The Minnesota Timberwolves and the search for talent

Zach Harper —  May 31, 2013 — 10 Comments

Zeller

The 98.3% chance of the Wolves not getting the number one pick and the 81.1% chance of the Wolves staying at number nine in the draft came through. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride or something. But now we know where the Wolves will draft, unless they reach a trade.

I think it’s safe to say the Wolves will explore trade options with the pick for a couple of reasons. 1) That’s just standard operating procedure for teams once they get their pick to see if anybody is willing to give up something of value to get it or to give up something of value (or Mike Miller and Randy Foye) to see if you can move up in the draft. 2) If Rick Adelman is indeed going to be back coaching the Wolves, the idea of him wanting to trade the pick to bring in a veteran shouldn’t shock you. The idea of trading it for a veteran can take the fun out of it for a lot fans because people love to think about potential when it comes to rookies.

When you look at the history of the number nine picks over the past two decades, there have been some really good players drafted in that slot. We’ve seen Andre Drummond fall to nine. We’ve seen guys like Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, and DeMar DeRozan taken as intriguing prospects over the past couple years. We’ve seen superstars like Amar’e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tracy McGrady. Incredible role players like Joakim Noah, Andre Iguodala, and Shawn Marion have also gone ninth.

Sounds pretty awesome, right? 

Well, we’ve also seen guys fall out of rotations and the league quickly like Patrick O’Bryant, Ike Diogu, and Mike Sweetney. We’ve seen D.J. Augustin, Rodney White, and Eric Montross struggle in the NBA from the ninth pick. Like with many slots in the NBA Draft, there are incredible swings on each side of the spectrum with the ninth pick as we often see with other draft slots on the board.

So how do we evaluate talent in general and how will it be found in the 2013 NBA Draft with the ninth pick? This is where Flip Saunders comes in. I think we can recognize that for the most part Rick Adelman has a solid eye for talent in the NBA. He’s won over 1,000 games in his career and has helped develop some really great players in his time as coach. But he’s not going to be the main decision-maker with the roster. He’ll certainly have input and ultimately, the final decision will have to be approved by Glen Taylor in some way, but the role of Flip Saunders is something we have to figure out if we can trust.

I think I trust him for a couple of reasons. First, he’s not David Kahn. I know it’s easy to keep taking potshots at David Kahn because he had so many hilarious moments over the years, but I honestly never trusted him with the team. Whether he made a correct decision (yes there were a few of those in there) or a bad decision (quite a few more of these), it was hard for me to trust that decision regardless of what the outcome ended up being. Secondly for Saunders, he has a history of having to survive by identifying talent.

Talking with friends and people around the league, I’ve heard one consistent thing about Flip: he can go find talent. When Saunders was coaching and helping with personnel decisions in the CBA (for you young’ns out there, the CBA used to be the Continental Basketball Association that essentially was an unofficial minor league for the NBA before Isaiah Thomas lit it on fire like the Joker did with that money pyramid in The Dark Knight), all they had was talent evaluation. There wasn’t significant scouting. You had to work players out, go find talent, and figure out if they could play for you. And Saunders was wildly successful at finding these guys. He won multiple championships as the head coach of the La Crosse Catbirds, with one of those coming when he was both the coach and the general manager/team president of the team. The only way you could be successful as a coach/executive in the CBA was to have an eye for talent and know how to mold that talent.

I think that Rick Adelman can handle the job of molding the talent, which means I have to decide if I think Saunders has an innate eye for talent with basketball or if he just got lucky during those years of minor league scouting being a way of survival. I’m not sure if I fully trust the idea that Saunders has a great eye for talent because of his time in the CBA. It’s not that I don’t believe it; I’m just often a skeptical person when it comes to this stuff. That evaluation of his evaluations sounds great and it could definitely translate to this job right now, but I’ll take a couple grains of salt with it.

The main reason I have pause with it is because of the drafting woes the Wolves had while Flip was here as the coach. It’s not necessarily fair to judge him by that. Kevin McHale was making the decisions on which players to draft, but with many organizations, the personnel decision-maker is often working with the coaching staff and especially the head coach. When the Wolves draft Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen/Stephon Marbury, was that Flip with McHale or was that McHale? Were Paul Grant and Ndubi Ebi with Flip’s influence or just a hunch from McHale? Would we have had a better look at the picture of evaluating how the packaged deal that included Flip drafted if McHale hadn’t squandered four first round picks by making an illegal offer to Joe Smith?

