I like it.
I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m not embarrassed to admit it. I’m not sucking up to the organization. I genuinely like what happened for the Wolves in the 2013 NBA Draft. It wasn’t perfect and I get why it’s confusing to some. But I feel like I see a vision here and I think the two main pieces the Wolves added in this draft are going to be major contributors in a positive way. The draft was turned on its head from the get-go when the Cavs selected Anthony Bennett with the first pick.
Nobody saw that coming. Nobody saw Nerlens Noel falling to sixth. Nobody saw Jrue Holiday being traded for Noel just minutes later. Not many thought Ben McLemore might fall to seventh and it seemed weird that the Bobcats would take Cody Zeller without trading down from No. 4. But all of that happened and when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was taken right before the Wolves were up at No. 9, it seemed like a lock that C.J. McCollum was a lock to run the backcourt with Ricky Rubio. And then it happened. The Wolves selected Trey Burke and the internet went into David Kahn joke convulsions.
Right away, you have to figure this pick was about getting value. It wasn’t about getting value with Burke joining the team, although I think he’s a lock to be a Rookie of the Year favorite with the Utah Jazz; it was about moving Burke and seeing what the Wolves would get in return. With the 14th pick, they took Shabazz Muhammad. With the 21st pick, they took Gorgui Dieng. They sold off the 26th pick for cash and a future second rounder from the Golden State Warriors.
Personally, I’m smiling right now and feeling really good about the Wolves’ draft. I’m looking at basketball scribes talking about how well the Wolves did. And yet, Wolves fans seem pissed. I guess I understand why they’re mad. We all were fed a pretty steady diet of expectations for the draft and when it didn’t happen and the surprises came, it startled us. Some people don’t like to be startled, especially when the end result is the unlikely. It was supposed to be unlikely the Wolves would end up with Shabazz Muhammad.
Is it the right pick? I have no idea. I’m not going to pretend the Wolves did the right thing here by taking Muhammad. He might not be very good or he might be quite good. I will tell you this: I like the idea of him on the team. Let me explain why.
Shabazz Muhammad excels at scoring the basketball. He doesn’t excel at scoring the basketball in a variety of ways and he’s not going to trick you into thinking you’re watching the second coming of James Harden’s beard. But he can put the ball in the basket in a few ways that actually benefit the Wolves quite nicely.
— Muhammad generated 26.2% of his offense at UCLA in transition. Think about that. This guy likes to get out and run. Rick Adelman likes his team to push the tempo. Ricky Rubio likes to push the tempo and find guys moving toward the basket. Kevin Love likes to grab rebounds and throw outlets. Andrei Kirilenko (maybe he’ll still be around) is a wizard at turning the ball the other way in the blink of an eye.
Back in January, I wrote this piece on Corey Brewer and the Art of the Leakout on CBSSports.com. Don’t worry about the familiar name and the disappointment that name brings back to you from a failed draft experiment of the past. The leakout is a weapon someone like Shabazz Muhammad can use without putting his teammates at risk. It’s not that I want Muhammad to be Brewer; it’s that I think he can use this to the Wolves’ advantage.
— He can catch and shoot the ball. Granted, injuries took away the Wolves’ best shooters on the floor last season but the team made just 36.9% of spot-up jumpers. Bazzy Muhammad made 40% of his catch-and-shoot jumpers in his one year at UCLA. He moves really well without the ball (nearly 1.4 points per possession on cuts, which is insane) and comes off screens looking to shoot right away. He’s not hesitant or shy. He’s ready to shoot the ball and his form looks really good to me. There are a couple of things with balance off the dribble I’d like to see the Wolves fix, but spotting up his form looks great.
— He gets to the free throw line. He got there 5.6 times in 30.8 minutes per game at UCLA. He shot just 71.1% from there after shooting 85.6% from the line his senior year of high school. I’m not quite sure what to make of his percentage, to be honest with you. I don’t know if I believe he’s a 71% shooter or an 85% shooter. If he’s somewhere in the middle, that’s good enough. But he’s a physical player that can bang against small players and either get a trip to the line or get a good shot opportunity.
There is so much of Shabazz Muhammad that fits into what the Wolves want to do in Rick Adelman’s system. Spot-up shooting. Moving without the ball. Running it down the opponents’ throats. And he hits the glass as well as any small forward in his draft class. He also seems to have an attitude, which can be both good and bad. But I love the way he approaches end of games. It can be selfish, but it’s assassinous.
Granted, there are bad things with Bazzy. He doesn’t have a good right hand and that means he’ll have issues going one-on-one against players. Luckily for the Wolves, he’s almost never going to be the best player in the lineup, so he shouldn’t be asked to go isolation against guys a whole lot. He also isn’t a creator for others. This isn’t a problem if he’s being used as a safety valve on offense. With Love and Pekovic in the lineup and a shooter with Muhammad and Rubio, there shouldn’t be a whole lot of need for Bazzy to pass for assists. However, he can’t hold the ball and kill the flow of the offense.
