In a new segment here at AWAW, our occasional roundtable discussion will discuss topical goings on around the Wolves and the NBA. In our first edition, we discuss the NBA Draft (mainly Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones), future lineup scenarios, and the reported future signing of Euro prospect Nemanja Bjelica.
The Timberwolves blogger core is a talented one and extends far past AWAW. With that, we’ll be inviting a guest on every roundtable. For our first one, we asked Andy Grimsrud of the always-informative Punch Drunk Wolves, an independent Timberwolves blog since 2011. Click here to follow PD Wolves on Twitter.
I served as moderator/question-asker this time around, while Steve, Zach, Bill and Andy were on-point as always with their answers. Enjoy.
1.) For just about everybody, Karl Towns was the obvious choice for the first pick. Who was No. 2 on your big board, or was somebody ahead of Towns for you?
Steve McPherson: I was hesitant enough about Okafor’s defense on the Wolves to have D’Angelo Russell second — well, that and the chance to make so many “How Does It Feel?” jokes. With the guard-dominant direction the league is trending, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to get a talented ballhandler and scorer in the backcourt, which is maybe what the Lakers were thinking as well. For what it’s worth, I think Okafor might have landed in a good situation in Philadelphia if he can establish himself as an offensive force next to Nerlens Noel next year.
Zach Harper: As much as I loved the idea of the Wolves deciding to go nuts with D’Angelo Russell and start the revolution with him, I still had Jahlil Okafor second on my board. I would’ve loved an experiment with Russell and hoping to grab one of the top big men in next year’s class, but I’m not as high on the cavalcade of Wolves’ big men as others are. The issues with Nikola Pekovic’s health and my hesitancy toward deeming Gorgui Dieng a definite starter on a good team would’ve led me to buying into the Wolves taking Okafor right behind Karlito.
Andy Grimsrud: I’m in the minority here. I think Okafor is the best prospect in this draft class. His defense and free-throw shooting are red flags, but his interior offense is unlike anything I can remember seeing from a player his age. In my opinion, he has the highest [realistic] upside in the draft, because of the way that he’ll produce his own points and take pressure off of his teammates. That said, there was a consensus among scouts — supported by statistical-projection models — that Towns was better. That isn’t lost on me, so I am fully on board with the selection. When the lottery results were being announced, I was just crossing my fingers and hoping for a Top-2 pick, so that the Wolves would end up with either of these big men to team up with Wiggins, Rubio, and the rest.
William Bohl: I never definitively settled on who my top prospect was. Ultimately, I said Towns, and I think he’ll be great, but I was torn between Okafor and Russell as well. Andy’s well-documented love of the Duke big man got me looking at more and more video, and every time I watched Okafor play, he jumped off the screen to me. Passing up a talent like him wasn’t easy. And while it wasn’t really feasible, especially since Ricky Rubio’s contract extension is just kicking in, I was intrigued by the idea of taking Russell, a point guard who can actually shoot, and a guy who may end up being the best player to come out of the Draft when it’s all said and done. But Towns is a great choice, especially if he can help improve the Wolves’ dreadful interior defense right away.
2.) What were you hoping to see happen with the 31st and 36th pick? Most seemed to like the idea of trading into the first round, but was Tyus a good choice?
McPherson: I have to plead ignorance of the prospects that were available to Minnesota toward the end of the first or at the top of the second. To be honest, the team is so loaded with young players who need minutes and development that I wasn’t optimistic about them getting contributors in the second round. I don’t know that Jones was the best choice, but it’s possible Minnesota is absolutely the best place for Jones to get a shot at being a productive NBA player. If he doesn’t pan out, it’s not a crippling move.
Harper: There were many prospects I liked at those projected spots going in. Terry Rozier (16th, Boston?!) and Anthony Brown were probably my two favorite projected second round picks for around those spots. I wanted Jordan Mickey from LSU if he happened to be available because I think he’s a definite sleeper (Boston, you so backwards with your selections). But mostly, I just wanted to see a return on value for those picks. As other writers on this site have written on here, the Wolves don’t have a great history with valuing second round picks. And leading up to the draft, I had a lot of Wolves fans asking me about trading 31 and 36 to move up to get Tyus Jones. I figured it wasn’t likely and I figured it wasn’t really necessary. Whoops! I’m happy with what they did with the two picks because they maximized the value there. With Delon Wright off the board, I think they made the right decision, but him being from Minnesota makes it a curious marketing selection.
