I try not to insult other writers, as I get paid to write, too. But ESPN Insider writer Jeremias Engelmann, who helped create the stat Real Plus-Minus, has gone too far on this one.
Earlier this week, Engelmann wrote an article about Denver’s Nikola Jokic deserving the Rookie of the Year award over New York’s Kristaps Porzingis and, more importantly, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns.
This is what happens when a writer focuses too much on advanced statistics and not enough time watching basketball.
Jokic is a fine rookie. He has had an impressive season. He is efficient. His Player Efficiency Rating is a stellar 21.9, and he averages 10 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. However, he plays just 21 minutes per game. Any player can be efficient when he isn’t even playing half of the game. It’s like taking a road trip and driving 55 miles per hour so you can get the best gas mileage.
If you want to decide an award over basketball analytics, well, that’s not how it’s done. Here is in what categories Towns beats Jokic:
Points: Towns — 1,314; Jokic — 713
Rebounds: Towns — 741; Jokic — 467
Blocks: Towns — 124; Jokic — 42
Field Goals Made: Towns — 546; Jokic — 274
Field Goal Percentage: Towns — 54.9; Jokic — 51.3
Free-Throw Percentage: Towns — 81.9; Jokic — 80.6
Player Efficiency Rating: Towns — 22.8; Jokic – 21.9
Double-Doubles: Towns — 43; Jokic — 14
Towns dominated the first meeting between the two players on Oct. 30. He finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks in 33 minutes. Jokic had a modest 10 points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes.
On Dec. 11, Jokic got the best of Towns, finishing with 19 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Towns was held in-check — 14 points, nine rebounds, three blocks, and two steals.
A few days later, Towns scored 18 points to Jokic’s six points, as both players didn’t do much else.
In the last matchup, Towns finished with a 14-14 game and Jokic scored four points.
Towns has a higher usage rate (24.8 percent) to Jokic’s 20.8, but Towns has been far and away a better player than him this season. Towns nearly has as many 30-point games (four) than Jokic does 20-point games (five).
Minnesota’s offensive rating with Towns on the floor is 108.5. When he is off the floor, the rating drops to 103.3. The 5.5 difference is bigger than Jokic’s (5.1). When Towns is off the floor, defenses block 2.9 percent more of the Timberwolves’ shots. In turn, when he is on the floor, a defense’s block percentage is just 7.1. Jokic only has a .2 percent difference in that category when he is off the floor.
I could spit out other advanced statistics, but the ones I even mentioned don’t mean much to me. The eye-test does mean something. I have seen just about every single game Towns has played, and he is the best rookie the NBA has seen in a long time. Does he have flaws? Of course he does. Does he always make the right play? No, he doesn’t. Has he gotten much better since the year began? Yes.
He has had plenty of big games against good teams. He has shot below 50 percent from the field in just 20 of 72 games, and below 40 percent seven times. Jokic? Fifteen times, with 26 games below 50 percent.
Clearly, Towns is a bigger part of the offense and when that happens, a player is not going to be as efficient because mistakes are more likely to happen. Despite that, Towns has made up for it by blocking shots, grabbing rebounds, and now he is starting to find the open man more consistently.
Since the All-Star break, Towns is averaging 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.4 blocks during 36 minutes of action in 18 games.
Jokic is averaging 11.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.1 steals during 23.3 minutes of action in 19 games.
Towns’ midrange game is exceptional. He has converted on 173 of 340 shots for 46.8 percent, while Jokic’s shots mostly come in the paint (72 percent) and that’s where from 77.7 percent of his makes come.
I could go on, but I feel I have bored you enough with a debate that was settled back in January. Towns is head and shoulders above the rest of the rookie class, and is already challenging proven NBA bigs and making people wonder who is better.