I was searching for an angle to compare these two players. I wanted to compare their ability to mix it up in the post. I wanted to compare their situational rebounding. I wanted to compare size. The truth is, it is unfair to compare these players as if everything is equal. It is not. These two big men mark decidedly different philosophies in the NBA.
Okafor is the old school throwback. He compares favorably on offense to a Tim Duncan, a guy who can back down and dominate anyone, and also a guy who can hit cutters and open men at weird angles thanks to a great court vision for a big man. However, he is going to be planted in the paint and take up a lot of room. If you want to play modern NBA ball you can’t have a guy sitting in the paint taking up room for your drive and dish guys. On the flip side, this model can still work. The Memphis Grizzlies have two big men who can’t operate past mid range. It’s all about scheme and commitment.
Karl-Anthony Towns represents everything about this new NBA model. A big, fast, and rangy versatile defender. He can stay back in the paint and erase mistakes if that’s what you need him to. He can switch effortlessly on pick and rolls, blowing up plays and making the ball handler make split decisions that can lead to turnovers. You can ask him to step out on the perimeter, a great asset in a league with more and more perimeter big men. He can supposedly shoot 3’s, but everyone says that. He has shown he can stretch the floor out to at least the long 2 range. But, if he is going to make a living on offense with that style, he needs to hit at a Lamarcus Aldridge rate, and he is a long way from that.
Two different big men, two different philosophies. We simply can’t compare the two straight up. It doesn’t work. We can look at individual strengths and weaknesses and evaluate what situation they can thrive in. There are risks with this. If the guy isn’t up for being the focal point of your philosophy, you could be set back. So, lets take a look at each player and see what they bring to the table.
We can’t have a conversation about Towns without starting with defense. He is quite a monster on that end. During his lone season at Kentucky he had defensive rating of 82.4, which would have been good for 11th all time. Anthony Davis had a defensive rating of 80.3 (3rd all time best). So we can see his is in great company. Take a peek at his block percentage, and he blocks a solid 11% of 2 point shots attempted while he is on the floor. With his long arms and super quick feet, he can recover on swat shots from almost anywhere on the floor.
This video should make any scout very happy. It is a wonderful display of all of his defensive talents. We see him challenging one on one shots at the rim. We see him swarming a driving player. We see him coming over on help defense to swallow the man whole. We even see him step out to the perimeter to block a shot. Simply put, if you are taking Towns, this is the first strength you are pointing to. He is a monster on defense and should step into the league as a good defensive big on the first day, with potential for defensive player of the year status.
Another good part of Towns’ game is rebounding. Considering he shared the court with another big man at all times, his 18.5 total rebounding percentage is impressive. He relies too much on athleticism right now. If he can learn technique to go with his athleticism, we could see a 12-14 RPG player.
Probably my favorite part of Towns is his FT%. He shoots an incendiary 81.3% while getting to the line 10.2 times per 100 possessions. This is how he is going to get the majority of his offense on the pro level. He is going to catch balls out of the pick and roll and use his athleticism to attack the rim. He is either going to dunk it or he is going to get fouled. Imagine how DeAndre Jordan gets his, except Towns will punish those who foul him. Opposing big men will get frustrated with him very quickly. A comparison I don’t see made on the offensive end is Blake Griffin. Blake attacks the rim out of pick and rolls with ferociousness and can play the mid range game very well. This is an absolute best case scenario. This is why people will want to draft him. He has a potential to be a superstar defensive player with Blake Griffin offensive skills.
This is what we can expect to see a lot of from his offense.
You know that Blake Griffin comparison I just made? Yeah, that is a scenario that most likely won’t happen. While Towns can hit midrange shots, it is not his bread and butter. It will require a lot of work on his end to become proficient at setting a screen, sagging off, catching, and releasing a perfect shot all within a 2 second span. I don’t know if he has that in him right now. His offensive game is too much athleticism. Most of his mid range shots were wide open in college. That ain’t happening at the NBA level.
