise considering the Timberwolves haven't been particularly competitive over the last few seasons, but it's easy to take for granted how talented of a player Towns is. While he was limited to 35 games last season due to injuries, he put together the best individual season of his career to date with averages of 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game on .508/.412/.796 shooting splits.

In a league that is constantly evolving, Towns continues to add to his game in a way that separates him from other players at his position.

With that in mind, here are three things that make Towns a basketball unicorn.

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Taking a step back

Towns is well on his way to being the most prolific 3-point shooter we've ever seen at the centre position, but he isn't only a spot-up 3-point shooter.

According to NBA.com, Towns made 22 3-pointers off the dribble in the 2019-20 season, knocking them down at a 37.9 percent clip. For perspective, the only centre to make more pull-up 3s than Towns on the season was Kevin Love. Love, however, appeared in 21 more games than Towns and converted his pull up 3s at a much lower 31.1 percent clip.

It's not just that Towns can make 3s off the dribble that makes him unique. It's the way he does it. Whereas the majority of Love's pull-up 3s last season came following one dribble - usually the result of him getting a defender in the air with a pump fake and dribbling his way into more space - Towns will string together moves like he's a 7-foot guard.

Towns has even grown comfortable taking step back 3s. He covers a massive amount of ground with his step back and his quick release leaves very little room for error, making him a nightmare matchup for lumbering centres.

Roles reversed

To boot, Towns has proven that he can score off of screens.

It's not something he does often, but the Timberwolves haven't shied away from running the occasional pindown for Towns to get him an open look from the perimeter.

Even today, you don't see many 7-footers do that. The only bigs who scored more points off of screens than Towns (41) last season were Anthony Davis (50), Jaren Jackson Jr. (52), Kristaps Porzingis (55), Lauri Markkanen (69), Kevin Love (80) and Nikola Jokic (104).

Of those players, the only ones who ranked in the top half of the league in efficiency were Love (67th percentile) and Jokic (64th percentile). Markkanen (50th percentile) was smack dab in the middle while Davis (14th percentile), Jackson Jr. (20th percentile) and Porzingis (9th percentile) were closer to the bottom of the league.

As for Towns? He ranked in the 95th percentile.

His ability to score off of screens is made all the more dangerous by him having a good enough handle to take slower-footed defenders off the dribble if they press up on him.

Bully ball - with some finesse

Towns, of course, isn't only a shooter. Like most bigs, his primary source of offence comes in the post.

According to NBA.com, Towns averaged 4.5 points per game in the post last season, putting him behind only Joel Embiid (9.1), LaMarcus Aldridge (5.6), Nikola Jokic (5.1), Andre Drummond (4.8) and Anthony Davis (4.6) for most in the league. He was once again quite efficient, ranking in the 59th percentile with an average of 0.95 points per possession.

At 6-foot-11 and 248 pounds, there aren't many players who have the size to guard Towns in the post.

He's also a touch matchup for traditional centres because he can face-up to the basket.

As a result, Towns draws a lot of attention when he gets the ball in the post. He's no Nikola Jokic, but he has improved as a passer since entering the NBA, going from averaging 2.0 assists per game as a rookie to a career-best 4.4 assists per game last season.

He turned those assists into 10.8 points per game for his teammates, the fourth-highest mark in the league at the centre position.

Put it all together, and Towns truly is one-of-a-kind - a centre who plays inside and outside at almost the exact same volume and efficiency.

It might not be enough for him to be the one player general managers want to build around anymore, but it does make Towns one of the more interesting players in the league heading into his sixth season.

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