I trust Flip Saunders to find good talent, but I’m not fully invested yet and I think I’m fine with that. The idea that he’s not Kahn will only get him so far and we have no idea if that means things are a little better or if it means things are a lot better.

He’ll have to earn our trust and that begins with what happens in this draft. As of right now, here are some mock draft projections for the Wolves at the 9th and 26th picks:

Chad Ford’s ESPN.com Mock Draft: C.J. McCollum, PG/SG at 9; Sergey Karasev, SF at 26.

Draft Express Mock Draft: Shabazz Muhammad, SG/SF at 9; Glen Rice, SF at 26.

Chris Mannix’s SI.com Mock Draft: C.J. McCollum, PG/SG at 9; Reggie Bullock, SF at 26.

Jonathan Tjarks’ SB Nation Mock Draft: Victor Oladipo, SG at 9; Rudy Gobert, C at 26.

Scott Howard-Cooper’s NBA.com Mock Draft: Shabazz Muhammad, SG/SF at 9; Tony Mitchell, SF/PF at 26.

Hoops Report Mock Draft: C.J. McCollum, PG/SG at 9; Sergey Karasev, SF at 26.

The consensus with a lot of the draft people I trust reading is either C.J. McCollum with the ninth pick, which would be kind of like a do-over on the Randy Foye experience. McCollum is a better player than Foye was, in my opinion, although the lack of elite competition could leave doubts with how well he’ll play at the NBA level. Also, he’s kind of small for a shooting guard but I think we need to divorce ourselves from the idea that a lottery pick has to be a future All-Star, especially with this draft class. I don’t think this is a bad draft class like has been projected. I think there is plenty of talent to slide into rotations and really help teams out. I just don’t think we’re going to see a ton of future All-Stars.

I love the shooting stroke and composure in his shooting motion that McCollum possesses. I think he could be a 6th man for this team that can play next to Ricky Rubio in a lot of lineups. I don’t think we should have him be the full-time shooting guard, necessarily, because it would be cool if we had a regular-sized 2-guard next to Rubio. But I would not have a problem with the Wolves drafting McCollum at 9.

Ideally, Victor Oladipo would fall to us at the ninth pick, but I’m not going to hold out hope for that kind of a fall. But I wouldn’t kick that pick out of bed if it happened for the Wolves. I also love the idea of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the ninth pick, but not a lot of people seem to have him ahead of McCollum on their draft boards. I think Pope can be a good shooter in the NBA and a solid defender at worst — both things the Wolves need on the perimeter.

As for Shabazz Muhammad or the possibility of Cody Zeller falling to the Wolves at 9, we’ll go over that next week. As for now, I’m hesitantly excited for the direction of this team.

Zach Harper

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10 responses to The Minnesota Timberwolves and the search for talent

  1. It’s all about KCP!! He’s absolutely the best fit I can find for the Wolves at 9 – realistically speaking. If anyone cares to, you can read my thoughts on the Georgia star here:

    http://www.thedailywolf.com/prospect-preview-kentavious-caldwell-pope/

  2. I agree that KCP would be a good fit for the Wolves. I think he’s a better option than McCollum due to his size and defense. I really hope the Wolves go for a wing at #9 and if they want a big man to develop, there should be some solid options at #26 for that. Nogueira is one guy I’d look at if the team really wants to add a defensive presence/shot-blocker at center.

  3. Your body is a wonderland John Meyer….all kidding aside I believe you are correct sir. KCP would be an awesome fit

  4. It’s appropriate to be skeptical about Flip until there’s proof; what I’m not getting are those on other Wolves sites and Twitter who are assuming a potentially-flawed process (giving him the job and not going through a hiring process) indicates that he won’t be good and then taking potshots at his inability to be articulate at times. As Kahn proved, being articulate isn’t a precursor to having an eye for talent. It’s good to be concerned whether his front office will allow advanced stats to help judge talent, since it’s so important and he really hasn’t made a clear statement about it.