His low post game worries me, as well. While I think it would be dumb to make him a low post player, he will have times where he needs to bang in the paint. He has one move, a baby hook. It worked against smaller players in the weak SEC, it will take first steps and counter moves for it to be effective in the NBA. If he wants room to operate a mid range game, he needs to prove he can punish you in the paint. Quite frankly, a low post game isn’t there and is mainly predicated on athleticism.
He doesn’t have quite the ball handling to take people off of the dribble, and I honestly never see him developing one. That’s a huge reason why the Blake Griffin comp may never come to fruition. Griffin can handle the ball full court and hit open men in full stride. You probably don’t want towns initiating your offense. Towns is actually a good passer for a big man. He is best a low post dump offs when his men is stuck in the air. These probably won’t be there in the NBA, but at least it is a skill he has. Passing around the rim is always welcomed.
I don’t view Towns as a go-to man. I may not even view him as a #2 option. I think his offense can be great, but a lot of things have to hit just right for all of it to fall into place. I know I keep mentioning Clippers players, but I see him more as a DeAndre Jordan with a decent jumper. Remember, the Griffin scenario is a best case. This isn’t a bad thing. If he is a stud at one end, but a slightly above average at the other end, you still have a damn good player. What if Towns winds up being just a good defensive player and an athletic but inefficient offensive player? Well, the #1 pick status starts to look a little fuzzy. Towns probably falls decidedly somewhere in between. I think his money is going to be made on the defensive end a lot more than the offensive.
Where Does He Fit Best
Giving the strengths and weaknesses, I think the Timberwolves would be idiots to pass on him. Okafor would require everyone to change styles, and the style the Timberwolves want to play is fast paced and uber athletic. This is the role Towns was born to play.
Having a great passing point guard is probably the most beneficial thing to Towns’ game and development. A Rubio/Towns pick and roll game will ensure he is getting his touches in the best possible places for him. He can learn the ins and outs of his offensive game perfectly with Rubio. Even better? Andrew Wiggins is by far the #1 option on this team. Towns wouldn’t be expected to come out of the gate and dominate. He can sit back and clean up on the offensive glass and get hustle points. Also potentially dangerous is a Wiggins/Towns pick and roll. Although limited in options, that play would be very hard to defend given the incredible amount of athleticism between the two.
This is also the biggest reason Towns makes sense. He is athletically and defensively ready. Him and Andrew Wiggins would immediately be a terror around the league. Length, size, athleticism, it is all there. Rubio is also one of the more solid on-ball defenders in the league. Expect many steals and fast break points. Towns would have meant opportunities to turn his defense into offense.
The Timberwolves makes too much sense for Towns. Perfect situation that is already catered to his style.
Players like this don’t come along too often. Jahlil has massive hands, smooth hips, a huge frame, and silly touch at the basket. He reminds me of a cross between Olajuwon and Duncan on offense. That is not exaggeration. I see the Al Jefferson comparisons, and quite frankly it is insulting.
Jahlil shot .664% in his freshmen year at Duke. Holy. Shit. That mark places him in the top 25 ever. But what is even more impressive is how he does it. Okafor is not catch and shoot, he is not catching wide open passes, he is not getting easy dump offs. Okafor is parking his ass in the paint, backing you down, and finishing with what is probably the biggest array of low post moves since Kevin McHale.
If the Towns video was impressive, watch this. Okafors offensive game is simply unrivaled. I personally have never seen an 18 year old this polished. He has drop steps, he has counters, he has pump fakes, he has hooks, he has massive dunks, he has everything. Okafor is going to step into the NBA and very well may be the best low post player in the game from day one. Whatever team picks him is going to have to make him the focal point. That 66% shooting percentage makes that a very easy pill to swallow. Also, Okafor shoot a blistering 58.5% on low post touches. You honestly won’t be able to stop him.
Okafor is also a very gifted passer.
The most under rated skill of Okafor. He can spin out of double teams and find the open man with ease. His vision is impeccable and will only continue to get better. This is great because Okafor is going to spend his life being double teamed. A few open 3’s and and easy dunks for his team mates will make those defenders sag off a little bit. When that happens, he can punish you with his back to the basket game. Pick your poison.
