NEW YORK — The players expected to be taken with the first two picks in Thursday’s NBA Draft have the potential to be franchise-changing big men, even in a league that seems to be moving away from their style of play and into a new era of basketball.
The Golden State Warriors just completed an historically great season, and did so by having versatile players in the lineup who used their high level of athleticism to play stifling team defense. On the offensive end of the floor, the three-point shot was the weapon of choice, and a shift to a smaller lineup was what gave the Cavaliers fits in the later stages of the NBA Finals, and allowed the Warriors to take control and secure a title for the first time in 40 years.
But despite the shift in how plenty of teams will look to operate because of the success we’ve seen in Golden State, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor both believe that the back-to-the-basket bigs will continue to have a place in the league for years to come.
“I think [post play] can be effective because it’s still an art,” Towns said. “It’s still something that needs to be done. You still need the big man to do the dirty work, and also change up the philosophy of the defense. Everything’s a chess match. Everything has a counter. Having a player play with his back to the basket changes up the game, because it changes up the way you look at the offense and the way you have to play defense. The spacing it creates, also, is awesome.”
In the Finals, the winning move on the chess board was to bench Andrew Bogut, who had started in all but two of his 166 appearances for the Warriors over the last three regular seasons. Okafor, however, sees that as the exception, and not the rule.
“Because it’s always been effective,” Okafor said, when asked why he believes post play can still be featured offensively. “It was one series of Golden State playing small ball. Big men have always been effective in the NBA.”
“I have no doubts about my scoring ability in the NBA,” he added.
If league-wide changes are in store, Towns believes they’ll be based on genetics rather than teams simply choosing to move toward a style that was proven to be successful most recently.
“For me, I don’t see the league changing, I see us as humans changing,” Towns said. “I’m watching the other day, seventh-graders are putting their heads at the rim dunking. I didn’t see that when I was back in my day, which is not too long ago.
“When I was back in seventh grade I had never seen a kid put his head at the rim dunking with ease, windmills, through the legs. Humans are changing. We’re getting quicker, faster, stronger — more precise. The league isn’t changing, but this new crop of talent, this new generation of talent is changing the way the league is played because of how explosive, how fast, how quick we are all becoming.”
Both Towns and Okafor have done the majority of their damage inside to this point of their budding careers, and both are expected to make an immediate impact at the professional level. Okafor is seen as already having an elite offensive skill set, but will need to improve defensively. Towns is viewed by most as having better all-around tools, and his passing and shot-blocking ability make him a two-way threat with more upside, which gives Minnesota plenty of reasons to have him slotted in as a potential number one overall selection.
But Towns wouldn’t get caught hyping his own chances.
“It’s not about why do I believe I should be [the No. 1 pick],” he said. “I just know that I’ve put a lot of work into the game, a lot of hours of quality, great work, working on my body and on my craft. No matter where I go, I know that I have the confidence in me that I feel that I’d be (the one) helping my teammates the most.”