In the lead up to the NBA Draft on June 25th, we will look at several prospects who might be available when the Lakers make their selections. We have already looked at potential prospects for the team’s later picks, but today we zoom up to the top of the draft with a look at Karl Anthony Towns.
The draft lottery offered a wild swing of emotions I will not soon forget. In an instant I went from nervous wreck to jubilation. Franchises can be turned around when lottery luck shines on them just right. The Lakers, of course, hope they will be next to reap the benefits of said shining.
Things are and are not that simple, of course. The Lakers are ensured an ability to draft any but one player available in the draft; they will have any choice, but the one the Timberwolves take with the #1 overall selection. Rumors will swirl between now and draft night who Minnesota will take, but ask many fans in the Twin Cities area (and beyond) and they will tell you who the choice should be: Karl Anthony Towns, of course.
The six foot, ten inch big man who led his team to the Final Four in his lone college season is seen as a sure thing. And if you polled those who cheer for the Lakers, they’d tell you that is also who they want.
The reasons here are pretty clear. Towns is a fantastic prospect who offers a combination of size and skill not often seen. As a freshman at Kentucky he showed off an ability to carry the Wildcats’ offense for long (and key) stretches, helping to secure several wins in close games that preserved their undefeated regular season. He showed off a highly effective power post-up game that centered on jump hooks over his left shoulder via strong drop steps. He also was able to work the offensive glass effectively, using quick jumps and his long arms to secure caroms and then finish in traffic with power.
And then, of course, there is his defense. He possesses quick feet, both in terms of being able to slide with a ball-handler and when leaving the ground to challenge shots. He has excellent timing as a shot blocker and uses his length well to not only wipe away opponents’ attempts, but to deter them entirely.
As an NBA defender, it is not hard to envision him hedging out on a pick and roll and staying with a guard trying to turn the corner. It is also not hard to see him having the ability to hedge, recover, and then either challenge shots at the rim (on a ball handler or via the dive man) or go into secondary rotations if the ball is whipped around the court. His athleticism is that good. And while every young big man will struggle with the nuance of being a back line and secondary help defender when making the leap from college to the pros, Towns seems to possess the awareness and smarts to develop into a top notch difference maker on that end.
But wait, there’s more. As we saw with Julius Randle (and Anthony Davis before him), John Calipari does not always put his big men in positions to show off their complete offensive skill sets in game situations. Towns was mostly used as a power player in the post or as a dive man out of the pick and roll. But, as a recruit out of high school and, via highlights from a handful of his UK games, Towns showed can be more than that offensively. In a recent workout in Los Angeles, he showed how much more by flashing a nice jumper and more developed handle than I’d imagined:
After seeing that clip as well as this one from Chad Ford, I shared my first thoughts on twitter:
Towns' workout clips are…quite impressive. Also has me thinking his long term position may be a combo PF/C. Like LMA but w/ more defense.
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) June 2, 2015
Towns’ jumper isn’t as smooth as LaMarcus Aldridge’s (or even Anthony Davis’). And his post game may not be as refined as Jahlil Okafor’s. And, at this young age, he’s not going to have the defensive impact of a guy like Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, or Joakim Noah. But the fact his game, at its peak and when fully formed, can conjure images of those players speaks to why he is so coveted as a prospect.
When building a team, you want as many two-way players as possible. And Towns offers the potential to be excellent on both sides. As with any prospect as young as he is, there will be questions if he ever gets there. And, as implied in my twitter comment above, I am not yet sure if his best long term position will be at Center full time or if he will be best suited splitting time between both the big front court positions. But this is no indictment. Possessing this versatility and an ability to play from out at the three point line to the front of the rim is exactly what you would want from a big man in any era, not just the more three-point-happy, stretch-big movement we are seeing in today’s league.
All the desire in the world, though, won’t make him available. That decision will be made, mostly, by what the Timberwolves do with the #1 overall selection. And while there are rumors they prefer Okafor (or even D’Angelo Russell), I interpret that more as pre-draft posturing than anything else.
However, should the Lakers end up with Towns, I would be thrilled. He is the player I would want most from this draft. This takes nothing away from the other prospects (whose excellent skill sets I will look at another time), but the complete package and the room for growth is evident. And that is enough for me.