Fantasy Basketball: Karl-Anthony Towns Is a First-Round Asset After All

You don’t often see second-year players jockeying for position in the first round of fantasy basketball drafts, yet Karl-Anthony Towns is doing just that.

After a stellar rookie campaign, the sophomore Minnesota Timberwolves big man was a costly asset heading into this season -- he had an average draft position (per FantasyPros) of 5.3, which was the same as LeBron James.

The first two months were a bit rocky for those who invested early-round picks in Towns, but his last month has been a revelation. Per Yahoo! nine-category rankings, Towns is the number-two player in all of fantasy basketball over the last 30 days, averaging just under 28 points and 13 rebounds with nearly 4 combined threes, steals, and blocks, along with tremendous shooting efficiency.

Clearly Towns is a special talent, but is he already here to stay as a gold chip fantasy asset?

Precious Efficiency

What makes Towns a difference maker is not just his gaudy per-game point and rebound production, but also his ability to put up such prolific counting stats with impressive efficiency.

This across-the-board efficiency didn't quite click for Towns until this past month, as we can see from his field goal, three-point, and free throw splits across November and December as compared to his more recent output.

Sample GP FGA FG% 3PA 3P% FTA FT%
December 15 17.6 50.% 4.1 36.9% 5.1 76.5%
November 16 16.9 46.9% 3.4 27.5% 5.1 84.4%
Last 15 games 15 18.6 58.4% 2.5 45.9% 6.1 82.4%

Combining double-double per-game averages with plus percentages from both the field and the line is a very rare feat.

In fact, only two players have averaged 10-plus points and 10-plus rebounds with 50 percent or better shooting from the field and 80 percent or better from the line over the last month -- Towns himself and fellow sophomore phenom Nikola Jokic.

Usage Versus Production

Towns’ recent stretch is all the more impressive when considering how stable his usage has been over the course of the relevant samples. Sure, his minutes have spiked slightly over the last month, but look at how consistent his usage rate (USG%) is, along with his field goal attempt (%FGA) and rebound shares (%REB).

December 34.8 27.2% 28.2% 35.4%
November 35.7 27.8% 27.2% 39.9%
Last 15 games 38.5 27.8% 27.8% 38.5%

Towns isn't overextending himself -- he’s simply getting better.

There are two other interesting indicators in Towns’ underlying usage numbers. Check out how his three-point attempt shares (%3PA) have gradually decreased over the course of the season, yet his recent three-point effectiveness has improved drastically.

Sample %3PA 3P%
December 23.8% 36.9%
November 19.6% 27.5%
Last 15 games 16.4% 45.9%

Something similar is happening with his block numbers. Towns’ overall share of his team’s block attempts (%BLKA) are way down, yet his block per-game numbers are slightly up.

Sample %BLKA Blk Per Game
December 31.7% 1.4
November 31.5% 1.5
Last 15 games 22.8% 1.8

Simply put, Towns is getting better at picking his spots. He's maturing before our eyes into a more discerning, efficient player on both ends of the floor.

How Good? This Good?

That discerning efficiency aside, Towns’ recent surge in three-point shooting is perhaps a little suspicious. Indeed, his field goal make rates by distance show some interesting spikes.

Sample Within 5 ft. 5 - 9 ft. 10 - 14 ft. 15 - 19 ft. 20-24 ft. 25-29 ft.
November 58.9% 52.5% 42.9% 46.2% 40.4% 25%
December 61.7% 38.5% 43.8% 31.6% 30% 26.3%
Last 15 68.5% 54.4% 35.7% 53.6% 53.7% 11.1%

Clearly the main culprit in his field goal efficiency spike is his improvement from close range. After all, he took nearly 63 percent of his shots from within 10 feet over the last month. Converting on almost 62 percent of those has gone a long way to propping up his terrific efficiency.

That said, his dramatic spike in the long two/short three range between 15 and 24 feet is hard to interpret. Is he really this good from long range?

Part of the problem is we have only one year of college work from him, and during that time he attempted just 8 three-pointers over the course of 39 games for the Kentucky Wildcats.

Indeed, the long range stroke is totally new for Towns. There’s ample reason to be impressed, but also reason to be a little skeptical.

Assuming that his long-range effectiveness falls back to earth a bit, it seems unlikely he'll maintain top-two overall value going forward in this current season. Even so, if Towns continues to mature on both sides of the ball, there’s little doubt he’s a first-round fantasy talent and should remain so for seasons to come.