The only good thing about the train wreck that is the 2015 Knicks is the karma they've accumulated could very well assume the form of a 7-foot game-changer from the University of Kentucky. Recent drafts have seen an influx of wildly talented Wildcats enter and impact the league: Anthony Davis. Demarcus Cousins. John Wall. Eric Bledsoe. Brandon Knight. Julius Randle (impact pending). Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (impactful on defense). I spoke with Glenn Logan, who covers UK at A Sea Of Blue, about Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
How would you describe his game? What are his strengths? What areas need work?
Karl-Anthony Towns (KAT for short) is, in many ways, Willie Cauley-Stein's opposite number. He's grown up in basketball (although he largely eschewed the AAU circuit) and has skill, whereas WCS has athleticism. That's not to say that he isn't athletic - Towns certainly is that - but his is more of an ordinary type you would see in most NBA athletes in his size range. He can run and jump (I'd judge his vertical to be in the 29-33 inch range) and has good instincts for positioning on defense. His basketball savvy is better developed than WCS because of his extensive immersion in the sport from a very young age.
What sets KAT apart is his range. You won't see it much at Kentucky, but Towns can shoot the ball well from NBA 3-point range and even longer. He has a quick release and can get on a roll from the perimeter and just make them all. He's asked not to do that here - we have no need for a stretch 4 at Kentucky - but he will be doing it a lot in the NBA, where shooting big men are at a premium.
KAT has developed the fundamentals in his game to a nice level for a college freshman. He still isn't as good at blocking out his man as he needs to be, but he's the best at it on the team. Defensively, he has ordinary quickness for a big man of his skill and reputation, and can comfortably guard most players his size. His length is excellent and he is the leading shot-blocker on the team. KAT is an adequate perimeter defender against all but the very quickest 4-men.
Offensively, KAT is comfortable handling the ball on the break, runs the floor well, and is a very good passer. He finishes well at the rim but is inconsistent with the jump hook and post moves, being prone to missing the sort of shots he should be making at a high percentage. He also makes his free throws and has developed a surprising amount of physicality for someone as young as he is. KAT needs to be more consistently competitive - while WCS is constantly praised for his high "motor," KAT needs to develop that skill. He doesn't take plays off, but there are times when his effort is not as consistent as we'd like.
What's been his high point so far this year?
His best game this season was probably against Missouri, where he went 3-4 from the field and 6-7 from the line for 12 points, 10 rebounds, an assist, 5 blocks and a steal.
Does he remind you of anyone you've seen play?
I am not really good at comparing NBA players to future pros. KAT often gets compared to Kevin Durant with his size and shooting ability, but he has nothing like Durant's athleticism and quickness. I think of him as similar to Dirk Nowitzki.
What can you tell us about his personality? His background? How do you think he'd handle life as a high draft pick and coming to New York?
KAT is a very bright, intelligent, outgoing and engaging young man. He's an outstanding student, in the mold of Brandon Knight: very coachable and personable in every meaningful way. Towns is very active in his community in Piscataway, NJ, and loves helping others, particularly young people. He has been remarkably tough for a guy with his academic cred, and his smile lights up every room he enters. He would probably deal with being picked high in the draft with aplomb because of his intelligence and familiarity with the culture.