KAT Fading Into Softness

The NBA can be cruel to the weak hearted and the thin skinned. Charles Oakley famously repeated, “No Boys Allowed.” This past season, Karl-Anthony Towns played a man’s game and was skilled and confident at it. He was an All-Star for the first time in his career. if you believe gossip, then KAT is a guy who cares about his stat sheet. If you believe KAT, he doesn’t.  It doesn’t matter which is true. In the 2018 playoffs, his first, he looks scared of the big stage and lights and pressure.  He is dulling us with his misery. KAT is supposed to be better that this.

The spin about fame in the playoffs is true, whether it is fair or not. The moment the playoffs started, you noticed the change. Dame Lillard was smothered. Ben Simmons was smothered. The Rockets don’t smother people. They are a finesse team. You can get your shot off in the paint if you do the bullying, if you let them know you are going to get to the rim and drag them with you.

Karl-Anthony Towns is dribbling out the paint to get to the perimeter even when smaller men are on him.  In efffect, he is running away from the fight. This stat tells you everything you need to know. Towns usage rate is 16%. He is playing the most minutes of anyone on the team but only Taj Gibson and Tyus Jones have a lower usage rate. Town seems satsfied to be an observer.

Towns has taken 18 shots in two games. He is shooting 27.8%.  6 of his 18 shots are threes. He is making 20% of those. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, is stressing that he has to run the floor. Meaning, Towns is playing lazy.  Makes sense for a player who is averaging 6.5 points a game when he averaged 21.3 points in the regular season. KAT’s playoff offensive rating is 77. Rebuilt knees and older than he looks, Derrick Rose’s offensive rating is 103. There is a huge problem with Rose playing better than Towns.

Stop with the first-time-in-the-playoffs excuses. Tracy McGrady wasn’t drinking the Kool-Aid. He straight up called Towns soft. He said Towns is a special player but not acting like it. And there is this. Donovan Mitchell is in the playoffs for the first time with the added burden of being a rookie and he carried Utah to a win on the road. Sometimes people just need to look in the mirror.

The person happiest about Towns being the invisible man is Andrew Wiggins. All year, Wiggins has been under a microscope after signing a max deal and giving a less is less performance. He hasn’t been great in his first playoffs eiither but at least it’s not less than zero. All the heat is off Wiggins temporarily.

It’s a complicated process of math to determine what makes a superstar. The playoffs go a long way into determining efficacy. The reason many Jordanites will never claim LeBron James is because of his playoff failures. It matters what you do when the pressure is the highest. Do you compete? Can you exert your will? Do you perfrom under high levels of stress?

LeBron was called the Frozen One when he came up small in the 2011 NBA Finals. James Harden’s Game 6 performance against the Spurs in 2017 isn’t one he wants to repeat. Now Towns has turned into someone no one recognizes. But pressure will do that.

Is Towns dominating his position? No. Capela is ruining him.  Can he be trusted in late game situations? Not when he’s dribbling to take a contested three.  Does his talent put him in a league of his own? Talent doesn’t matter in the playoffs. Competitiveness, willfulness and smarts win games.  Is Towns making the average and above average player perform (and look) better than he normally would when in his presence? No. He has turned into the average player himself. Is his worst better than 75% of other players best? Get Real. He’s not averaging 10 points a game.

Karl-Anthony Towns was on his way to NBA superstardom before the playoffs.  He averaged a double-double every year of his career. This season, he had career highs in field goal percentage, three point perecentage, efg percentage,  free throw percentage, defensive rebounding, steals, offensive rating. But the playoffs are humbling him.

In the regular seasons, KAT scored 20+ points 46 times, 56% of the schedule. He grabbed 10+ rebounds 68 times, 82% of the schedule. He blocked 3+ shots 17 times, 20% of the schedule. His on court impact reflected his exceptional talent. He was ranked 3rd among centers, only Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid were ranked higher (Real Plus-Minus).

Talent isn’t a question. He will be judged on how he performs in the playoffs.

Tom Thibodeau has the expectation that his star pupil will acclimate to the new demands. This is different than anything Towns has been through. It’s not just that every game matters. Every game is magnified. You can’t have nights where you don’t compete, forget about the scouting report, or just flatline.

Towns is big in a small league and the best forward/center to come into the league since Anthony Davis, another Coach Cal product. He has automatic mismatches in every game. He moves like a small forward and has a point guard’s court vision. He makes the simple pass because he is fundamentally sound.

A lot is expected of Towns.

Seven foot Towns, the son of an African American father who played college ball and a Dominican mother, has excelled every time a challenge has been put in front of him. As a New Jersey high school senior, he was Gatorade Player of the Year. The next year, he was SEC Freshman of the Year. The next year, he was NBA Rookie of the Year. In 2018, an All-Star nod and first playoffs. With each new challenge, Towns finds a way to excel, from boy to man to NBA star.

Even with his talent advantage, KAT had the luxury of Kevin Garnett his rookie year. He listened, absorbed, followed and imitated his mentor. It was additional proof that Towns was a willing student as he entered a foreign world, willing to adapt to the culture in order to receive the maximum benefit of Garnett while he still had his guidance.

Here is where we are. Every game he plays, Towns has a built in advantage. Does he have the mental will? Does he want to be great?

Yes, the NBA can spit out and crush the weak hearted and thin skinned. Karl-Anthony Towns played a man’s game a few weeks ago. He is slicing through the playoffs with a butter knife, like he is a corpse. He better get it together.

Because. No boys allowed.