The Timberwolves had no bad options on draft night last June. For once, the organization felt Teflon-protected against draft blunder.
Armed with the No. 1 overall pick and desperately needing a big man, the Wolves found themselves in a win-win scenario.
Take Karl-Anthony Towns? Good choice. Take Jahlil Okafor? Good choice.
If judged by a single-game knee-jerk snapshot Monday, the Wolves turned in the wrong name. If examined more reasonably through a longer lens, the Wolves got it right in selecting Towns.
Round 1 belonged to Okafor, though. In a landslide. In the first pro matchup between Towns and Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick, the guy the Wolves passed on played like he wanted to prove a point.
Okafor punished Towns and anyone else who guarded him, finishing with 25 points (19 in the first half), 12 rebounds and two blocks on Towns’ shots.
Towns never got on track after picking up two early fouls guarding Okafor. Relegated a spectator for long stretches because of foul trouble, he managed only six points and two rebounds in 19 minutes.
The final score ultimately is what matters and the Wolves avoided an embarrassing outcome by keeping the Philadelphia 76ers winless with a 100-95 victory at Target Center.
A spirited flourish by Andrew Wiggins in the closing minutes overshadowed the marquee matchup of two prized rookies.
“It was an off-game for Karl,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said, “but you look at the other 11, 12 games that Karl has played, he’s been unbelievable.”
The opinion here on draft night was that the Wolves made the right decision in selecting Towns and nothing about the first month of the NBA season has altered that belief.
That’s not a knock on Okafor, who has given the 76ers a legitimate post presence, a beast on the block. He appears destined for a prolific career, maybe even a perennial All-Star as a powerful low-post scorer.
But Towns’ versatility at both ends of the floor — particularly on defense — aligned more with Flip Saunders’ vision, and his early contributions have surpassed even the most optimistic prognostications.
Towns and Okafor play the same position in name only. They have different styles, different skills.
The pre-draft narrative was that Okafor appeared more NBA-ready because he was a polished post scorer in college. He demonstrated brute force and deft footwork as Duke’s go-to scorer.
That has translated to the pro game. Okafor is a load to handle and leads all rookies in scoring (18.4 points per game).
Towns was more of a mystery because he averaged only 21 minutes per game at Kentucky and wasn’t featured in the same manner Okafor was at Duke.
Towns checked his ego and all-around skill set in order to mesh with Kentucky’s collection of talent. The Wolves placed no restrictions on him and he’s flourished as a multifaceted player capable of impacting games in a variety of ways.
Towns is one of only five players in the past 30 years to begin his career by averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds in his first 13 games. He entered Monday ranked sixth in the NBA in rebounding (10.4 per game), sixth in blocks (2.38) and ninth in free-throw shooting (90.7 percent).
And this might be his most impressive stat: He has more blocks (33) than turnovers (30).
“What I see now doesn’t surprise me,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said.
Brown studied both Towns and Okafor exhaustively during the draft process because the 76ers were jockeying for the worst overall record and knew they had a shot at one of them. Brown said his organization devoted “many man hours” in evaluating Towns.
Brown speaks glowingly of the maturity he sees in both Towns and Wiggins, the way they present themselves in interviews and how they handle the weight of expectations.
“Minnesota is lucky,” he said.
Philadelphia should feel the same way about Okafor. Premier post scorers aren’t easy to find. He brings hope to an otherwise dreary situation for the 0-15 Sixers.
“Both of those two guys add so much value to the league from a playing standpoint and from a human standpoint,” Brown said. “I think that they can carry their stardom with class.”
Both rookies will become stars in short order. The Wolves couldn’t go wrong with either one.
They had only attractive options, and one tough night for Towns doesn’t change the belief here that the Wolves made a wise choice.