The NBA Draft is exactly one week away, and as of now, Minnesota holds the 13th, 40th, 44th and 53rd overall selections. The Wolves’ standing in the first round could change if they pull the trigger on a Kevin Love trade, which seems more and more likely the closer we get to June 26th. Their second round selections could be used on players the team feels could fight for a roster spot, or they could be packaged to move up, or used on international stash prospects, or they could be sold, as often happens with later picks in the draft. The point is, there’s a ton of uncertainty. A lot could change between now and Draft night, but until the wheeling and dealing begins, all we can do is look long and hard at the prospects that may be available when the Timberwolves’ turn comes around.
Trying to nail down second round prospects the team may be interested in is a fool’s errand, so instead, I’m going to focus on a few names that may be available at 13th overall. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll state up front that I am no college/ international basketball expert; my hands are full enough with the NBA. But like many fans and bloggers, studying prospects prior to the Draft, akin to cramming for an exam, is aided by a few indispensable cheat sheets (Jonathan Givony at Draft Express, Chad Ford’s ESPN Insider mock drafts, Gary Parrish’s CBS Sports projections, to name a few). Combing through the various sources helped me compile the following list of players the Wolves could target with their first round pick.
The Wolves’ primary needs are at point guard, on the wing, and possibly at power forward (and not just because of Love’s looming departure – Dante Cunningham, who was his backup in 2013-14, is an unrestricted free agent). Keeping those needs in mind, here are eight guys (one point guard, five wing players, and two power forwards) who could hear their name called when Flip Saunders and company are on the clock:
Elfrid Payton, Junior, Lousiana-Lafayette
Ford: 8th overall, 3rd PG
Parrish: 26th overall, 4th PG
Givony: 16th overall, 3rd PG
Details: The workout warrior of this Draft class, the 20-year old from Gretna, Louisiana has watched his stock rise sharply in recent weeks, prompting projections that are all over the map. Standing 6’4 with a 6’8 wingspan, Payton can be a pest on the defensive end, enabling him to get out and run in transition. On offense, he’s a solid pick and roll point guard who is adept at getting into the paint, but lacks a consistent jump shot and needs to add muscle in order to finish more effectively at the rim (he weighs around 180 pounds).
Analysis: While anyone who watched the Timberwolves last year would agree that a new second-unit point guard ought to be high on the list of things to do this offseason, Minnesota would probably prefer a veteran presence to a project like Payton. While he’s an intriguing prospect, I’d say the odds are pretty low that the Wolves actually pull the trigger and make him the pick.
Gary Harris, Sophomore, Michigan State
Ford: 11th overall, 4th SG/SF
Parrish: 11th overall, 4th SG/SF
Givony: 14th overall, 5th SG/SF
Details: A bit undersized for a shooting guard, Harris atones via his excellent motor, physicality and slashing ability. He is also a defensive stalwart, capable of defending either backcourt position, and possesses a high basketball IQ. While he lacks the ballhandling chops to beat his man off the dribble or break defenders down in one-on-one situations, his midrange shooting ability provides some offensive value outside of cuts and transition buckets. As Gary Parrish said, addressing his potential shortcomings, Harris was an “elite high school player who was also an elite college player, and prospects who fit that description tend to turn into relevant NBA players way more often than not.”
Analysis: While the midrange jumper is not a desired shot in most pro-style offenses, Flip Saunders-coached teams have ranked in the top-five in midrange attempts during each of his 13 full seasons as an NBA coach. Coupled with the fact that Harris would bring badly needed sound perimeter defense to the table, he’d fit nicely into the Wolves wing rotation. The question is, will he fall all the way to the 13th pick? I have my doubts (Denver, drafting 11th, is reportedly smitten by him), but if he slips, this would be a solid selection. Consider my fingers crossed.
