Jahlil Okafor against Karl Towns – this is the matchup everyone was looking forward to in the National Championship before the previously undefeated Kentucky Wildcats fell to the Wisconsin Badgers. Now that no one has seen a one on one matchup between the two, it is time to compare the two on paper. Jahlil Okafor was the easy favorite in the preseason, but as Karl Towns continued to impress as the anchor on the nation’s best team during the regular season, he started to climb up draft boards. Now after a great season of college basketball, all eyes are on this battle between the two centers for the top spot in the draft.
Okafor has lived up to the hype as the top prospect coming out of high school, as he led Duke all the way to the National Championship this season. He was a scoring machine in the post, and has excellent foot work and quickness, especially for a player of his build. He is aggressive with the ball but also looks for the best play available, whether it is driving in to score or kicking it out for an easy shot on the perimeter. Okafor has an unstoppable touch in the post, something that Towns doesn’t have. Okafor’s quickness and post moves give him an advantage offensively to Towns, who relies on pure muscle to bully his way to the basket.
Although he is known for his offense, Okafor also is very efficient in his off ball play. He has a high basketball IQ, and is able to read offenses to make the best play possible on the defensive side. He moves well off the ball and is able to hold his ground while defending in the post. However, Okafor lacks in on the ball defense and can run out of breath fast if teams make him move around a lot, a strategy that works well for teams with a stretch forward. He is best matched up on immobile big men, and can be a liability in one on one matchups with other offensively gifted players.
Okafor tires easily, and although he makes basketball seem effortless he can get winded quickly. At Duke Coach K was unable to keep him on the court for long periods of time like Justise Winslow or Tyus Jones. This is something Okafor must fix before he can become an elite player in the NBA like he is projected to be.
Jahlil Okafor could wind up being the best offensive player from this draft, but will he be the first pick? He certainly has some stout competition from Kentucky’s star big man, Karl Towns, who was a nightmare in the post to opposing teams.
Karl Towns is an offensive threat in the post, although he doesn’t have nearly the skills of Okafor when given the ball. He has the build to get deep into the post when he calls for the ball, giving him lots of opportunities at easy attempts from within five feet or so. His offensive strength was his strength essentially, as no team had anyone with the build and strength of Towns to be able defend him. This will make somewhat of a difficult transition to the NBA for Towns, where just about every center is about his size, although it is something he should get used to fast.
The defensive side is where Towns thrives however. He has the length and awareness to swat anything that comes his way, and superior athletic ability to box out to allow for easy rebounds. His tenacity on defense resembles that of Chicago Bulls’ center, Joakim Noah. He is difficult to attempt to post up on, but struggles against quicker, stretch forwards or centers. College basketball fans saw this in the Final Four, as he gave up quite a few easy shots to Frank Kaminsky, who simply would beat Towns off the dribble at every opportunity he got.
In closer and more important games for Kentucky, Towns was able to play huge minutes to help try to get the Wildcats back on track. Unlike Okafor, Towns will be able to stay on the floor longer for whichever team that decides to draft him.
Now that the college basketball season is over, scouts and GMs will keep a close eye on the nation’s two best big men. It has been a battle to be the best player all season for Okafor and Towns, and it could continue to be a battle between the two throughout their NBA careers.
Okafor photo via upsidemotor.com
Towns photo via http://www.chron.com