Don't overthink it: Why Karl-Anthony Towns is perfect No. 1 pick for Wolves
Karl-Anthony Towns felt his one season at Kentucky was enough. Not only enough to declare for the 2015 NBA draft, but also enough to skip the combine in Chicago and to pass on working out privately for any NBA team. He even declined to work out for the Lakers, who own the No. 2 pick in the draft, despite being only moments away from their gym the past two months while training with his former Wildcats teammates.
In fact, Towns felt so confident in his 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 21.1 minutes a game as a Wildcat that he didn’t even work out for the Timberwolves until Saturday, six days before the draft. But both he and Minnesota will look back on that workout with gratitude. For the Timberwolves, it seems to have cleared any lingering doubts about taking Towns at the top of the draft. And that’s absolutely the right decision. There may not be a better fit in the draft than Towns and the Timberwolves.
Let’s begin with the most basic point: Towns is the best player in this draft. SI.com listed him as the top player on its Big Board because he is a physical 6’11” center with a developing post game, excellent defensive awareness and deadly midrange jump shot. Although Duke’s Jahlil Okafor—SI.com's No. 2 prospect and a potential All-Star in his own right—has a deeper repertoire of post moves, Towns’s defense and jumper are what separate him.
In terms of defensive win shares, Towns isn’t only the best defender in this draft, he is also the best defender of the past five drafts. His numbers are boosted in part by having played for one of the best defenses of the modern era of college basketball, but consider this: He blocked 34 more shots than Okafor, even though the Duke big man played 321 more minutes last season.
On offense, Wildcats coach John Calipari primarily limited Towns to the paint, and that turned out to be a great benefit for him in two ways. The first was that he was able to make up some ground on Okafor’s advanced post moves. During the NCAA tournament, Towns averaged 1.267 points per possession on post-ups, up from .987 during the regular season. It also allowed him to show potential teams that he has a constantly coveted—but often elusive—attribute scouts love: upside.
That upside is his jumper. SI.com's Luke Winn compared Towns’s free-throw shooting to 6’11”-or-taller players who have gone Nos. 1 or 2 from the past 30 drafts and discovered that Towns is the best of the bunch, as an 81.3% shooter. Combine that rate with Towns’s high school 51.6 three-point percentage, and he suddenly seems to have vast untapped offensive potential. St. Joseph’s (N.J.) High coach Dave Turco went as far as to tell Winn that the three-pointer was Towns’s “best shot.” He took only eight treys at Kentucky, but he’s eager to show off more.
“Whatever team picks me, I think they’ll see more of the three-point shot,” he told SI.com while doing a promotional tour for American Express. “There’s nothing against Coach Cal. It was needed more for me to be a low-post scorer. It made my game more complete. But at the next level, it’ll be a bigger part of my game. I’m looking forward to dribbling and creating more, too, like I did in high school.”
Now consider that Towns, if he’s taken by Minnesota, will have a chance to play for at least one season under the tutelage of Kevin Garnett. Garnett is only a career 27.6% three-point shooter, but even the threat of that shot helped make him one of the best floor-spacing big men in his prime when he made 12 straight All-Star games. A nine-time first-team All-Defense selection, Garnett will be able to help grow Towns’s game on both ends of the floor. Garnett has lasted in the league for so long because of his great skill, of course, but also because of intangibles—mental toughness, game preparation and leadership. Towns seems eager to soak it all in.
“If I’m privileged to play for Minnesota, it’d be an honor to get to work with [Garnett],” Towns said. “I’d love to play for a legend. It’d be a chance to grow my game under him. Not only is he a great player, he’s a champion. And that’s what I’ve always strived to be at every level: a champion.”
With Towns and 2014 No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins (whom Minnesota acquired in what’s looking increasingly like a lopsided trade three-team trade that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland), the Timberwolves would have a formidable foundation for the future. Complementary parts like Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng are in place, but a floor-spacing big man and a dynamic wing who won Rookie of the Year and still has tremendous upside are enough to build a championship team around.
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By the time Towns returned from that workout with Timberwolves, rumors were already swirling that he had pocketed a promise from the team that it would select him. He denied that rumor on Monday, insisting that he he’d be thrilled to play for Minnesota—or any other organization. Seriously. Ask him about playing with the Lakers, and he’ll gush about the opportunity to study under Kobe. Ask him even about playing for the lowly 76ers, and he’ll sound genuinely excited at the chance to spend more time with Joel Embiid, who Towns considers to be one of the funniest people he knows.
Towns would find the positives in any situation, and he would be a good get for any organization. But Minnesota shouldn’t make the mistake of passing on him, even for a sure-fire Rookie of the Year candidate in Okafor. Just ask high school athletic director Mark Eckel who is still lamenting—in print—about missing out on Towns when he was in eight grade.
It’d be a shame to see Flip Saunders pen a similar piece 20 years from now. One season at Kentucky was enough to convince most of the basketball world that No. 1 is where Karl Towns belongs, and Saunders and the Timberwolves even got a bonus work out in to boot. Now it’s time for the team to make the pick that’s perfect for everyone involved.