Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor? An Analysis.

As a 26 year Timberwolves season ticket holder, I know their capability to fuck up a one car parade.  So, to figure out what exactly is keeping the Wolves from just saying "We are picking this guy: [fill in the blank]" I actually sat and watched 8 minutes of Karl-Anthony Towns' highlight reel footage.  (As will be explained later, I have no need to watch Jahlil Okafor footage).  This is my resulting analysis.

Karl Anthony Towns: 
I think the thing that surprises me from watching the footage is that Towns isn’t really that explosive.  You don’t see him turning on guys and dunking on them or beating everyone down the floor and dunking.   Most of his dunks are uncontested or come off alley-oops where he is 6 inches above the rim. 

I have heard an Al Horford comparison, and that appears to me to be a good one,  Solid, hard worker, strong, good on both ends.  I would add as a possible comparison -- Rasheed Wallace.

One thing I saw that I really liked is that Towns seems to know how to correctly and efficiently perform every aspect of the game (catch, dribble, pass, fake, shoot, footwork).  I think his greatest skill is probably his shot blocking.  His timing is impeccable;  he gets the ball early and he always seems to be in the right spot.  Towns can guard on the perimeter, and he can guard down low. 
Towns seems to be a bit top heavy, and his leaner lower body is a plus while moving in the open court, but he can be pushed off his spot down low. 

Jahlil Okafor:
I am a big Duke fan, so I have watched Okafor play on TV a lot.  Jah will certainly wow you with his size and power.  His dunks are often 12-18 inches above the rim and extremely powerful.  He is tougher inside on offense and certainly heavier and stronger than Towns.  He has explosive spin moves and a whole variety of ways to score.  You will not move Okafor off the block on offense or back him under the basket on defense.  He is a mammoth man, broad through the shoulders and chest and seems even bigger from the waist to the knees.
Okafor, however, has gaping holes in his game and when double teamed is not a very effective offensive player.  Defensively he has the ability to be an average post defender, since he is big and has long arms and won’t get pushed under the basket.  But he lacks lateral quickness and does not move his feet well to cut off dribble penetration.  (Note here the comparison to Towns -- Towns can be moved around a little due to his lack of lower body bulk, but all of Okafor's bulk slows him down and reduces his lateral quickness). 
Okafor is terrible as a pick and roll defender and (worst of all) his effort defensively is awful.   On run-out opportunities with a chance for Duke to score, Okafor would often be the 3rd guy down the court for Duke, resulting in some scary dunks in transition.  But on defense talented offensive teams could just torch Duke because Duke had two 6’1” guards back on the break and Okafor jogging behind 40 feet behind the fast break.  I watched at least 20 Duke games on TV;  I never saw Okafor bust his ass back on defense to stop a break or chase a guy down for a block.  Never.  So that is around 600 minutes of play and he had 0 such efforts.  That is embarrassing.  Any team that selects Okafor will have to have a long talk with the kid and say, "Look at this defensive footage -- can you possibly explain this?  Are you just extremely slow in only one direction, or do you not give a damn about defense?"
Okafor, however, has a skill set that is very valuable in the NBA regular season – he kills bad teams.  If Duke played a bad team, Okafor would go 20-10 or even 20-20 and shoot 80% from the floor.  He likes to score, and he does not let up or grow tired of scoring against weaker opponents. 
My Conclusion

Knowing what I know today, I would take Towns #1.  But I am disappointed that his highlights don’t show a guy who is a Dwight Howard type of athlete.  But if he can go 18-11 with 2-3 blocks a game and anchor the defense, that is a very valuable guy to have.

I hear rumors that Flip really likes Okafor's upside.  He is certainly the far more explosive force, but you would really have to bet on substantial improvement in roughly 60% of the game (defense, defensive transition, free throw shooting would need to go from 50% to 70%).    There are certain players that are so raw and strong that you know they have further improvement in them.  I don't see Jah, who has been the best player in his class since 3rd grade, as "raw" or with huge upside potential.  That said - no one in the world could be less interested in playing defense than Blake Griffin was as a rookie, and he has progressed to the point where he is passable.  So, miracles do happen..  

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