Nik Stauskas, Sophomore, Michigan
Ford: 13th overall, 5th SG/SF
Parrish: 10th overall, 3rd SG/SF
Givony: 9th overall, 3rd SG/SF
Details: Perhaps the best pure shooter in this year’s class, Stauskas is terrific out of both the catch-and-shoot, or off the dribble, and has experience in Michigan’s NBA-style corner action offense. He’s taken 390 three-pointers in his two seasons as a Wolverine and made 44% of those attempts, a ridiculously high rate for the volume he puts the ball up. He’s an underrated athlete with good size (6’7) for a two-guard and would instantly help alleviate perimeter shooting woes for any team that drafted him. The problem with Stauskas is everything that happens at the other end of the floor. Take a gander at the portion of this video ranging from the 9:15 mark through 11:15…
Analysis: … look familiar? Ever watched Kevin Martin play defense? The similarities between the two (size, three-point accuracy, dead-eye free throw shooters, abominable defense) would render Stauskas somewhat redundant should the Wolves select him with the 13th overall pick. While ESPN’s Chad Ford is currently projecting Stauskas to be the Timberwolves’ guy, I wonder if he’d be the right fit for what Minnesota needs from their wing bench players.
James Young, Freshman, Kentucky
Ford: 14th overall, 6th SG/SF
Parrish: 15th overall, 7th SG/SF
Givony: 19th overall, 8th SG/SF
Details: At 6 feet, 7 inches tall with a 7-foot wingspan, 36-inch vertical leap and room to add muscle to his 215 pound frame, Kentucky freshman James Young has the ideal size and measurables for an NBA wing. Playing for the national runner-up last year, Young led the team in three-point attempts (taking nearly 6 per game) and sank a respectable, though unspectacular 35% of those shots. He used his size and motor to bully smaller defenders, getting into the lane to create opportunities and rebounding well for his position. He lacked focus on the defensive end, however, and was subpar both on and off the ball.
Analysis: Young would probably be a great pick for a team with an established player development track record, such as Phoenix, Atlanta or Chicago. Minnesota definitely does not have an established player development track record, so it’s hard to envision him as a fit here. Young won’t even turn 19 until a month and a half after the Draft is over, so there’s plenty of time for him to cultivate an all-around game; the question is, do the Wolves have the patience for that? Or do they want someone who will be able to contribute right away?
Rodney Hood, Sophomore, Duke
Ford: 21st overall, 9th SG/SF
Parrish: 13th overall, 5th SG/SF
Givony: 13th overall, 4th SG/SF
Details: A lanky 6’8 lefty with an impeccable shooting stroke and upside as a slasher, Hood made the most of his one year with the Blue Devils (he spent his first collegiate season at Mississippi State before transferring). He shot 46/42/81 for Coach K, and for his collegiate career, Hood made 40% of the 300 three-pointers he attempted. He also used his size to post up smaller defenders, a skill that will translate against some NBA small forwards, though it’s fair to wonder how he’d perform against the length and athleticism he’ll face at the next level. He needs to put on some weight, work on creating off the dribble, and concentrate on improving his defense and rebounding.
Analysis: Parrish, Givony and several other respected mockers seem convinced Hood will be available at 13th, where the Wolves will snatch him up. Questions about Hood’s defense are perfectly valid, but he’s hardly the first prospect to enter the league with those concerns. His shot mechanics are smooth and repeatable; Hood is solid at both the catch-and-shoot and off-the-bounce jumper. If he’s the pick, he’ll provide depth at the wing, and if he develops correctly, someday he could push either Corey Brewer or Kevin Martin to their more appropriate roles on the bench. On the other hand, the Timberwolves took a small forward 14th overall in the 2013 Draft (Shabazz Muhammad). Would they do pretty much the same thing a year later?
