Entering the 2021-22 season, Karl-Anthony Towns had an argument to be the top overall pick in fantasy basketball.
In his previous two seasons, he had averaged 25.5 PPG on excellent shooting (55.8 2P%, 39.9 3P%, 83.2 FT%), 10.8 RPG, 4.4 APG, 2.8 3PG, 1.2 BPG and 0.8 SPG. He was the rare player that contributed positively in every roto category, while also producing big volume.
The only question mark at that time was health, as he'd missed 59 games in those two seasons due to injury and illness, but he'd only missed five games through his first four NBA seasons so the odds seemed good that his ailments were transitory, and he could soon return to his previous iron man status.
Less than 13 months later, he's no longer in the top pick discussion. The new question is: is Towns even still a fantasy basketball first round pick moving forward? The interesting part is, this is through no fault of his own.
Towns has played excellent basketball in the last 13 monhts. His Real Plus Minus (RPM) score of 5.01 for the 2021-22 season had strongly positive contributions on both offense and defense, and his resulting RPM WINS score (which combines RPM and minutes played to look at overall impact) of 16.25 was 10th in the entire NBA, behind a veritable who's who of MVP candidates led by Nikola Jokic, Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
So, what happened to cause Towns' fantasy stock to drop? He had the fortunate misfortune of being surrounded by two excellent teammates that limit his ability to produce the copious box score stats that lead to fantasy hoops stardom.
Anthony Edwards was the top overall pick in the 2020 draft, made the All-Rookie first team in 2020-21, joined Towns as an impact scorer over 20 PPG as a sophomore, and has now surpassed Towns to lead the Timberwolves in scoring at 23.1 PPG thus far this season.
Then, this offseason, the Timberwolves made a blockbuster trade for Rudy Gobert to become their new starting center. Gobert was one of the nine players in the NBA last season to finish with more RPM WINS than Towns, and one of only three centers along with Jokic and Embiid to do so.
He is, along with Draymond Green, the dominant defensive player of this generation by all impact statistical measurements. He has been an NBA leader in both rebounds and blocks in his career, and he can absolutely control the paint.
But, if Edwards is growing into the team's go-to offensive engine and Gobert is now their dominant man-in-the-middle and defensive anchor...what does that leave for Towns?
The answer -- and Towns himself -- might just surprise you.
Because the Big KAT is evolving. The once up-and-coming center whose NBA Draft Profile touted defense as his "bread and butter" has now growing into one of the most versatile, all-around offensive-minded forwards in the NBA.
The Timberwolves are using Towns as a primary decision-maker on offense, getting the ball to him in either the post or the face-up in half-court sets and letting him decide whether to shoot, attack the rim or look for the open teammate.
According to Second Spectrum, Towns is producing a positive 1.1 points per direct Isolation set as the ballhandler, but while his shot produces 1.0 point per direct ISO, his passes produce a whopping 1.6 points per direct ISO. Towns is especially adept at the high-low or interior-to-interior pass to his fellow big in the paint for the easy finish.
Towns has long been considered one of the best shooting big men in the NBA. Entering this season, he's made more than 100 3-pointers in six straight seasons, averaging almost two treys per game on 40% 3P% during that entire span.
But, even with Gobert starting at center, per Second Spectrum Towns still leads the team in post-up possessions with more than twice as many direct posts (36) as Gobert (15) this season. Towns loves to go left in the post, doing so in 26 of those 36 post-ups, and producing a strong 1.2 points per direct post when he does.
So. Towns is now a primary decision-maker on offense, one of the key floor generals in the halfcourt, the best low-post threat but also an excellent 3-point shooter by both volume and efficiency. He's now one of the main team offense creators and one of the main finishers on the team. But...how does this role translate to his box score production?
Well, after starting the season with a few up-and-down games as he got used to playing next to another center in Gobert, Towns has scored more than 20 points in five straight games with an overall stat line of 23.8 PPG (52.9 FG%, 37.5 3P%, 85.0 FT%), 8.8 RPG, 6.0 APG (3.2 TO/G), 2.4 3PG, 0.8 BPG and 0.8 SPG during that stretch.
Towns' numbers during that streak, if extrapolated for the season, would have had him as the leader on the Timberwolves in both scoring and assists, and his plus rebounding totals become even more impressive when you consider Gobert is currently leading the NBA with 14.0 RPG. In the ESPN fantasy basketball scoring system, those numbers would translate to 47.4 fantasy points per game.
That average would have ranked ninth among players to play at least half of the 2021-22 season (incidentally, just ahead of...2021-22 Karl-Anthony Towns, who averaged 45.8 FP/G). This season, 47.4 FP/G would tie with LeBron James for 16th in the NBA through the first few weeks. And this is purely a points league exercise. In category leagues, Eric Moody currently has Towns ranked 10th through three weeks.
So, is Towns still an FBA first rounder? If the season ended right now, he'd be on the borderline. But, the Big KAT is still evolving. He's still learning how to play next to both another All Star big man and a likely soon-to-be All Star wing teammate.
He's learning how to give this Timberwolves team what only he can deliver, a type of versatility at the big forward not seen since the days of the Kevins (Garnett and Love) a decade or two ago. And, Towns is still only 26 years old...young enough to be adaptable but coming up on the magical age-27 year that so often corresponds to NBA superstars' peak seasons.
So, I'll say yes. While Towns is doing it in a new way, in a new environment, I expect the Big KAT to continue to evolve... right back into the first round of fantasy basketball drafts, where he's proved that he belongs.