Okafor also shines at rebounding. While he sometimes lags defensively, he is a beast on the offensive glass. This is a great thing since he will be parked down there. Averaging 4 offensive rebounds a game is outstanding. Couple that with his 58.5% low post shooting and it can really be a nightmare for whoever is guarding him. Guarding Okafor is going to be a team effort, and with his passing, even that may not even matter. a 17.1 total rebounding percentage is very solid. With some more effort on the defensive glass, you can be looking at 11-12 RPG.
Okafor’s best case scenario is an offensive juggernaut who is decent on the defensive end. He is a 6’11, 270 lb guy who can block a few shots for you. He is big and plays big at the rim, despite weaknesses. He gave up .455 FG% at the rim last year. A mark that would have been a full point better than Tim Duncan. To say he is a stiff on that end is false. Okafor can absolutely hit something like a 25/12/4. If he is hitting around 60% of his shots, that is an asset any team in the league would be envious of.
Probably the most glaring issue is his free throw shooting. It sucks. He shot 51% on 5.1 FTs per game. Anyone watching the Hack-A-Whoever strategy knows this can be killer. If Okafor is sitting because he can’t shoot a FT, his monster offensive game isn’t very useful. There is not much to expound on. If Okafor wants to reach his full potential, he needs to bring it up to at least 65, if not 70. He can’t be an offensive liability, which is what 51% is.
The other weakness is his defense. This isn’t as much of a product of he sucks, but a product of effort. He is lazy on screens, he is lazy on rotation, and he doesn’t run the defensive floor as much as you would like from a guy who is going to be the defensive anchor. Okafor only seems to be engaged when he is on ball. While this is nice, he will be asked to do more than guard men straight up on the block.
As smooth as his feet are on the offensive end, they seem to be stuck in the mud on the defensive end. He is just slow, and part of that may be reaction skills. Something he absolutely has to improve.
If you are taking Okafor, these could be two killer weaknesses. If Okafor is getting torched on defense and can’t make FTs on offense, you are stuck with a real shitty situation. I don’t mind the effort questions as much as some, I think Okafor has a real drive for the game. The fact that when he is engaged, he is a monster calms my fears. We just need to see him display this all of the time.
Where Does He Fit Best?
I am picking the Lakers because they pick 2nd. I actually think the Atlanta Hawks or OKC Thunder would be the most ideal fits, but they have zero shot at him.
The Lakers and greta big men are synonymous. Okafor would be that next great Laker big. The Lakers actually have talent and working pieces for one. Clarkson, Randle, and Okafor would make a very promising young trio. Kobe Bryant’s passing skill actually benefits Okafor a lot, and Okafor’s passing skill helps Kobe a lot. Much like the Pau Gasol/Kobe Hi-Lo game that dominated teams for a few years, this could be a new version. Okafor could set up in the mid range and facilitate passing from there. He has the skills. This allows Clarkson and Kobe room to drive. It even allows Okafor to hit Randle for some nice big to big passing.
Truth is, the Lakers have a lot of pieces that aren’t there but could be. Pair Okafor and Love and you could have a front court that scores 50 points a game and controls defenders with the best passing big men in the game. Pair Okafor with a defensive center who can hit mid range jumpers in Robin Lopez, and you can hide Okafor on defense better and give Okafor a nice mid range outlet for when the double team comes. There are a lot of working parts that could benefit everyone.
The main reason I think Lakers need Okafor? He loves the spot light. He will relish LA. I think that will push him to be great. I don’t know what the future holds for the Lakers, but it looks very bright when you start with Okafor.
Who Do I Take?
Again, this is an unfair question. What style are you wanting to play? What pieces do you have? What pieces are you going to have? It seems like a cop out answer but this is a very real answer. These are two different players who have the ability to dominate in different ways. Whatever team picks these guys need to recognize this and plan accordingly. If the Wolves get Okafor, they may clog the lane for Wiggins. If the Lakers get Towns, the may have him playing a low-mid game that he isn’t quite ready to shoulder. Both of these teams are in great positions, they just need to make sure they pick the player that is right for them and stick with it.