Towns, Okafor and good lesser-known players top NBA draft

NEW YORK — Karl-Anthony Towns hoisted a child high up toward his shoulders, letting the youngster at an NBA community service event feel what it was like to rock the rim with a dunk.

Next up for Towns might be trying to help lift the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The center from Kentucky is considered the likely No. 1 pick Thursday night in the NBA draft, though he said he isn’t sure and doesn’t seem concerned.

“I don’t know right now. Only thing I can control is making sure I’m the best player I can possibly be for whatever organization drafts me tomorrow night,” Towns said Wednesday.

Towns and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor are the big bodies from the powerhouse programs, good bets to be the first two picks even at a time when small ball is becoming increasingly popular.

Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell could be the first guard off the board, and Kristaps Porzingis and Emmanuel Mudiay are some of the lesser-known names that should be called quickly by Commissioner Adam Silver at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Okafor, who led Duke to the national championship, and Towns had been rated evenly at one point, though Towns has moved to the top of the list in most mock drafts. Okafor said he has seen some of them and said “they’re all pretty accurate, I guess,” and isn’t bothered by the idea of being considered second-best.

“I’m still going to be top five or whatever the case may be and I’ll still be living my dream of playing in the NBA, so I’ll be excited either way,” he said.

That’s partly because of who — or, perhaps more specifically, where — comes next.

The Los Angeles Lakers hold the No. 2 pick, Philadelphia is third and the New York Knicks follow, providing big-market appeal that would make for a good consolation prize.

“Two is not bad, being in Los Angeles,” Okafor said. “Neither is being in Philly. Especially not being in New York.”

The head of the class should again be a collegiate one-and-done, as Towns, Okafor and Russell all played just one season. The last five No. 1 picks have all been freshmen.

Teams preferring more experience will be able to find it in players such as Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein, who played three years, and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, who was the national player of the year in leading the Badgers to the NCAA championship game as a senior.

“People who go to college and stuff like that have to grow up and they have to find their way. It’s not easy to make it for four years in college and maintain a level of success where you get better and better every year,” Kaminsky said. “I was able to do that. I was able to grow up as a person and grow up as a person. You saw how the last year went for me.”

And if that’s not enough experience, teams can grab some guys who are already pros.

Mudiay was originally slated to attend SMU last season but instead signed to play in China, averaging 18 points in 12 games for the Guangdong Southern Tigers. Porzingis has played the last 2 1/2 years for Seville of Spain’s ACB, one of the best leagues in the world.

The Latvian player, who will turn 20 in August, is an elite shooter but listed at just 220 pounds on his 6-foot-11 frame, so he knows he needs to get stronger. But he said he’s prepared to deal with the toughness of fellow power forwards.

“Physical guys in Europe, same like in the NBA,” he said. “Of course, a lot more athletes here in the NBA, a lot more stronger, too, but it’s nothing that I haven’t seen yet. I think probably I’ll get dunked on or whatever by some guys, but it’s just normal.”

He would love to play in New York and could be available to the Knicks at No. 4. So could Russell, as what shapes up as a strong top of the draft appears uncertain beyond the top-two spots. He’s OK with not knowing how it will go.

“I feel like I’m in a great position,” Russell said. “Lot of guys are in a position where they don’t know and I’m more than just blessed to know it’s a variety of teams that I could possibly go to. So I’m just taking it all in and enjoying the process.”

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