Welcome to our Denver Stiffs draft coverage. Kicking things off for the 2015 NBA Draft coverage of the Denver Nuggets, we'll start with the top dog: Karl-Anthony Towns out of Kentucky. Before we get to Towns, let's quickly go over where the Nuggets will be picking in this draft.
Denver owns their own pick, which is slotted to be 7th as of today and they'll have the 57th pick in the second round, courtesy of the Los Angeles Clippers. The Nuggets could move up from the 7th spot, and unfortunately, they could move down, too. Here is how the lottery breaks down:
As you can see from the above, the Nuggets have a 15% chance at moving into the Top 3 of the lottery, and a 4.3% chance at the number one overall pick. Not the best odds in the world, but there's still a chance. (And we'll be doing our part to bring good fortune to the team we love by hosting another lottery party on May 19th, details to come!)
Who is Karl-Anthony Towns?
Towns is a 19 year-old, who turns 20 on Nov. 15th, and he's originally from New Jersey (The Garden State!). He attended Kentucky for his lone college hoops season. In high school, he earned a 3.96 grade point average. His dad (Karl Towns) played college hoops at Monmouth. And Towns turned down offers from Florida, Kansas, Rutgers, and Duke to attend Kentucky (guessing he could have chosen any school he wanted). Towns also practiced and played in some games for the Dominican Republic National team, where he got to know guys like Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks. He did not play in the recent FIBA World Cup, though.
You can learn more about Towns in this interview (like how he plays piano), right before he started playing for the Wildcats:
Take a look at Towns' stats from Kentucky:
1.) True Big Man: Towns goes 6'10.25" without shoes and 6'11.25% in shoes and weighs 248 pounds. He also sports a 36.5" vertical and an incredible 7'3.25" wingspan. He uses his size very well, as CBS Sports' Sam Vecenie explains here:
Towns' improvement this season has been impressive and points to a higher ceiling as a prospect. Coming into the year, his strength in the paint and his rebounding weren't necessarily considered "weaknesses," but they also weren't exactly strengths. Throughout the middle of the year, he was improving but still hadn't reached the level to where he could be a go-to guy for the Wildcats. By the end of the year Towns has become one of the most physical players in the country, dominating games in the paint.
John Calipari has turned Towns into a beast by forcing him to play inside the paint throughout the season as opposed to him playing more in the pick-and-roll/pop, which is a place he profiles well in the NBA given his athleticism and ability to step away from the hoop and knock down shots. You need look no further than the Wildcats' Elite Eight game against Notre Dame for what Towns is capable of in the post, as he dropped 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting and added 5 rebounds with 4 assists.
2.) Monster on both ends: Towns is seen as a potentially great two-way player. He wasn't a big AAU guy growing up, and maybe that helps him not be a points hunter, but maybe that's massively overblown. With his nose for the ball on defense, he is a menace in the paint for anyone driving the ball, and he can make up ground quickly with his wingspan and leaping ability.
On the offensive end, he can score the ball from anywhere on the floor. At Kentucky, he didn't take a lot of three-point shots, but he has range in his game and can step away from the hoop and hit jump shots in a pick-and-pop game. Think Al Horford, Darrell Arthur, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Not saying he is those guys, but that he can be that kind of weapon in pick-and-pop situations.
While he isn't yet known for being a beast in the post, he does have nice elements to his game. A strong move over his left shoulder sets up hooks shots, and with some seasoning he could develop a dangerous game down on the low block. His mobility is also a bonus for a team like the Nuggets because he can play in an up-tempo system, and finished a lot of plays and the trail man on breaks for Kentucky. He also has shown the ability to put the ball on the floor (better with his right hand, but can go left and finish left) and make plays off the bounce. And he's a bit of a bully inside (more on that in the con department), but that'll have to come out more at the NBA level.
3.) Passing IQ: If the Nuggets were in a position to draft Towns, the question becomes: Can he play next to Jusuf Nurkic? That is where the passing comes into play. The high and low post would be key for Denver if Towns came aboard and he can play in both spots. He has the ability to throw lobs, find guys inside in traffic, and can spot shooters from the blocks for three-point shots. It's hard to teach passing ability, and Nurkic once told me you either have it or you don't and Towns seems to have it. One underrated part of Shaquille O'Neal's game was his passing ability, and great big men are often excellent passers, ask Tim Duncan.
1.) Being physical all the time: Watching these NBA playoffs, you can see how much more physical the game gets. The referees put away the whistles, to a degree, and big men are often allowed to bang a bit more. If you can't move guys on either end, you are in trouble. Kosta Koufos got bullied by Andrew Bogut in the 2013 playoffs and it killed the Nuggets. Watching Marc Gasol trying to move Draymond Green in the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals was also a factor going against the Grizzlies. Green stood his ground and Gasol settled for some awkward shots down the stretch for Memphis.
ESPN's Chad Ford recently looked at Towns' physicality and spotted him taking some fadeaway shots in the post, after giving up on moving his defender out of the way with his body. This is something that can change over time. You can add strength and willingness to mix it up on the interior.
2.) Consistent effort: This goes a bit hand-in-hand with the above. Guys get tired and guys have off nights. The big knock on Andrew Wiggins heading into last year's draft was that he would coast at Kansas when he should have been taking games over. Well, we didn't hear much about that in Wiggins' rookie campaign and it shouldn't be a large issue with Towns, either. Although, one key thing for me: you need to find guys who are psychotic about the game of basketball. Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett are the types of mentality you want players to have, does Towns have that passion? That's what teams will need to find out.
3.) Upside and potential: It's easy to point to potential and upside as reasons not to draft a guy. Towns is likely going to be a pretty good NBA player, he might be one of the surest bets in this draft, but there still is the bust possibility. One season at Kentucky, and now he's expected to lift an NBA franchise.
Can he become a consistent jump shooter, post player, and defender all at the same time at the next level? It's a lot to ask of a young big man, but the environment around the franchise that selects Towns will play a huge factor in his development. He needs to be around the right teammates, and around guys who are trying to get better. Hearing Kenneth Faried talk about his experience with Team USA and seeing his peers work hard is what will help guys want to get better. And then you have the Nuggets players who may have quit trying so hard for Brian Shaw. You cannot have guys like that on your team with a franchise player on his way in.
The Nuggets would need to do some additional cleaning up of their roster in order to make an ideal situation for any young player, especially Towns. Denver's front office seems to be placing more emphasis on locker room culture, and Tim Connelly knows how important teammates can be.
How can the Nuggets get Towns?
Denver would have to have the 4.3% chance at the number one pick come to fruition on May 19th to get Towns. He's looking more-and-more like the top pick in this draft, and if Denver wants a shot at him - they'll have to get lucky. It's tough to see Towns slipping from the top spot, but he's definitely not going to slip past the Top 2 or 3.