Back in June, a debate brewed in Minnesota: Towns or Okafor?
While the positives for both were there, most leaned towards Towns, the eventual draft pick. In most people’s eyes, he was the obvious choice, as polished as Okafor’s post game is.
On one hand, the Wolves’ front office got it right. Early on, Towns is third among rookies in minutes, second in points, and first in rebounds, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. Simply put, he’s been the best rookie so far in an extremely deep class.
But hey, Okafor may be No. 2 on that list. Looking at the numbers through his first 14 career games, Okafor is first in points, second in blocks (his competency blocking shots has surprised me so far), and third in rebounds. More importantly, Okafor (like Towns) has looked comfortable against high-level NBA competition extremely quickly.
Both Okafor and Towns have been everything as advertised so far.. The comparisons between the two of them are going to be discussed for a while because they’re bigs and were drafted two spots between each other. But if both of them keep up what have been dream starts to their rookie years, both fanbases will rest easy, no matter how well the other is doing.
But tonight’s game will be the first time the two of them will face off as NBA players. Both have carved up good defensive teams and scored the ball with high efficiency, and have quickly learned how to be a team’s go-to option when needed (it’s needed from Okafor a LOT).
We’ve all seen the multitude of ways Towns gets his points. He hits from mid-range, can run the floor, and has some post game inside. The way Okafor scores the ball is very different, and was heavily documented before the draft hit. To his credit, everything that was advertised coming into this season has come into fruition thus far. Okafor’s footwork is already at an elite level in the post.
Towns has played well defensively this year against good post players (Al Jefferson, Marc Gasol), but it’s likely that both rookies will be playing with something to prove tonight, and might go at each other with an added sense of urgency in the post.
To this point, he’s been able to stay on the ground and not get into constant foul trouble (though he did fall into some problems this Friday against Andre Drummond). But Okafor’s combination of youth, footwork and ability to sell fakes with his hands have been challenging for everyone he’s faces so far this year. Even when defenses collapse on him in the paint.
It might take some time. but eventually, watching Towns and Okafor will be fun not because of the comparison between the two players, but rather the quality of the draft class as a whole. In addition to Kristaps Porzingis and Emmanuel Mudiay, the pair that’ll be facing off in the Target Center are leading what could end up being one of the better draft classes in the last decade.
But hey, in the meantime, a one-on-one matchup surrounding a pair of young, skilled, talented bigs is going to be great. That matchup by itself makes the game an interesting one by itself.
- It was announced via Jon Krawczynski that Kevin Martin will be taking Tayshaun Prince’s spot in the starting lineup tonight. Krawczynski also said Shabazz Muhammad should get some increased minutes. One would assume this means Prince’s minutes will be cut significantly, if not all together. This is partially in an attempt to get Martin out of the shooting slump he’s been in to start the year. He’s at 32 percent from the field and 25 percent from deep on the year, and the hope is playing more with Ricky Rubio can help increase those numbers.
- In addition to Okafor, the Sixers have had a surprise rise out of the rookie ranks for them this year in the form of TJ McConnell. A solid and consistent presence at Arizona, McConell’s low ceiling and iffy jumper led McConnell to go undrafted. But after a solid Summer League and training camp, he’s earned a spot on Philly’s roster and rotation. Now, he’s leading all rookies in assists, averaging over 5 rebounds per game, and is shooting over 50 percent from the field.
- His blocks numbers are down a bit early, but Nerlens Noel is improving off of a great rookie season. He was the only guy I liked in an argument for ROY over Wiggins (still an easy choice in Wiggins for me), and he’s looking like he’s improved in the post a bit from last year. He doesn’t look for his own shot too often, so clogging the lane isn’t always an issue between him and Okafor, but look for Garnett and Towns to try to double Okafor in situations where Nerlens is straying from the paint.
- The Sixers remain winless this season at 0-14. I don’t want to be the guy, but the Sixers’ 0-17 start a year ago was ended at the Target Center in one of the worst games ever played involving the Timberwolves. Remember that game? If you don’t, you’re lucky.