Defensively, I love his potential. He’s not there yet but I think he could be a real pain in the ass on defense for his opponents. He’s got good size at 6’6″ and 220 lbs, accentuated by his 6’11” wingspan. He doesn’t generate a lot of steals but he could definitely generate a lot of deflections to slow down opponents. There are some fundamental things to iron out defensively, like getting him consistently low in a defensive stance, but the effort and execution could be there fairly quickly. I suspect this because Rick Adelman won’t give a damn about Muhammad being a first round pick if he doesn’t play defense. We saw that with Derrick Williams.
And that’s where I feel the best about this Muhammad situation. He wants to prove that he’s the best player in the draft class. Is that crazy? Probably. But he was one of the more hyped high school players in recent memory and we saw that reputation deflate quickly in his one year at UCLA. If he’s the guy with attitude people expect him to be and he can harness that for good, he could really just want to make everyone regret passing on him in this draft. Granted, a lot of it is his own fault, but he doesn’t need to care about that. He just has to correct it.
He already started talking about being in the gym all the time and working hard to prove he’s the best. Whether that’s lip service or he really means it, I trust the coaching staff to figure it out with him. Again, I can’t guarantee you that he’s going to be a great selection for the Wolves, but it’s one of the rare times I’m looking at his flaws and looking at his positives and I’m not seeing something that can’t be harnessed properly.
Plus, he crept in from the back to join David Stern so he could shake the commissioner’s hand because it’s the last one for Stern. I respect that in some odd way.
As for Gorgui Dieng, I love this pick. Some people are saying the Wolves could’ve grabbed McCollum at 9 and waited for Dieng at 26, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have been available at 26. And with how badly this team needs a mobile big man at times to protect the rim, rebound, and play great pick-and-roll defense, Dieng is a must-have for the Wolves. I did a breakdown of big men on CBSSports.com, trying to figure out how they projected for today’s style of big man (mobile, defensive, etc.). In it, I looked at the 10 best categories that define today’s big man, scored each center or power forward on a scale of 1-10, and got a rating out of 100 points. It’s not scientific, but I like the system.
Dieng rated as the fourth best big man in the draft, behind Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, and Anthony Bennett. Here was my write-up on Dieng from that section:
Overview: With Gorgui Deng, what you draft might be all you get in his NBA career. Experience will give him a better sense of timing throughout his career and that will allow him to adapt, but there’s no real reason to believe he’ll actually become a threat in the post or as a scorer. But even if he can’t improve, you’re grabbing a plus defender that can really change the ways offenses attack your team. He doesn’t really have many weaknesses defensively that can’t be ironed out with a good system, and he’s great at defensively attacking you from everywhere on the floor.
What can he possibly give you on offense? There are two big positives you like with Deng’s game on offense. First, he’s a really good offensive rebounder. Second, he’s going to pass well out of the high post when he has the vision to see the floor. Elsewhere, you probably are wasting possessions by giving him the ball in the post, and quick double teams could bother him on the lower block. He can do some pick-and-roll stuff for you, but that’s the only systematic way you get points out of him.
Defense makes him a great idea: He should be one of those rookies that earn playing time right away because coaches can trust him to play proper defense. He’s great at attacking the pick-and-roll and pushing it away from the hoop. He’s great at timing weak side rotations to block shots, and he can do so without losing rebounding position. Pick-and-roll defense might end up being his calling card, kind of like it is with Joakim Noah.
Dieng was a highly coveted big man, but with how chaotic this draft was, it makes sense that he fell to 21. What this probably means for the Wolves is two-fold:
1) I think you can play Nikola Pekovic fewer minutes, which should lower his risk for those nagging injuries that pull him out of a couple games here and there throughout the season. If you can limit Pek to around 28-30 minutes per game then you can save him for the playoffs (YES, the playoffs) and have him be fresh to bully the opposition in the postseason.
2) The Wolves get better while probably saving money. With the downgrade from the 9th selection to the 14th selection, the Wolves saved about $500,000. By selling off the 26th pick, the Wolves save another $925,000. In that deal, we saw Malcolm Lee go to the Warriors and then the Suns (Goodbye, Malcolm). That saves another $900,000. With Dieng as the backup center, the Wolves probably don’t need to keep Greg Stiemsma’s contract for next year. Dieng will make $1.1 million next year and Stiemer was slated for $2.6 million. That’s a savings of $1.5 million.
If my math is correct here (and it’s 3am so it might not be), the Wolves saved roughly $3.8 million. That could be the difference between retaining Chase Budinger and not being able to keep him.
The Wolves may have found a way to get deeper, address two needs, and save money all in one draft. I don’t think they had an amazing draft, but I’d give them a solid B or maybe even a B+ for the effort. I would’ve liked Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or C.J. McCollum, but one of those guys was gone and the other just wasn’t right in Flip Saunders’ eyes. We’ll see what the future holds.