Will The Final Four Play of Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor Determine the No. 1 Pick in the NBA Draft? | Zagsblog
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Thursday / June 20.
  • Will The Final Four Play of Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor Determine the No. 1 Pick in the NBA Draft?

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    iINDIANAPOLIS Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor developed a friendship last year while playing together in various All-Star games, including the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic.

    With Towns now at Kentucky and Okafor at Duke, they remained in contact throughout the year via text messages.

    Now both players are two wins away from an NCAA championship.

    “We talk to each other on each other’s birthdays and [I’m] just always wishing him the best,” Towns, the 6-foot-11 Kentucky freshman from Piscataway, N.J., said here Friday at the Final Four. “I always send him a text message, saying, ‘Really great game.'”

    Towns said the two friends are competitive, but that competition doesn’t extend to which player might get chosen No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft. DraftExpress.com currently projects Towns to go No. 1 to the Knicks, and Okafor No. 2 to Minnesota.

    “Of course we’re going to be competitors,” Towns said. “We wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in playing for great universities if we weren’t competitors but at the same time, No. 1, No. 2, we both haven’t declared for anything. I mean we still are coming back sophomore year looking to do more impressive things.

    “The day we declare we can worry about No. 1 picks but right now I’m just a freshman at University of Kentucky looking to finish out strong and getting ready for my sophomore year.”

    While the two hope to carry their teams to glory here this weekend, one key question is: Will anything they do in the next few days determine who gets chosen No. 1?

    “To me, the biggest storyline of all of this is who’s going to be the No. 1 pick once the Final Four is done,” one veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv.

    The answer is, probably not.

    Knicks President Phil Jackson is already on record saying he knows who he would take No. 1. And although he’s not giving away his secret, there is already speculation that it may be Towns. Towns’ high school coach, Dave Turco, said that after some initial misgivings about Towns staying local for his NBA career, he now thinks Towns could thrive in New York.

    Count Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller among those who also told SNY.tv they would select Towns No. 1, especially if they were the Knicks.

    Others have also made up their minds.

    Jonathan Givony, who runs DraftExpress.com, recently moved Towns ahead of Okafor and into the No. 1 position.

    “Just the way he’s been playing the last six weeks, he’s really taken his game to another level here and he’s really done everything he can to put himself in consideration for that No. 1 pick,” Givony told SNY.tv.

    But there is a healthy debate.

    The NBA scout told SNY.tv he’d take Okafor No. 1.

    “I’m taking Okafor [No.] 1,” the scout said. The reason that I take Okafor No. 1 is because you need a legitimate low-post scorer that’s a center. That’s what Jahlil Okafor is. He’s a back-to-the basket, legitimate center.

    “Karl Towns to me is a facing, scoring forward/center. He’s a four to me. He’s not a center. When you look at Okafor, the dude is physically imposing. He’s a huge man. He’s 6-11, he’s 19 years old, he’s got great hands. Coach K would even tell you he’s learning how to use him, how to get him the ball and the spacing. Teams are doubling and tripling him, that’s not going to happen in the NBA. You can’t do it. The game is more spaced out. He’s a tremendous passer. I think his game is going to explode at the NBA level. I really do.”

    Still, the scout joked that those in the media, including reporters, bloggers and mock draft experts, would continue to write that the Final Four play of Towns and Okafor could impact their draft status.

    “There’s still evaluations on who the No. 1 pick is going into this weekend, there’s no doubt about it,” the scout said, referring to the media.

    “In our industry it’s sad that that’s actually taking place because the guys that I already know are good [scouts] have already made that determination. It doesn’t matter how this turns out. It will reinforce a little bit. It may cause you to pause and say, ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ but at the end of the day if you’re telling me that a game between Duke and Kentucky in the final, if Okafor gets 20 and 10 and Karl Towns gets 12 and 4, well now Okafor’s the best. They probably won’t even guard each other.”

    One NBA GM said that the interactions the two bigs have with NBA personnel during their individual workouts and interviews would be more critical than their play in the Final Four.

    “Those two are close enough where interviews, pre-draft intel and workouts will matter more than who possibly plays well in the game,” the GM said.

    And who would he take No. 1?

    “Okafor.”

    So there you have it, as much as there is at stake here this weekend, the No. 1 pick in the draft probably isn’t among them.

    But it’s still fun to talk about.

    “That’s the media’s job, we’re just friends,” Towns said. “We’re great friends and we just worry about each other’s well being.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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