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Head to Head: What Certain Teams Should Do With Top Pick

Who should certain teams target with the number one pick in this year’s draft? Our experts discuss.

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Who should the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks target with the top overall pick? Eric Pincus, Joel Brigham and Tommy Beer discuss in this week’s Head to Head:

Karl-Anthony Towns

If the Los Angeles Lakers luck into the top overall pick in the draft, they should look at one of the two big men at the top of the draft in Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns.

Okafor is a throwback center offensively, a low-post, back-to-the-basket scorer. To succeed in the NBA, Okafor will need a point guard who can throw an entry pass (not as easy as it sounds, as many modern points are scorers, heavily reliant on the pick and roll). He’ll also need the floor spaced with shooters.

Since Okafor has yet to show he can be a defensive anchor, he’d be well suited to be paired with a Robert Horry type — a defender who can hit the three-point shot.

The Lakers have Jordan Clarkson, who has yet to prove he has a consistent outside shot. Much of Clarkson’s offense this past season came from penetration, either to the free throw line or at the basket. The team also has Julius Randle as their future four — a slightly undersized, offensive-minded player.

In other words, the Lakers as loosely constructed, aren’t a great fit for Okafor.

Meanwhile, Towns is the more-versatile prospect and would be a solid defensive option next to Randle.

Towns is still developing offensively, but he can score both facing up and posting up. He also has a nice feel as a playmaker, and will fit into a number of offensive schemes.

Okafor is an intriguing option with his ability to score in the post, but Towns is the better all-around player and a stronger fit with Randle and Clarkson.

Given the choice, the Lakers should go with another Kentucky freshman in Towns.

– Eric Pincus

Karl-Anthony Towns

When it comes to making the first pick in the NBA Draft, GMs really need to avoid the temptation to get too cute, selecting not the “sure thing” but instead a less universally-acclaimed prospect that the front office believes could be an even bigger star than the guy most other teams would take with the top overall selection.

Knowing that, the Minnesota Timberwolves really only have two options should they land the top overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft this June: Duke big man Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns.

The “cute” pick would be point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who had a strong year playing in China for $1.2 million rather than at SMU for free. But grabbing a point guard in the lottery would be a really good thing for the future of this roster, especially with Ricky Rubio’s inability to stay healthy and Zach LaVine’s inability to play the position the way head coach Flip Saunders seems to think he should be able to.

If Minnesota falls out of the top two, Mudiay would be a great fit. Otherwise, despite a need at point guard, the Timberwolves absolutely must take the best player available should they land the top pick, as Saunders recently explained following the conclusion of the team’s season earlier this past week.

“I think when you’re a lottery-type team, you have to take the best player available,” Saunders told Phil Ervin of Fox Sports. “If you’re there, you probably got there because you lost, and you’re probably still a little ways away. There’s not probably one player, really, that you think, wherever you’re at, ‘Hey, if I take that position, he can help me.’ The better chance you have of improving the team is to take whoever the best player you evaluate is there.”

The good news is that the frontcourt also just so happens to be an area of need for the Timberwolves. The monstrous Nikola Pekovic has been plenty effective offensively for Minnesota, but his inability to stay healthy is a major concern for Minnesota. Gorgui Dieng, meanwhile, has shown in the past that he can put up huge numbers, but he’s still much too inconsistent to consider him a sure-thing as the franchise big man for the Wolves.

Between Okafor and Towns, Towns seems like he’d be the better fit, mostly because he’d be a more consistent rim protector to pair with Pekovic. Okafor is an occasionally uninspired defender whose offensive skills are prolific but perhaps a bit redundant. If it’s the top pick and Saunders has his pick between both players, the two-way abilities of Towns are generally more appealing.

It’s hard to know how Towns would look as the centerpiece of an offense since he played among so much talent at Kentucky, but pairing him with Wiggins and a host of other former first-round picks would give the Timberwolves an exciting core that features two of the kinds of players that turn franchises around. That’s the first real step toward rebuilding, and what a huge step that would be.

– Joel Brigham

Karl-Anthony Towns

A spirited and reasonable argument could be made for a handful of players at the top of the 2015 NBA draft. And that is not because this is a sub-par draft class that lacks elite, top-tier prospects. On the contrary, there are five highly-touted prospects that project to be stars on the next level: Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Justice Winslow.

