By John Schmeelk
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The NBA draft is less than a month away, and with the Knicks picking fourth they’ll have a number of options available to them. Over the next four weeks, we’ll take a look at the 10 players that could come into play for Phil Jackson if he stays put or trades down.
Karl-Anthony Towns – Freshman, Kentucky, 7-foot, 250 pounds, 19 years old
* Ranked as ninth-best high school recruit and third-best center recruit by ESPN in 2014
Towns leaped ahead of Jahlil Okafor as the consensus top pick in the draft as the season wound down. Though he played limited minutes in Kentucky’s rotation, he showed the ability to dominate defensively and also flashed offensive promise.
What we know he can do: He should serve well right off the bat as an excellent rim protector, and solid pick-and-roll hedge defender on the perimeter. His long arms will serve him well as a rebounder. He has the potential to be a top-echelon defender right away.
What we think he can do: I called a couple of Towns’ games during his senior year of high school at St. Joe’s and he looked like a different player than he did at Kentucky. He has a legitimate finesse offensive game, complete with a soft touch that stretched near the 3-point line. That range had been apparent in Kentucky’s practices this past season, but not in games. In high school he also showed a great ability to pass out of the high and low posts to cutters and shooters. If given the opportunity he should be able to be a good pick-and-pop offensive player the moment he steps on the floor.
What we imagine he might do someday: Towns’ post game is a work in progress. He flashed an improved and larger variety of moves during the NCAA tournament, after not using much more than a right-handed jump hook the first four months of the season. In March he stepped across the lane and shot with both hands and over both shoulders. He has the touch, hands and feet to become a good post player, but whether he wants to bang down there on a regular basis is a different question.
What we are worried about: As I mentioned earlier, due to John Calipari’s deep team at Kentucky, Towns averaged only 21 minutes per game. However, he was still routinely in foul trouble, averaging three per game. Can he maintain his effort and effectiveness on the defensive end in the NBA against superior competition without getting into constant foul trouble? It’s fair question.
The other big question mark is whether he will develop the skills to be a shot creator in the NBA. He’ll be able to catch and shoot, but will he develop a good enough post game to force double teams or dominate one on one? He isn’t lithe at 250 pounds, but he is going to have to add a lot of strength to bang down low in the pros. You also wonder about his durability. From what I’ve seen he does not have the quickness or athleticism to become an Anthony Davis-style face-up player. How his offensive game develops will determine whether he is an All-Star candidate most years or sure-fire Hall of Famer.
Off the court: No character or effort issues. Good local kid from New Jersey.
Ceiling: Two-way player that can dominate both ends of the floor. Perennial All-Star, potential MVP.
Floor: Defensive stalwart and pick-and-pop player, occasional All-Star.
Fit on the Knicks; He would step in and start at center as a rookie and be a great person to run the triangle through in the low/mid/high posts. He would anchor the defense as a shot-blocker in the paint.
How do the Knicks get him?: The only way Towns gets to the Knicks at No. 4 is if some off-the-court problem or injury becomes apparent in the weeks before the draft. It would take a miracle, one the Knicks would love but aren’t counting on.
Prediction: First overall pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves
Next time we’ll profile Jahlil Okafor. I’ll also begin looking at potential free agents as well.
Follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk