Towns enters this game on an absolute tear. In his eight games since the All-Star break, he’s averaging 35 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.4 blocks, with a ridiculous .696 True Shooting Percentage (TS%).
And according to his average Game Score, Towns has actually been slightly better against the Jazz than he has against the rest of the league over the last two seasons.
- Towns vs. the Jazz: 22.9 PTS, 20.8 Game Score, .727 TS%
- Towns vs. the entire NBA: 22.7 PTS, 19.9 Game Score, .638 TS%
Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors will have the task of slowing Towns down. And if they can pull it off, Minnesota will be in trouble.
In that same post-All-Star stretch, the Wolves’ next three players in average Game Score—Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague—combine to average just over what Towns is providing by himself. And Teague and Rose are both nursing injuries.
Of course, the game will be about more than just slowing down Minnesota’s All-Star center, though. Utah has its own rising star that’s been decent of late.
Since January 1, Donovan Mitchell is averaging 27.3 points, 4.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals, while shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from three.
Compare that to Stephen Curry over the same timeframe: 27.1 points, 5.2 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals, while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 41 percent from three.
Curry has a lead of nearly eight points in TS%, and his plus-minus is comfortably better too, even in what’s a “down” stretch for him. I’m not saying Mitchell is suddenly Curry, but his production over the last few months has been absurd for a second-year player. And with Minnesota’s best perimeter defender (Robert Covington) out, Minnesota could struggle to contain Mitchell.
Beyond those obvious subplots lies the Utah Jazz point guard conundrum. The team hasn’t had all three (Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto and Dante Exum) healthy for many games this season. But that was the case on Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns.
Rubio predictably started and didn’t do anything out of the ordinary for him. After that, coach Quin Snyder elected to play both backups in some kind of a prove-it fashion, and reserved his quick hook for Exum (who’s probably accustom to it due to the last three years).
That’s not to take away from Neto, though. Despite being 0-of-3 from the field, he had five assists and was plus-nine in 11 minutes. He was objectively better than Exum in that game.
But, and I know you’ve heard this before, it has to be hard for Exum to find any kind of rhythm when he’s the only player on the team on a “one, maybe two, strikes and you’re out” policy.
In his last month before he injured his ankle, Exum was averaging 19.2 points and 8.4 assists per 36 minutes, with a .603 TS% and a plus-14.5 Net Rating.
He was starting to look exactly like the kind of player national analysts have been clamoring for the Jazz to have alongside Mitchell.
From here to the end of the season, it will be interesting to see if Snyder will continue to handle him the way he has the last three seasons. Or, if he’ll allow the young guard to start playing through some mistakes.
When: Thursday, March 14, 2019, 7 p.m. MT
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena • Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T Sports Net
Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone
Karl-Anthony Towns - Knee - Game-time decision
Andrew Wiggins - Thigh - Game-time decision
Luol Deng - Achilles - Out
Derrick Rose - Elbow - Game-time decision
Jeff Teague - Foot - Game-time decision
Robert Covington - Knee - Out