Most pundits have lauded Towns and Okafor, two terrifically skilled big men, as the cream of the crop. The thinking here is that NBA GM’s can’t pass up the opportunity to draft an elite center when one is available. However, it could be posited that is an antiquated theory, considering the game as it is currently played. In today’s NBA, centers aren’t nearly as dominant as they once were… (More on this debate next week, when I’ll examine that flip side of the argument – that guards and centers are more crucial to a current team’s success than big men that play in the post).

However, with that said, if the Knicks win the top pick in the lottery, given their desperate need for help in the middle, I believe they should select Towns.

Among the many reasons for the Knicks putrid performance this season, not having a legitimate starting center is near the top of the list. Team president Phil Jackson traded away Tyson Chandler last June in order to obtain point guard Jose Calderon. In retrospect, the trade can only be viewed as an abject failure. Calderon, who has two years and $15.2 million dollars remaining on his contract, has dealt with a number of nagging injuries and has struggled mightily when he has been healthy enough to play. Meanwhile, Chandler (playing on an expiring contract) has enjoyed a terrific all-around season for the Mavericks. The center the Knicks got back in the trade, Samuel Dalembert, quickly proved he was unable to hold down the center spot in New York. Jackson tried desperately to trade him, but found no takers and eventfully waived Dalembert, eating the remaining portion of his salary.

Heading into next season, the Knicks only have four players under contract. None of them are centers. And while Cole Aldrich and Lou Amundson have given respectable effort for the Knicks each night, obviously neither player is viewed as the team’s center of the future.

And in this draft, Towns and Okafor are clearly the top big men on the board. Both bigs have plenty of ‘pros’ and a few ‘cons.’ Okafor is the superior offensive player at this point in time, and is arguably the best offensive threat in the entire draft. Okafor is capable of averaging 16-plus points per game as a rookie. Towns, while he has shown flashes of offensive brilliance, is not quite as polished as Okafor.

However, Towns is the superior defender. This is due in part to his enormous 7’3 wingspan. In fact, doctors have told Towns (who wears a size 20 shoe) that he is still growing.

Towns was a force protecting the paint for Kentucky as a freshman. He averaged 2.3 blocks per game despite playing just 21 minutes a night. He also pulled down 6.7 rebounds per contest.

Nonetheless, while not Okafor’s offensive equal at this stage of their career’s, Towns is no slouch on that end of the floor. For starters, he’s a terrific free-throw shooter. He knocked down 109 of the 134 free-throws he attempted this season, good for 81.3 percent. (As a point of comparison, Kobe Bryant shot the same exact percentage from the FT stripe (81.3%) in the 35 games he played for the Lakers last season.) In an incredible show of confidence, there were times late in games this past season when Kentucky Coach John Calipari purposely in-bounded the ball to Towns in situations in which UK was ahead and he knew the other team would foul immediately. That highlights the trust Towns’ coach had in him. (In contrast, Jahlil Okafor was just 99-of-194 [51.0 percent] from the charity stripe last season.)

Just as importantly, Towns’ all-around offensive game improved as the season wore on. Per Chris Herring in the Wall Street Journal: “Towns’s improvement over the course of the season was vast, indicating that he’s likely to get better over time. The freshman shot 51% in his first 13 games, 54% in his next 13, and 63% in his final 13. Most notably, he got much better as a post player. After a brutal start—he began the year 1-for-15 on post-up plays—Towns got rolling and finished the season shooting nearly 46% on post-ups.”

All things considered, Towns’ incredible ceiling and his potential to dominate on both ends of the floor, is simply too enticing to pass up. Still just 19 years old, Towns projects as a future superstar. Could he be New York’s first true franchise center since Patrick Ewing left town?

Due to his raw inexperience, it may take some time before Towns reaches his full potential. However, the Knicks should not be in any rush just because Carmelo Anthony is 30 years old. This pick should be made thinking five and 10 years down the line, not based solely on who will provide immediate returns and help the Knicks next season. Based on all available criteria (including the assumption that his health checks out after Knicks team doctors examine him), then Karl-Anthony Towns makes the most sense for the Knicks if they win the NBA Draft Lottery next month.

– Tommy Beer

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