In an NBA awards season filled with unanimity, another obvious choice received what he was due on Monday. Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns is the 2015-16 NBA Rookie of the Year, earning every first place vote available.
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Some 130 of them, in fact, becoming the fifth NBA player to take in every single top Rookie of the Year nod. Damian Lillard (in 2012-13), Blake Griffin (2010-11), David Robinson (1989-90), and Ralph Sampson (1983-84) also earned that impressive designation.
Not only was the 20-year old Kentucky one-and-done’r the league’s best rookie by a wide margin (in a very good rookie class), he was a borderline All-Star even while playing for a Timberwolves team that failed to crack the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season.
Towns played in and started each of his team’s 82 games and averaged 18.3 points. He contributed 10.7 rebounds, a pair of assists and 1.7 blocks in 32 minutes a night. Even as a 7-foot rookie playing in a league that is trending smaller and smaller, Towns turned the ball over just 2.2 times per game, while only fouling three times a night on average.
Karl-Anthony also did his part in contributing to Minnesota’s 13-win improvement in 2015-16. Moving up to 29 wins might not seem like a whole heck of a lot, but for a team consisting mostly of too-young talent, playing in the wake of coach and president Flip Saunders’ shocking and sudden passing (following a bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma) prior to the season, the 20-year old served as quite the steady presence.
New York’s Kristaps Porzingis finished second in the voting, as expected, taking in 117 of 130 second place votes following a sterling rookie year that saw him act as the team’s best rookie prospect since Mark Jackson took the 1987-88 Rookie of the Year, and the team’s most impressive rookie stud since Patrick Ewing debuted in 1985. Porzingis, who entered the league at just 19, averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 28 minutes a contest
Denver’s Nikola Jokic, a second-round pick from 2014, burst onto the scene as an entertaining watch and sneakily efficient performer for another middling Nuggets team. The big man came in third in the voting, garnering seven second place votes and the second-most third place mentions. Working 21.5 minutes a night, Jokic averaged 10 points with seven rebounds and two assists and a steal. His Player Efficiency Rating was just a notch below Karl-Anthony Towns’ mark.
Phoenix guard Devin Booker took in the most third place votes and finished fourth following a season that saw the 19-year old (because one-and-done players are clueless, right?) average 13.8 points in only 27.7 minutes a game. Booker’s minutes were scarce to start a season that cost former coach Jeff Hornacek his job, but with his veteran teammates falling by the wayside the teenager acted as a calming influence as the season wore on.
Philadelphia big man Jahlil Okafor finished his disappointing season with three second place votes and the fifth ranking in this rookie race, while Miami forward and sometimes-center Justise Winslow finished sixth after grabbing seven third place votes.
Denver’s Emmanual Mudiay, Indiana’s Myles Turner, and Los Angeles Laker D’Angelo Russell all surprisingly received third place votes, and they rounded out the top nine.
In the end, it was Towns that contributed a startlingly-great rookie year with per-minute and efficiency stats that harkened back to Shaquille O’Neal’s first turn around the league in 1992-93.
Karl-Anthony won’t exactly rank as the next Shaq, but that’s not the point. In a league that often sees 7-footers acting as millstones on both sides of the ball, as the NBA’s action grows swifter and often smaller, Towns proved (even as a 20-year old) that he could not only keep up, but dominate with an enticing series of gifts.
Minnesota has another great one to both develop and line up behind. They should be more than giddy about that.
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