T.J. Warren, Sophomore, N.C. State
Ford: 18th overall, 8th SG/SF
Parrish: 14th overall, 6th SG/SF
Givony: 15th overall, 6th SG/SF
Details: A gifted scorer, the 20-year-old Warren averaged nearly 25 points per game on 59% shooting for the Wolfpack in 2013-14. He dropped 15 pounds from his freshman season, yet the leaner version of this small forward/ power forward combo still managed to work effectively in the post. He also runs the floor extremely well and has a very nice floater, and is capable of beating his man in one-on-one situations off the dribble. The problems come with his jump shot (just a 25% shooter from outside), his effort on defense, and the usual problems associated with being a tweener.
Analysis: He played for a disappointing N.C. State team, so despite the fact that he was one of the NCAA’s most prolific scorers. he flew under the radar, somewhat. As the Draft process has played itself out, he’s slowly moved up the boards, but will he adjust favorably to the pro game? For the Wolves, the same question applies to Warren that it does for Rodney Hood – talent aside, do they really want to take two players at the same position, at more or less the same Draft slot, two years in a row?
Dario Saric, 20 years old, Cibona Zagreb
Ford: 12th overall, 4th PF
Parrish: 16th overall, 6th PF
Givony: 11th overall, 5th PF
Details: The mystery man of this year’s class, Saric was in line to be a lottery pick last season but withdrew near the end of the process. An above-average ball-handler for a man of his size, the 20 year old Croatia native can play either the three or the four and has a diverse offensive skill set. His court vision, defensive effort and hustle, particularly in transition, set him apart. He still needs to become a more consistent jump shooter and add muscle to his wiry frame, particularly if he is to hold up against NBA power forwards on a nightly basis.
Analysis: It’d be an intriguing pick for the Wolves, but without guarantees that he would come play in Minnesota (he’s asserted in the past that he’d like to play in Los Angeles or Boston) it would also be something of a risk. Since President of Basketball Operations Flip is also Coach Flip, I somewhat expect the Wolves to select someone who’s ready to contribute immediately, and no one knows if Saric can be that guy.
Adreian Payne, Senior, Michigan State
Ford: 16th overall, 5th PF
Parrish: 12th overall, 5th PF
Givony: 18th overall, 6th PF
Details: One of the most solid all-around players in the Draft, the 23-year-old Payne blossomed from an inconsistent freshman and sophomore into a steady, versatile leader during his four seasons in East Lansing. He shot 57% from the floor, 42% from beyond the arc and 70% at the rim his senior season, using both a soft shooting touch and sneaky athleticism to average 16.4 points per game, second only to fellow Wolves’ target Gary Harris. A quality defender and rebounder, the 6’10 Payne could play the four or some stretch-five if necessary. Some negatives on Payne are his passing ability, as well as his tendency to occasionally drift on the defensive end.
Analysis: Are the Timberwolves going to trade Kevin Love? If so, Payne would be a decent candidate to help fill the considerable void that would be left behind. While he’ll almost certainly never be the player Love has become, Payne’s size and skill set are en vogue and in demand. He’s been steadily creeping up the Draft boards; will be still be around when it’s the Wolves’ turn at 13?
MY TWO CENTS: WHO THE WOLVES SHOULD PICK
Flip Saunders and Tom Izzo are close, so close, in fact, that rumors linking Izzo to the Timberwolves’ job weren’t completely ridiculous and had to be treated as somewhat serious business (even if it was always a longshot). The Timberwolves’ organization is run by people who like to stick to people they know; two of the above prospects played collegiately for Izzo, one for two seasons (Harris) and the other for four (Payne). Both prospects seem to fill team needs, or at least, potential needs.
The Country Club atmosphere usually makes me cynical – but in this case, I’d be perfectly happy if either Harris or Payne were the Wolves’ pick at 13th overall. Harris is probably the ideal selection, in my humble opinion, because if he is able to produce, Kevin Martin could be relegated to a bench role, and instantly, the Wolves’ starting backcourt would become an above average defensive unit, with complementary offensive players. Payne would be another solid choice, for both basketball reasons and sentimental ones. Each Spartan seems like a quality individual with high ceilings and (relatively) high floors in the NBA.
Will either be available? I’ve got my fingers crossed.