Photo Credit: USA Today
The 2015 NFL Draft was centered around Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and which quarterback the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would select with the No.1 pick. Everyone knew whomever was selected first, the other would be selected next. Just as the NFL always has a high demand for talented quarterbacks, the NBA has a high demand for talented and healthy post players, because they are few and far between. Similar to the NFL Draft, the 2015 NBA Draft is centered around the University of Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Duke University’s Jahlil Okafor and who the Minnesota Timberwolves will select with the No.1 pick. In the process of rebuilding its franchise, the Timberwolves made a great decision to trade for the 2014 No.1 pick and 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year in Andrew Wiggins. Minnesota had to trade franchise player Kevin Love in the process but the T-Wolves are still headed in the right direction for the future. Along with small forward Wiggins, T-wolves have a solid foundation with the return of veteran power forward Kevin Garnett, point guard Ricky Rubio and 2015 Slam-Dunk contest winner and shooting guard Zack Lavine. Now, T-Wolves need a strong center. Does the team choose Okafor or Towns?
Both players enter the draft as freshmen and were dominant forces on their teams, but if I’m the general manager of the T-Wolves, I’m picking Towns over Okafor. Although both players have a great low-post presence offensively, can knock down the 15-footer and can block shots, Towns is a better low-post defender and better finisher around the rim. Okafor is a better ball handler and can stretch the floor more because of his ability to play multiple positions, but I’m looking for a solid center who can defend and compete with the Cousins, Gasols, Mozgov, Bogut, Jordan and other centers that my team will face in the playoffs, because getting to the playoffs and winning a championship is my goal as a general manager. Furthermore, I’m looking at the players I already have and Bennett, Budinger and Hummel can just about give me the same things Okafor would.
However, the most important factor that separates Okafor and Towns is free-throw shooting. Towns consistently makes free-throws and Okafor does not. The “hack a player” rule is impacting the players and making a difference in whether a team wins or loses. As a GM and coach, to make it to the playoffs and win, this is a priority. In the 2015 finals, it hurt the Clippers because Deandre Jordan couldn’t make free throws, and the Cavaliers because Thompson struggled at the line (there were other factors that hurt the Cavs as well). Even Golden State’s Iguodala had his woes at the line, luckily the Warriors had Curry and Thompson to make up for it by knocking down three-pointers. Coaches had to substitute all of these players late in the game so the other team couldn’t capitalize. I want my starting post players in the game during crunch time, and I want to be able to feed them the ball and have confidence that they’ll finish the play or make their free-throws if they are fouled. I don’t agree with the “hack a player” rule but it has been a game changer in the playoffs. Until this rule changes or players’ free-throw shooting improves, GMs have to look at the bigger picture.