The Minnesota Timberwolves will select Karl-Anthony Towns with the top pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, according to a Monday morning report from Adam Zagoria. Flip Saunders selecting Towns seemed like a forgone conclusion from the beginning, considering the 19-year-old Kentucky product has yet to workout for anyone else.
With just four days left until the draft is officially open, the primary topic of discussion in Lakerland is whether the team should take Duke big man Jahlil Okafor or Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick.
The Lakers are leaning towards Okafor, according to Chad Ford, and Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer reported that the Lakers only worked out guard prospects as a smokescreen. However, both Okafor and Russell are tremendous prospects, making this a great dilemma for the Lakers to be faced with. Should they go with the low-post threat or perimeter playmaker? Anthony, Matt, Ryan and myself offer our takes on the subject.
Q: If Towns is off the board, who do you want the Lakers to select between Okafor and Russell at No. 2, and why?
Anthony (@AnthonyIrwinNBA): I honestly want Mitch to walk onto the stage with a huge coin. On one side: Okafor, on the other: Russell. It’s that close with those two guys. I woke up this morning thinking Okafor, but after breakfast, it had to be Russell. The two have switched places more times than The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Who have atop my list of all-time favorite bands.
So, if I had to answer the question, Okafor. No, Russell. Or wait, Okafor. Crap. (Okafor. Final answer)
Matt (@mattvazin): Okafor. There probably isn’t a wrong answer to this question, but I think with the 2nd pick, it would be wise for the Lakers to draft Okafor. He has a wide variety of skills on the offensive end and is a great passer for a big man. The knock on Okafor’s defense is blown out of proportion. He still has many years to get better on that side of the floor and I am confident that he will make the effort to constantly improve. Although neither are tremendous on the defensive side yet in their careers, a frontcourt of Jahlil Okafor and Julius Randle should have Lakers fans excited.
Ryan (@RyanKelapire): The decision is closer for me than I thought it would be, but I would still go with Okafor. This is a tough call, and it might come down to how you think the future of the NBA will unfold. Both Russell and Okafor are dominant, potentially transcendent, offensive players. Likewise, they both struggle on the defensive end. So it’s not like you’re picking a dominant one-way player over a dominant two-way player.
That being said, I am a believer that you always take the dominant big over the dominant guard. Sure the NBA has moved towards a more perimeter-oriented game, but I truly believe it’s because there aren’t many good post players in the league anymore. I mean, they had to take the center position off the All-Star ballot because the options were so slim. All-Star level guards are also much easier to find. THE LAKERS GOT JORDAN CLARKSON IN THE SECOND ROUND.
But truth be told, I’d be fine with either Okafor or Russell. I just think having a big man that can score from the post, and can create for others out of the post is more valuable than what Russell brings to the table. And just because Okafor doesn’t shoot threes himself (obviously), it doesn’t mean that building around him means you don’t value three pointers or can’t be a solid three-point shooting team. A center like Okafor will command so much attention in the middle that it will open up the perimeter for others around him. Think Dwight Howard (hate that I had to mention his name) and the ’09 Magic – though Okafor should be a much better offensive player.
Gary (@garykester): I love both of these prospects, but I’ll give the slight edge to Okafor. He was the consensus No. 1 pick for most of the season and really did nothing to change that. Towns was just that good, especially down the stretch. Okafor will have an elite low-post game in the NBA from day one, and won’t have to deal with nearly as many double teams as he saw in college. When he does, he’s extremely adept at passing out of them. Also, his massive hands and catch radius are absurd. I believe his offensive skill set makes him the safest pick in this draft class.
His defense certainly needs work, but with the weight he’s lost in recent months likely leading to better foot speed, combined with the physical tools he possesses (7’5″ wingspan), I think he’ll become a solid defender down the road. It’s a guard’s league, meaning there will be more options there in free agency in the next few years. Polished big men are immensely harder to come by. At the end of the day, you can’t teach size.
Q: Why do you think the team would draft the other player that you did not choose in the first question?
Anthony: The case of either is insanely obvious. One is a 6’6” point guard with silky handles, a smooth shot and incredible vision and passing ability. The other was viewed as a generational big man heading into a freshman year at Duke which ended in a national title. As I picked Okafor, the case for Russell is mostly about fit. The league has been taken over by elite point guards so it’d be nice to have one of those. Plus, there are more free agent big man options this offseason, which matters greatly.
Matt: Russell has a high basketball IQ and the potential to become a superstar in the NBA. At Ohio State, he showed flashes of stardom in many different ways. Whether it was making big shots or executing brilliant passes in tight windows, Russell displayed how he could be tremendously effective in multiple ways at the next level.
Ryan: I think the Lakers could take Russell over Okafor for two reasons. First, if Clarkson and Randle are players the Lakers are going to build around, they’re going to need shooters around them to space the floor. Russell does that and more. The second reason is that the Lakers might truly believe that the NBA is a perimeter game now. And that is understandable after the Warriors, a team with no post presence whatsoever, won the NBA Finals. D’Angelo does everything a dominant modern NBA point guard should be able to do.
Gary: A multitude of reasons. Towns probably has the highest ceiling out of all this year’s prospects, but Russell’s isn’t much lower. He has the size to play either guard position, which could allow him and Jordan Clarkson to form a deadly backcourt for many years to come. He’s an excellent perimeter shooter, can score from anywhere on the floor and his passing ability is second to none in this draft class. His game is far advanced beyond his age and he exudes confidence at all times. Russell just has “it”.
Q: If the Lakers select the player you picked, which realistic free agent would you most want them to sign to play alongside that player?
Anthony: Regardless of whomever the Lakers select, the hole at small forward is huge as Wesley Johnson has been a bust since going fourth (!) overall in 2010. So, the Lakers will need a wing capable of defending and preferably one who can shoot from three, so as to space the floor for Okafor, Randle, and even Kobe at times to go to work down low. Off the top of my head, Danny Green or DeMarre Carroll come to mind. I’m also a huge K.J. McDaniels fan, so buying low on him would be an interesting gamble as well.
And, no, Ryan: Don’t even bring up Steve Novak. (Editors Note: Steve Novak is not a free agent)
Matt: DeMarre Carroll. He had a tremendous season with the Atlanta Hawks and showed that he can be a legitimate starter in the league. Carroll’s all-out, all the time energy and much improved shooting make him an enticing option for the Lakers in free agency.
Ryan: If the Lakers were to select Okafor, the free agent I’d target next is either Tobias Harris or DeMarre Carroll (I don’t see Jimmy Butler as a realistic option). The Lakers will have their frontcourt set for the next decade, and will really need a wing that can space the floor and defend. Harris is only 22 and could grow with Okafor, Randle, and Clarkson to create the Lakers’ core of the future. One issue is that Harris is a restricted free agent, and it would be tough to pry him from Orlando. Which brings me to DeMarre Carroll. Carroll will turn 29 before the season starts, so is more of just a temporary fix. However, he represents everything the Lakers would need if they select Okafor.
Gary: Goran Dragic. The Miami Heat will reportedly offer the point guard a five-year, $80 million contract. Not only can the Lakers match that in annual salary, but they can make a more lucrative offer over four years. You might think that it’s a lot of money to throw at a 29-year-old, but keep in mind that his contract wouldn’t look nearly as daunting when the salary cap increases substantially next summer.
Dragic would give the team another talented guard that has the ability to create offense for everyone, which could make life vastly easier for the young guys on that end of the floor. He could also play alongside Clarkson and/or Kobe, while providing the Lakers with a key selling point (no pun intended, Anthony) to an absolutely loaded 2016 free agent class.