    As for the draft, I’ve at times been able to have an informed opinion about who they should take, but I don’t watch enough college hoops any more, and advanced stats miss on projections (Beasley was an excellent prospect when he came out from an advanced stats perspective as well as by tradiitional methods). It’s also not clear whether some of these inefficient players are bringing something more to the table; Harrison Barnes is now considered a burgeoning star by traditional methods and a replacement-level player from advanced stats.

  5. Shabazz is a guy I would stay away from. I like KCP at nine as an overall starting SG and I like McCollum as a great sixth man, instant offense guy. I think KCP can help more in the long run while McCollum might be better at coming in right away and bringing offense to this team, but not much defensively. Trading up for Oladipo is my favorite option. He is going to be the best player in this class, in my opinion, and brings everything the Wolves are looking for at the 2 spot except instant spot up shooting. His 44% from three last year isn’t indicative of what he can do in the NBA but I think he could realistically get about 33% and won’t take any stupid shots. He has a great work ethic from what I can tell and should keep improving as a jump shooter. Any realistic trading scenarios for us?

  6. Luke, I am totally on board with you. There is only one person in this draft I would want the Wolves to take and thats Oladipo. If the Wolves cant trade up to land him, then I say trade the picks for a veteran SG. But ultimately I want Oli. I think he would be the missing piece to this team. Rubio, Oladipo, AK, Love, Pek. That sounds pretty freaking sweet.

  7. Why not swing a trade for someone like a Ben Gordon, like the team explored last year? Another shooter with better knees than Roy.

  8. Has anybody been watching the playoffs over the past 10-20 years? Backcourt players must be able to break their guy down by driving to the basket, and unfortunately, KCP can’t dribble. He reminds me of Corey Brewer part 2: The Drunken Dribbler revival

    Fact: Spot-up shooters come off benches (at least on championship teams).

    I’d take McCollum over Pope any day of the week, and even if it cost me 2million to buy Dallas’ pick to move up a couple spots in the draft. McCollum is 6’2.25 without shoes… which is only about 1″ shorter than either Oladipo (6’3″.25) and McLemore (6’3.5).

    Oladipo is a top 3 pick, maybe even #1. Derrick Williams is almost exactly 1 year older than Oladipo (they literally just turned 21 and 22 yrs old, respectively) and Derrick already has 2 years of NBA experience and rising. Big time talent. Still very young!!! Do Not trade!!! Especially since Love made it abundantly clear last year that he wants to be out of Minnie ASAP. My guess is he’s dying for Hollywood, especially since he sits on the Laker sidelines and drools during every big playoff game they’re in…glad we didn’t have to see that again this year. :)

    I wish Adelman would develop the younger players rather than the old ones. Chris Johnson vs. Greg Stiesma anyone? Or Derrick vs. Dante Cunningham? Suprisingly, Dante played more average minutes last year than Derrick! Daunte, a second round pick by Portland (huh..), was statistically less productive and less efficient than Derrick – a #2 pick – across the board! I love his energy, but seriously Adelman? It reminded me of all the minutes you gave to Wes Johnson two years ago, who at that time was in the top 10-20 least productive players in the league. Our coaches need some heat! Our players need some heat! More of the same ain’t gonna cut it.

  9. So much about this is wrong.

    1. So many of Love’s problems with the Wolves franchise were connected to Kahn that nothing about his future can be figured out until next summer at the earliest.

    2. McCollum is probably a better overall prospect than KCP, but look up the starters for teams who made the finals, and it’ll become pretty clear that plenty of spot-up shooters were starting. Also, McCollum isn’t necessarily more than a spot-up shooter if we consider who he was getting to the rim against in college (How many guys from the Patriot League make the NBA?).

    3. It’s so bogus that Adelman doesn’t give younger players a chance. Johnson is older than Stiemsma (by months, but still); maybe he’s just not good. Williams got more minutes than DC last year and started more games, even though they shot and rebounded similarly and DC played better defense. Rubio, Shved, and guys from his other teams (Peja Stojakovic, Jason Williams, Clifford Robinson, Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry, Chase Budinger) all played a lot at young ages. A more accurate statement about Adelman and young players: if you can’t play for him, you’re probably not good.

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