At the 16-minute mark of his podcast on Tuesday, Ryen Russillo broke down his “approval ratings” for eight NBA players with Wosny Lambre. The two Ringer analysts broke down the public perception of stars like Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, and Rudy Gobert.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns was among them. KAT had a bounce-back season after suffering from injuries, illness, and tragedy, averaging 24.6 points on 41.0/58.0/82.2 shooting splits in 74 games. However, he hasn’t been fully embraced by some local fans and online.
Russillo and Lambre tried to get to the bottom of why that is.
“Karl-Anthony Towns, 26, third All-Star team,” said Russillo, introducing Towns’ resume. “Two first-round exits, which, again, it’s not like they lost to teams that were inferior to them, they actually showed some fight against Memphis. He’s got two 3rd team, All-NBAs. He doesn’t feel like a top-15 NBA player. The All-NBA stuff is more positionally based.”
“Mhm,” Wos agreed.
“It felt like a turning point for KAT, so his approval rating feels higher, said Russillo. “He was 24th in the ESPN Top 100 coming in.
I think there’s a weirdness thing to him, though, that maybe on the internet hurts his approval ratings. So I’m always confused, because I go, ‘Alright, do I actually think he’s ascending into somebody, or?’ Because the easiest thing to say, Wos, is you go, like, ‘Oh, this guy’s not a [No.] 1.’
If there are 450 players in the league, I think there’s 443 who aren’t 1s.
“Yeah, Wos said, laughing in approval.
“And that might be being nice, alright?” Russillo continued.
Like everybody kinda needs their help. So, if you’re saying Towns isn’t a 1, I’d be like, ‘Okay, I agree with you.’
But I think there’s a social media element to him, where at the end of the season, with the way that he was waving goodbye to everybody after they lost, people kinda ding him, and he sort of invites it a little bit.
So, I don’t know if that has more to do with his approval rating than his actual basketball play.
“I’m certainly not as annoyed by how socially awkward is as everybody else,” Wos responded, “like it doesn’t–”
“That’s what it is, though, right?” asked Russillo, cutting him off. “I mean, is it fair–”
“He’s socially awkward, yeah,” Wos responded to Russillo before he could finish the question.
It’s weird what he’s doing with the – it’s like, bro, have some self-awareness about yourself. And, like, this is the same game where you committed some of the worst fouls – I want to say nine out of the ten worst fouls I saw committed in the playoffs this year were committed by Karl-Anthony Towns.
“The other one has to be the Draymond one on Luka 94 feet away from the hoop,” joked Russillo.
“Exactly,” said Wos, laughing.
And so it’s like, you can’t be this obviously not very cerebral guy on the court, while also being the guy who blows kisses at a crowd to a team that eventually beats you. It’s just a weird thing.
I’m more critical of Towns because I’m just like, ‘Man, can you build a championship defense with this guy as your center? And if what he does is most valuable on offense, it’s less valuable if he’s playing the 4.
So, like, those are the two things that are hard for me to square. I love, obviously, what he – like, when he’s his ideal self on offense, like, the quick-ass release on threes at volume, with efficiency. And every now and again being actually one of the few bigs who can punish a switch down low. I think those combinations are extremely valuable.
I think the guy that he plays next to, Anthony Edwards, like having a center who can space all the way out there, and they can’t really put a really small guy on him, like a really small guy – you could probably get away with certain bigger types of wings, but like, a really small guy can’t guard him – that opens up so much for Anthony Edwards to drive-kick.
So Minnesota’s most important piece, Karl-Anthony Towns is really valuable next to him. He’s extremely complementary to what Edwards does. But, like, is he a championship player?
“It doesn’t feel like it,” said Russillo, butting in. “The easy answer is no on that one.
He’s really good. He’s really good. He can score, for a big man who can shoot, all those things. But for all the social media stuff, to be totally fair to him, the guy’s had a really rough go of it personally for a long time. So, I don’t know if that plays into any of it, I just want to make sure that I’m being fair to the guy.
I like him, but I think I’m never going to get that excited about it. Whatever his approval rating is, I think on the voting stuff, it’s a little higher than it should be, but I also think that it’s way more positionally based, his success on some of the resume stuff than it is the actual player in comparison to some of the other guys in the league.
Like, I don’t think I’m ever going to be saying, ‘Hey, is Karl-Anthony Towns a top-15 player in the league?’ I can ask the question, I don’t think I’ll ever be answering it, ‘Yes.’
“I know I’ll never be saying that,” said Wos, laughing.
To be fair, Towns is the prototypical center in today’s league. He’s also a great complement to Edwards on the court. Maybe Edwards’ natural charisma and charm offset some of Towns’ weirdness? I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder.
But Russillo and Lambre’s opinions on Towns’ “weirdness” aren’t coming from out of left field. He argues with the referees a lot, even when he commits obvious fouls. He wore a “Lover’s Hotline” hat to a post-game press conference, with a live phone number on it. He also tried trolling the Grizzlies in the playoffs, only to have it backfire.
Towns is a unicorn on the court, but he may not be fully appreciated because of some of his atypical behavior off of it.