Versus: Jahlil Okafor vs. Karl-Anthony Towns

In this installment of The Shadow League’s Versus series, Da Gambler (J.R. Gamble) and Phil Heath, four-time and current Mr. Olympia, go head-to-head as to who should be the No.1 overall pick in tonight’s 2015 NBA Draft. 

While Heath is most known for his physique and incredible muscle tone (he’s going for his fifth-straight title in Las Vegas this September) he also played high school basketball with LA Clippers sharp shooter Jamal Crawford in Seattle and played four years as a point guard for the University of Denver.

So Phil knows hoops.

Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns are both college freshman with bright futures and a world of untapped, unrefined skills. Despite another surprise Duke National Championship, Okafor’s lukewarm NCAA Tournament performance resulted in a rise up the draft board for Wildcats post player Towns, creating a great debate in the basketball world about which baby Twin Tower would be selected first and awarded the boobie prize of helping Andrew Wiggins recreate a basketball culture in Minnesota. 

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Phil Heath:  

For my #1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, I select Karl-Anthony Towns, F/C out of Kentucky going to Minnesota.

The main reason I chose Towns is because he comes out of an actual pro-style system through Coach John Calipari at Kentucky. Calipari has managed to coach and nurture amazing talent for the NBA, whereas most Duke players seem to peak in college. Coach Cal has helped groom 15 first-round picks since 2010 alone. Towns has also had to step his game up practicing against intense upperclassmen Willie Cauley-Stein, a beast of a defensive center.

Who challenged Okafor at Duke practices?

Towns, being just a freshman and only weighing 250 pounds at 6-11, shows me that he’ll actually be able to grow some real muscle which will pay dividends later. In addition, the fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves have to be excited. The last time they had the opportunity to draft a young, talented and hungry 6-foot-11 forward/center was in 1995 when they made a long, lanky, dynamic but somewhat raw kid out of high school the fifth overall pick in the draft. His name was Kevin Garnett. He became a monster of a player and the centerpiece of a competitive Minnesota Wolves franchise for 12 brilliant seasons, eventually winning an NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics.

Towns actually has some similarities to KG in my opinion. His shot-blocking, athleticism and rebounding ability is superior to Okafor’s, and he’s not just an “interior scorer.” 

I hate using the term “upside”, but given this scenario, Towns has the superior upside and is a more versatile guy whose game can adapt to various styles of offenses more easily than Okafor. Despite Jahlil’s tight offensive game, he will still require dynamic talent around him to be most effective. Another huge factor in picking Towns is the difference in free-throw shooting, something of great importance in general for big men. But it’s even more crucial in late minutes of an NBA game when they (opposing teams) start employing the annoying “hack a big that can’t shoot free throws” philosophy.


With all due respect Phil, this is typical NBA Draft day shenanigans; but now that my Knicks are picking fourth and out of the “Big Man Sweepstakes” I can analyze this unemotionally. 

Okafor as the No. 1 overall pick was too much of a no-brainer, so of course NBA pundits, scouts and prognosticators had to create some drama by throwing Karl-Anthony Towns into the mix around tournament time as a potential No. 1. The hype has now grown to many people believing Towns is a far better prospect if your team wants to play like The Golden State Warriors. 

“As much as we love Okafor,” they say, “Towns has a higher ceiling.” 

Oh yeah, we draft on ceiling’s now?

There’s no way a team, especially the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, can pass on a 7-foot, 19-year-old baby who’s still growing and developing his game, and is lauded as the most advanced freshman post scorer college basketball has seen in decades. He can contribute immediately to any NBA squad, he draws double teams and he’s a product of team oriented basketball.

Okafor has been called a “poor man’s Tim Duncan.” Duncan’s first year numbers at Wake Forest weren’t first-round impressive, but everyone figured his game would develop in the correct system. Duncan has gone on to have a Hall of Fame career. Having David Robinson to help you get acclimated to NBA life was invaluable to Duncan’s transition as well.  

Okafor and Towns won’t have such knowledge and greatness to draw upon (Kobe is a Laker but not a pivot player), so I have to go with pure skills and the Duke player has certain skills that Towns will never have. Okafor’s agility and natural feel for the game is money. This idea that you have to be a player that can win games by yourself and dominate every aspect of the game is nonsense. Very few players have all of those abilities and I doubt either of these guys is on Anthony Davis’ level as a baller yet.

As far as building a team goes, you will be able to find rim-protectors like Towns, but there are few post players with Okafor’s oldschool ability which could prove invaluable in this new school NBA. 

No. 1 Pick Is A Matter of Taste

Phil explained why he’s riding with Towns and I threw my hat into the ring for Okafor, but who really knows which player will be better at the end of the day? It’s a toss up.

That’s why it’s fun debating these scenarios. Is Towns just an upgraded Andrew Bynum (who was good enough to be a piece on a championship Lakers squad)? Are Okafor’s back-to-the basket skills nothing more than a liability in this new age NBA? 

You can’t go wrong with either pick if you are the Timberwolves or the rebuilding Lakers, but they may not pay off until a few years from now and “bust” is a dirty four-letter word that GMs don’t want to hear…but the reality is that it’s always a possibility. Both of these players’ futures depend on who they will be surrounded by on the court and what they are able to do on the court.

Towns is solid but he’s no Shaq right now and Okafor has a questionable defensive posture. 

Final Thoughts


Towns will become the long-awaited Franchise player that Minnesota fans will grow to love for many, many years. They are calling him the complete package for the “modern NBA big.” Ten years ago Okafor would have been my No.1 pick.

Not today. 


What I’d do if I had my choice of big men is try to draft either one and package them in a deal for Sacramento’s talent-oozing Demarcus Cousins, who reportedly wants out of Sac Town quicker than you can say C Webb. With three years remaining on his deal, if you can acquire the 24-year-old pivot, you’re securing 24 points and 10 boards per game versus gambling on two players who are not immediately ready for the next level. 

Editor’s note:

I’m sure the Pelicans are more than happy that they waited three years for Anthony Davis, and his 24 points and 10 rebounds, to become a first team All Star. Ask Alvin Gentry.

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