Minnesota Timberwolves: Towns or Okafor?

The Timberwolves will ultimately have to decide between Karl-Anthony Towns, and Jahlil Okafor. (Picture courtesy of BleacherReport.com)

The Minnesota Timberwolves have not made the playoffs since 2004. In a league where 16 of 30 teams make the playoffs, the Timberwolves have failed to be one of those 16 teams for 11 straight seasons. In that time, Minnesota has been one of the worst teams in the NBA, finishing with one of the six worst records seven times, and the worst record twice. This is the first time in the franchise’s history that they won the rights to the number one overall pick. This pick must be about ending that playoff drought by the 2016-17 season; the Timberwolves need to hit a homerun here. Opportunities like the first pick in the draft do not come around often, and teams that miss on the first pick often set their franchises back at least several years.

Ultimately, there are 5 guys that the Timberwolves are considering: Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Kristaps Porzingis. That said, the consensus top player in the draft is Towns, and his skill set fits an exact need for the Timberwolves. While Porzingis and Okafor are also big men, Towns has all the tools necessary to not only be a fantastic fit for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but also to become a perennial All-Star and an All-NBA level defender. Russell and Mudiay are both great players with potentially fantastic NBA careers ahead of them, but the Timberwolves need a blue-chip big man. Since losing Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves have had two All-Star big men in Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. Neither of them, however, will be remembered for their contributions on the defensive end. Kevin Garnett was the defensive leader for the Timberwolves, even though he put up better numbers than both Love and Jefferson. With Garnett’s presence back in Minnesota, he is ready to mentor the number one pick into the defensive stalwart that he once was.

Though the Wolves are considering five different guys for the top pick, it really comes down to Okafor and Towns. Those two are projected to be franchise big men for the teams they go to. The Timberwolves must draft one of these two young men. Andrew Wiggins is a phenomenal wing prospect, and Zach LaVine showed promise in his rookie year as well. A big man is needed to complement those two players, as well as the rest of the roster. Let’s take a look at how both of these players would fit with the Timberwolves, and what their respective strengths and weaknesses are.

Okafor thrives in the low post (Photo courtesy of heraldsun.com).

Jahlil Okafor

Strengths: post-offense, passing, high basketball IQ, work ethic, great size, impeccable footwork and enormous hands

Weaknesses: lack of athleticism, not fast or laterally quick, not a shot blocker, shows lack of effort on defense, poor free throw shooting

Those of us from Wisconsin are all too familiar with Jahlil Okafor. He was the top player on probably every draft board in September and October. Since then, even though his team won a National Championship, he has seemingly lost his grip on the number one spot to Towns. What Okafor brings to a team is a phenomenal low-post presence that can score, pass, make put-backs, and dribble out of double teams. On the defensive end however, Okafor leaves a lot to be desired. I watched Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers get Okafor in to foul trouble in the National Championship, almost completely negating his impact on the game. Okafor is not particularly athletic, and he struggles defending through pick and rolls, which are an important part of modern NBA offenses. While he has the strength to compete in the low-post on both ends of the court, Okafor seems to lack effort on the defensive end. Jahlil is much more enticed by offensive success, rather than defensive prowess.

Jahlil fits a need for the Timberwolves in that they need a big man. Even though Okafor’s strengths can benefit the Timberwolves and improve them on the offensive end of the court, Okafor lacks many traits that the Wolves are in a much higher need for. The Timberwolves need an athletic, floor-stretching big man, one who can block shots, and play with energy and passion on defense. Okafor fails to bring any of those qualities to the table.

I project Okafor to be an All-NBA caliber offensive big man. While my comments above are rather negative, Okafor can be a great NBA player. He is strong, skilled, smart, and incredibly hard working. He is physically capable of being a great NBA big man, but the challenge for Okafor will be buying in on defense. If I have the number one overall pick, I don’t want to convince someone to play defense. I want a player that takes pride on that end of the court, and spends energy preventing the other team from scoring. The Timberwolves were a horrendously bad defensive team last year; taking Jahlil Okafor with the number one pick is not going to improve that.

Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns (12) blockes the shot of Boston University's Eric Fanning on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. (Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
Karl-Anthony Towns blocking a shot, something he did a lot of at Kentucky (Photo courtesy of Getty Images).

Karl-Anthony Towns

Strengths: rebounding, shooting, passing, high basketball IQ, work ethic, athleticism, shot blocking, free throw shooting, great size, and ball-handling

Weaknesses: gets into foul trouble, questions about his conditioning, needs to add strength, underdeveloped low-post game

Towns has fewer weaknesses than Okafor, making him a very well-rounded prospect. Jahlil has very defined strengths and weaknesses, which makes it way easier to project him as an NBA player. Towns is different in the sense that he has a lot of things he does really well and very few things he does poorly. His best strengths are his shot blocking, rebounding and his insane athleticism. Towns will be a great rebounder and shot-blocker in the NBA. He also has shown NBA three-point range, nailing 11 of 13 in a pre-draft practice, which was recorded on video and subsequently has gone viral. Towns is still 19 years old and can physically do anything you ask of him. Throughout the season at Kentucky, Towns showed a more developed post offense than scouts and GMs had expected.

Towns is a picture-perfect fit for the Timberwolves. They need someone who can flexibly slide between power forward and center, stretch the floor, protect the rim, defend, and rebound. Towns is phenomenal at all of those things. Flip Saunders is also notoriously infatuated with athleticism, and Towns is one of the most athletic 6’11”, 250-pound prospects the NBA has ever seen. Towns is no Blake Griffin, but he can run the floor well, jump out of the ceiling (not that he needs to with a 7’4” wingspan), and do whatever you would athletically need a power forward or center to do. Imagine how frightening it would be to defend a fast break with Ricky Rubio, LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns trailing.

The Timberwolves need Karl-Anthony Towns. He has everything they could possibly be looking for as a number one pick, a big man, and a fit with the rest of the team. Towns would be a phenomenal running mate for Wiggins, and would also complement LaVine, Shabazz Muhammed, Gorgui Dieng, Rubio, Adreian Payne and the rest of the under-25 talent the Timberwolves have. I have watched the Timberwolves struggle to put a team together over the last 11 years. Right now, they have the rookie of the year in Wiggins, and they need to pair him with a dominant big man. That man is Karl-Anthony Towns.

Who are the ‘Wolves going to take?

This question frightens me. As I have clearly laid out above, the Timberwolves have an easy decision to make. Taking Towns over the other four players should not be that difficult of a decision. That being said, many reports state that Flip is in love with Jahlil Okafor. There have also been reports that Saunders likes both Russell and Mudiay as well. ESPN Insider Chad Ford seems to think that Flip is leaning towards Okafor, while the rest of the staff view Towns as the clear number one pick. Only time will tell who Flip decides he wants. If I had to guess, Flip is too smart of a basketball mind to not see the way Towns can impact this team. Okafor is a great prospect, but someone who will struggle on the defensive end. If the Timberwolves do end up taking Towns, I think they are going to be taking a step in the right direction; a step towards making the playoffs. I’ve waited 11 years for a playoff berth so I know I will have to keep waiting this upcoming season. But if the Timberwolves draft Towns, watch out for this team in a few years.

In the meantime, enjoy what we already have. GO WOLVES!


The Bounce Brothers

Warning: Video has strong language

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