The face of Kentucky basketball will change significantly next season. Readers might have taken that as a given, already, due to the annual talent exodus from Lexington to the NBA.
But I intent that statement to imply deeper meaning. The Wildcats won't merely send out a team of fresh faces in 2014-15, they'll actually play differently from the way they typically have in the John Calipari era.
Karl Towns will provide a great deal of that change. Along with fellow senior signee Trey Lyles, the frontcourt will lean more toward skill and away from athleticism. For that matter, swingman Devin Booker also is not an elite athlete, and thus the team's profile must change from its present style.
With Towns and Lyles, the Wildcats will feature two interior scorers while most collegiate programs — even historically great ones — desperately seek to claim just one. Post scoring masters always have been precious, and over the past 15 years they've become even more rare as many big men now prioritize their face-up skills.
And that brings us to Towns. I watched him very closely last weekend at the Under Armour Showcase, a necessity given that he lacks the extreme exposure directed toward most of his peers atop the Class of 2014.
The first thing to understand is that he does not stand out athletically. Towns doesn't even run particularly well, a limitation that some never will overlook and potentially a major issue as he ultimately eyes the NBA draft. He also doesn't possess an explosive leap, impressive lateral quickness or top-shelf agility. Physically, there are several, much more gifted big men inhabiting the nation's high school gymnasiums.
But that's only half the story, and perhaps only a quarter. Towns is remarkably skilled in a way that sets him apart not only among his age group but compared with professional basketball players. He isn't advanced, he has arrived, and his ability to score on the block doesn't require extraordinary athleticism.
AllWildcats publisher Jeff Drummond has likened Towns' potential impact to that of former Wildcat DeMarcus Cousins, and Towns certainly could fill a similar role for Kentucky. Cousins is among several young NBA big men, also including Kevin Love, who have proved that effective post basketball can be more than running and jumping.
I'm not predicting a Love-life for Towns because that would heap expectations far too weighty upon his shoulders, but that's the picture you should form when imagining his play in Lexington.
For starters, his footwork is impeccable. He already utilizes nearly every fake and traditional, George Mikan-esque move, and he has become nearly as effective finishing with his left hand as with his right. His jump hook — again, with either hand — is accurate to a full eight feet, and he doesn't need to be on balance to score in traffic.
He boasts excellent hands, which largely accounts for his soft touch, and for that reason he should become a fine rebounder as well. All told in Charlotte, his 17 points and 13 rebounds stood out more distinctly than the numbers themselves would indicate.
Moving forward, I do think he should dedicate himself to becoming an interior scorer first and second, and only in third place should his long-distance shooting hold priority. Towns can hit some open threes and knocked down 1-4 against Wilbraham & Monson, but he consistently scored against Goodluck Okonoboh — one of the best shotblockers in the class — with his back to the basket. That's where he'll pay off immediately for UK.
Towns does have some defensive issues to address. He can be beaten downcourt and doesn't project as a great shotblocker, nor does he have a strong base with which to dig in against opposing interior scorers. He's tall and instinctive enough not to become liability, but without a doubt his offense exceeds his defense.
The bottom line is that potential All-SEC honors could be his to grasp as a freshman. He doesn't play a complete game but is completely dominant in certain, and a big guy who scores can lead a program to national glory.