PHILADELPHIA — If you sort the NBA's foul statistics from most to least, Utah's Kelly Olynyk is the runaway leader with 70. That makes him No. 460 in the league when it comes to committing the fewest fouls. Just behind him, tied for 458th, are a pair of Timberwolves — Jaden McDaniels and Karl-Anthony Towns, with 57 each.
Their high foul totals are one reason why the Wolves are committing the same number of fouls they were a season ago — 21.8 per game. That number ranked 29th last season and is 23rd this season.
Both McDaniels and Towns have their own distinct challenges when it comes to fouling less. For Towns, the task is to reduce the number of offensive fouls he commits. This is especially true when he is setting screens and takes players off the dribble. The latter quality allows him to take advantage of mismatches, which he did in Wednesday's win over Orlando in scoring 30 points.
"It's hard. I'm an aggressive driver," Towns said. "I know it's very difficult for the league to see someone at my size moving that way going downhill with the kind of force and slipperiness. I understand it's a little difficult how to understand how to make calls. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing and hope the tape is being watched and keep getting the correct calls made."
Towns isn't shy about making his disappointment known when he doesn't get calls. That's something coach Chris Finch said the team addressed with Towns earlier this season, and he has seen an improvement in how Towns vents his frustration.
"I think he's doing a much better job with his reactions and handling what's going on in the game," Finch said.
Added Towns: "I never expected to get them. I think that's the misconception. If you see me say something, I don't expect to get them. I haven't gotten them in eight years. I'm just having fun playing the game … just move onto the next play."
Despite his propensity for committing offensive fouls. Towns still draws fouls at a high rate. He is in the 84th percentile among centers in drawing non-shooting fouls and 54th percentile in drawing shooting fouls, according to the statistical website Cleaning the Glass.
McDaniels, the Wolves' best one-on-one defender, is still getting a feel for how to maintain his aggressive edge on defense while not fouling as much. He is in just the fifth percentile in committing fouls among all forwards, per Cleaning the Glass.
So his high volume of fouls isn't just a product of his heavy minutes; he's still committing fouls with a high frequency. There was a moment in Sunday's game against Cleveland when McDaniels knew he was about to commit a foul on Kevin Love, who was shooting a three-pointer. Despite his attempt to pull up at the last second, McDaniels still fouled Love, who sank the three. McDaniels ended up fouling out of that game.
"It was hard to stop," McDaniels said of that play. "I tried to avoid him. I should've just probably ran past and contested without the foul. Just should have contested to the side."
Contesting shots is one area in which McDaniels can commit fewer fouls. The other is guarding the ball. He has tried to play less with his hands because he knows officials are looking for reaches and slaps.
"Those would give me easy quick fouls," McDaniels said.
Finch said the team has also worked with McDaniels on pressuring the ball far from the basket but emphasizing the need to not foul in those situations. McDaniels is trying to balance that with how he normally defends players with the ball. That's something he won't change.
"Even when I have like four or five fouls, it doesn't change the way I play defense," McDaniels said. "Because if I do that, I feel like, as good at defense as I am, I'm not being as aggressive a defender. It's just being more aware."