On May 19th, 2015, The New York Knicks nightmare season somehow got worse. After winning two of their last three irrelevant games (including one against the 50-win Hawks), the Knicks chances of getting the first pick dropped from 25% to 19%. This resulted in them getting the fourth pick instead of the first, which the Minnesota Timberwolves ended up receiving.
On draft night, the Timberwolves started off with the pick of Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns. When the Knicks were on the clock, they ended up taking the son of God himself, Kristaps Porzingis. Although the initial selection caused a child to cry, the pick turned out to be the right one, a rarity for the Knicks.
The debate has been ramping ever since, who is better: Towns or Porzingis? Taking into consideration that the two of them were drafted in the same class, these two will continue to be compared for their careers. Some may throw in Jahlil Okafor, who even makes driving 108 MPH look slow, and DeAngelo Russell, who is realizing how much it stinks to have an awful boss, into this debate but for now, it’s between Porzingis vs. Towns.
Let’s look first at each player’s offensive output. Through 56 games, Porzingis’ eFG is 47.1%, while Towns, through 56 games as well, is boasting a 54.1%. The numbers may be slightly skewed because Porzingis is attempting 3.2 three-point attempts a game and converting 34.4% of them, while Towns is only attempting 0.9 3PA per game, converting 35% of them. On the boards, Towns has a 10.8 oRB% opposed to Porzingis’ oRB percentage, which is only 8%. This makes sense considering Towns, at 6’11” and 250 pounds, is bigger than Porzingis, 240 pounds at 7’3”. Currently, Towns is superior to Porzingis on the offensive side of the ball. The two of them are different players: Porzingis operates a lot outside of the paint and stretches the floor, which is huge in the current NBA. Towns is the perfect mix of an old school bruiser and modern day big man, as he excels in the paint but can also shoot the three ball.
On the defensive side of the ball, the narrative of Towns over Porzingis continues. Porzingis’ current 21.7 dRB% is nothing compared to Towns beyond impressive dRB% of 27.8, ranking him 12th in the league. Both average just over one block per game. Where Porzingis does have an edge on Towns is in protecting the rim. Against 1500 shots, Porzingis is only allowing a 46.7 field goal percentage on shots at the rim, while Towns has faced 1627 attempts at the rim and allowed a field goal percentage of 47.5. Towns was regarded as the much better defensive player on draft night, and that assumption has proven to be true, but the gap is much closer than most people thought.
Both players impact the game on both sides of the ball, but what do the overall numbers say? According to ESPN, Towns has a player of efficiency rating (PER) of 22.90, which ranks him 13th league wide. Porzingis currently ranks 60th with a PER of 18.21. When looking at estimated wins added (the NBA’s WAR), Towns is tied at 12th with 10.3 wins contributed and Porzingis adds 5.3 wins, ranking him 56th.
It is apparent that Towns is Porzingis’ superior if you were to look at the advanced statistics through their first 56 games. These stats are what is great about the advanced analytics era: you can compare two players in ways that would not have been possible 10 years ago. But analytics, just like anything, have their flaws and do not tell the whole story. There is no way to quantify Porzingis’ impact on a depleted Knicks franchise. Porzingis brings hope to the Knicks organization and their fans. He is a rainbow after a long thunderstorm at MSG. These two budding superstars have only played around three quarters of their season and have a lot of room to grow. To assume that Karl-Anthony Towns will be better than Kristaps Porzingis over a ten year span is unfair, but if you were to make that prediction right now, it would not be a bad one.