Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders pretty much promised two things when his team finally found NBA lottery luck Tuesday night for the first time in its history and landed the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft: He’s not trading the pick and it isn’t as simple a proposition as choosing between two markedly different but gifted big men, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns.
Five weeks from now, though, it probably will be just that simple.
Defensive-minded DeLaSalle High School coach Dave Thorson — winner of four consecutive state Class 3A boys’ basketball championships — coached both players for a week on the same East team at the 2014 Jordan Brand Classic postseason prep all-star game in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Together, they beat a West team featuring other potential No. 1 picks D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay 158-147. A Nike elite youth basketball coach, Thorson on Wednesday discussed the respective games and personalities of the two players, one of whom seems destined to become a Timberwolf on June 25.
Thorson on Okafor’s offense
“He’s just such an offensive mismatch in the low post. I always say basketball is a game of space and if you’re able to take space, you’ll be successful. There’s no question Jahlil takes space and because he takes up space, he has the ability to be such an effective ball-screener, which is such a big part of how offense is played in the NBA today. His footwork, he is so talented, he’s incredible. I saw Kevin Garnett at the same age, and Garnett was probably longer and a little more versatile defensively, but at age 19 he had one move. Jahlil is 19 and he has moves.”
On Towns’ defense
“Karl changes the game defensively because he’s just so long and athletic. He reminds you of an NBA player. There are no normal people in the NBA. There just aren’t. They’re bigger, faster, longer, stronger. Karl brings that length and athletic ability.’’
On Okafor’s hands
“He has great hands and just crazy, big hands. He has good feel. He can pass out of the post a little bit, and he’ll do that. Sometimes you get those guys and they’re so used to catching it and shooting it every time that they don’t have a sense for the flow of the game. That’s not the case with Jahlil. … You don’t have to beg him to share the ball. He understands that he can get his, but he can help you get yours, too. That’s a good indicator he gets it, that winning is important.”
On Towns’ feet
“He’s a dream for a coach defensively because he’s able to alter shots and he has feet fast enough to defend a pick-and-roll. He can help and recover, however you want to do it. And there are a lot of ways to do it. Karl really can run the floor. When he wants to go, he covers a lot of ground in a hurry.”
On their personalities and temperaments
“Karl is really cerebral. He’s very thoughtful. Karl is going to ask why. There are five or six ways to defend a ball screen in the NBA, for example, and Karl is going to want to know why you do all those things so he can understand it. That doesn’t mean I think Karl is smarter than Jahlil. That’s just his personality. I don’t want to say he wants to be a winner and Jahlil doesn’t. He’s inquisitive, a student of the game in that way. Jahlil, there’s something about him. There are always people around Jahlil. They want to be around him. That’s just the kind of kid he is.
“I like both of them, and I would still call them kids. They are good kids. There is no bull in either of those guys.”
On Kevin Garnett as a rookie big man’s mentor
“He wasn’t a great communicator at the start of his career like he was at the end. He was so impressive late in his career. I just used to love listening to him talk defensively. That’s where he can benefit both of those guys in such an immense way and probably, too, in terms of developing defensively. Karl is more like Garnett defensively. He would see more of himself in Karl than Jahlil.”
On NBA comparisons
“I’ve been trying to think about this. With Jahlil, a guy like Zach Randolph kind of came to mind, although I think he’s better than Zach. I admit I probably need to watch more of the NBA. With Karl, I wish I had a better one. He’s more offensively skilled than DeAndre Jordan. Or maybe a young Tyson Chandler, maybe. …
And on who’s the pick
“Man, that’s hard. It’s hard because of who else is going to go around them? Who are you going to build around? If you want that low-post threat to build your offense around, you take Jahlil. If want defensive versatility, you’re probably going to take Karl.”