Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Thoughts on Okafor, Towns, and Flip

     I wasn't able to watch the NBA draft lottery. I found out the Wolves had gotten the number one pick about an hour after it was announced. I was thrilled. I even did a full fist pump after seeing it. I remained happy for approximately one hour before finding out the news. There are thirty GMs in the National Basketball Association; exactly one of them is leaning towards Okafor. His name is Flip Saunders.

     It's taking all the power I have not to launch into a "WHY US????" rant, but I'll just lay out the facts. Okafor is a better post scorer than Towns. Towns is a better defender, shooter, rebounder, free throw shooter has more upside, and would clearly rather be here than Okafor, who has been indirectly saying he wants to go to Los Angeles since the lottery. Towns is one of the most athletic guys in the draft and would fit in much better with what the Wolves are trying to do by stockpiling versatile athletes who can wreak havoc on the defensive end.

     The biggest weakness of the Timberwolves last season (and there were many) was the inability to protect the rim. Opponents shot 57.9% there last season, worst mark in the league. Towns is likely the second best shot blocker in the field, behind his former Kentucky teammate Willy Cauley-Stein. On the other hand, rim protection and defense overall is Okafor's weakness. Add in the fact that Towns is friends with Wiggins, it's like the basketball gods said, "Hey let's create the perfect center for the Timberwolves". Instead they're going to take Okafor, an excellent offensive player who can't defend the chair I'm sitting in. Last year his defensive issues were protected and somewhat covered up by teammate Amile Jefferson. We’ll come back to this point later.

     In case you haven't noticed. I abandoned the whole facts thing a while ago. Obviously the defense comment is an exaggeration, but remember, Okafor was absolutely destroyed by Frank Kaminsky in the national championship game in March.

In case you don't remember, Duke was a lot better when he was on the bench against Wisconsin in March. With 16:50 left in the game, Kamisnky drew a foul on Okafor, his third, and made both free throws. Jahlil went to the bench after that. The Blue Satans then outscored Wisconsin 15-11 until the 9:18 mark, when they brought Okafor back into the game. The Badgers first possession goes to Kaminsky on the block, who does his weird spin move right to the basket, where he makes the layup and draws another foul. Okafor exits once again. It didn't end up mattering because Duke won, but the point is that Duke couldn’t defend well enough with Okafor and Kaminsky on the floor and Wisconsin took advantage of that. I'm not saying that always has or will be the case, but it’s concerning, especially if he goes to the Wolves, who don’t have someone who can block shots. He’ll spend a lot of games being abused by the likes of Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol, Al Horford, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

 I’m not saying Okafor is a guaranteed bust, even if it seems like I have been throughout this column. He’s the most polished offensive big man in a very long time, and can thrive in the right system, but the Wolves don’t have that. They have an identity with Wiggins and Lavine. The teams with the next three picks, (Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York) are starting completely from scratch. Philadelphia would be an ideal fit. Joel Embiid has the range to stretch the floor and create spacing for Okafor down low, and the athleticism to protect him defensively, like what Amile Jefferson was able to do for much of last year.

            All year people have been trying to turn the Okafor vs. Towns argument into what the Andrew Wiggins vs. Jabari Parker debate was last year: The dilemma of choosing someone who’s great right now or a guy with upside. That needs to stop. While critiquing Okafor’s game I only touched on Towns at the beginning. That’s because his game is simple. He can do anything on the court, shooting, athleticism, defense, and it’s disrespectful to his ability to call a guy that good already an "upside guy". He’s the safe pick. Flip just needs to realize that.

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