NEW YORK: Set to pick first in the NBA Draft for the first time in their 26-year history, the Minnesota Timberwolves are looking at center Karl-Anthony Towns and playmaker Jahlil Okafor.
Thursday’s annual allocation of unclaimed talent by the NBA’s 30 clubs could see the University of Kentucky match its record by having five players chosen in the first round while several top international players learn which NBA club will obtain their playing rights.
Towns averaged 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots a game last season for Kentucky, which also could see Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker and Dakari Johnson also taken in round one. Kentucky also had five players taken in the first round in 2010.
The Timberwolves, who won last month’s NBA Draft Lottery to claim the top overall pick, could become the first NBA club to have three consecutive number one selections playing together in one season, having obtained 2013 top choice Anthony Bennett and 2014 top pick Andrew Wiggins last year in the trade with Cleveland that sent star forward Kevin Love to the Cavaliers.
If Towns doesn’t go first, the other player drawing the most attention is Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, a freshman center who averaged 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots a game for the Blue Devils last season.
Whichever big man the T-Wolves don’t take figures to be headed for the Los Angeles Lakers, who select second in the draft and need some inside help. The Philadelphia 76ers choose third, followed in order by New York, Orlando, Sacramento, Denver, Detroit, Charlotte and Miami.
The global player attracting the most attention is guard Emmanuel Mudiay of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who played 12 games for China’s Guangdong Southern Tigers before suffering a right ankle sprain.
Mudiay, who came to the United States in 2001 at age five, averaged 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals a game for the Chinese club and his decision to spend a season overseas against older competition could spark more US teens to opt for global training for the NBA rather than US colleges.
He is only the third US player in the decade since the NBA adopted a minimum draft age of 19 to spend a year overseas, following Brandon Jennings who played in Italy before going 10th in 2009 and Jeremy Tyler, a second-round pick in 2011 after seasons in Israel and Japan.
Mudiay, at 19 like Towns and Okafor, could also become the highest player ever picked in the draft from his homeland, surpassing Hall of Fame big man Dikembe Mutombo, who was chosen fourth in 1991.
Croatian swingman Mario Hezonja, who played last season at Barcelona, could also become the highest-ever pick from his homeland, surpassing the 12th-overall selection of dario Saric last year. Hezonja, 20, averaged 7.7 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists a game in 22 appearances last season for the Spanish club. AFP