Grimsrud: Heading into the draft, I liked the idea of targeting Tyus Jones via trade-up. Put simply, I think he’s really good at basketball and has both a reliably high “floor,” and an interesting upside, too. Think of it this way, regarding Jones: He spent his high school life as the best point guard in his national class, and only reinforced that top position in his one year of championship-winning college ball. Why should people doubt him, exactly? I was just concerned that Flip might overpay to move up to Houston’s 18th-pick slot to get him. For weeks, it was believed that the Rockets wanted Jones. The conspiracy-theorist in me wondered if this was all a smokescreen devised by Flip’s old buddy, Kevin McHale — Houston’s Coach — who understands how the Timberwolves operate, and how that might lead to them overvaluing a local legend. That the Rockets played the bluff to such an extent that Adrian Woj mistakenly tweeted the Rockets were drafting Jones, only to then select Sam Dekker, tends to support that theory. But Flip, much like in his Kevin-Love-trade negotiations, held strong, and did not overpay. Dealing with those same Cavaliers, he swapped 31 and 36 (and a future 2nd Rounder) for 24, where Jones was taken. In my view, that is good value, and makes the post-KAT portion of the draft a success, too. If that type of a move for Jones wasn’t available, I would’ve hoped for a wild home run swing at an enigmatic prospect like Christian Wood from UNLV. But Wood ultimately went undrafted, so what do I know?
Bohl: Before the draft, I said that I’d be happy if the Wolves just used both the 31st and 36th picks for something, anything, rather than auctioning one or both of them off to the highest bidder, as they are want to do. Then they traded them both for Tyus Jones, and… whatever. He’s… whatever. I liked a few different players in that general range more than I liked Jones – Delon Wright, R.J. Hunter, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jordan Mickey, to name a few – but the Tyus Jones pick is… ya know, whatever. My ideal scenario had them taking the best available prospect at 31 and an international player to stash at 36, then targeting a veteran backup point guard in free agency, but, yeah, whatever. Whatever. Whatever, whatever, whatever. Whatever.
3.) Going into next year, what does the starting lineup look like early on to you? Does Towns start right away? Do you prefer Shabazz starting next to Wiggins or coming off the bench?
McPherson: I think it’s very hard not to start your #1 draft pick, especially when you’re coming off a 16-win season. What’s the downside to throwing him out there immediately? Assuming Garnett is healthy, it seems like the lineup will be Rubio, Martin, Wiggins, Garnett, Towns. That would be a fairly conservative lineup, although personally I would prefer Rubio, Wiggins, Muhammad, Garnett, Towns. In some ways, that makes the 2-3 and 4-5 positions fairly interchangeable, which could force other teams into some contortions.
Harper: My ideal lineup would be Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Garnett, and Karl-Anthony Towns. I also wouldn’t mind slotting Gorgui Dieng in for KG (who knows how available he’ll actually be all season) because I want to see Towns at the PF position too. I think Rubio-Martin-Wiggins-KG-Towns provides a proper amount of spacing, playmaking, and shooting. As for Shabazz Muhammad, I don’t want him starting unless he absolutely earns it. I think the idea of bringing him off the bench balances the scoring attack perfectly because not many second unit wings can hang with his skill and physicality, and that’s before we know which improvements he’ll bring into next season.
Grimsrud: What I expect: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Garnett, and Karl-Anthony Towns. What I hope: Shabazz in K-Mart’s place. Muhammad is a unique player with a pretty incredible ability to generate his own points by intelligent, aggressive cutting and full-throttle drives to the rim. Oh, and lefty hook shots out of the post. If that’s all that he ever knows how to do, he’ll be an effective bench scorer. I’m just not ready to define his ceiling yet, and think that it’s worth investing some real minutes to figure out if he can develop chemistry with his young teammates. What if he develops better drive-and-dish passing instincts? It might not take much more than that for him to be an all-around star, on offense. Also: wouldn’t we like to see how Shabazz does (or doesn’t) mesh with Rubio? They’ve hardly shared the floor, to this point. I’d try starting Shabazz this year. If he’s a bit too hungry for his own shot, and disrupts what Rubio and Wiggins are trying to do, they can always change. Towns will start from Day 1 for a lot of good reasons; the clearest one being that they don’t have a better alternative.
Bohl: Well, clearly Tyus Jones has to start ahead of Ricky Rubio, right? Because, you know, he’s a winner, and he’s #oneofus, right? No? Okay, well, then I’ll say it’ll be Rubio, Martin, Wiggins, Garnett and Pekovic, if he’s healthy and ready to go. Otherwise, slide Towns in next to Garnett. Not to poo-poo the question, but since KG is probably only going to play 15-20 minutes per night, and even in the best case scenario Pek will only go for 20-25, it doesn’t really matter to me if the veteran bigs start in order to preserve some part of their egos. What’s more important is who finishes games. As for the Bazz question, I’m cool with him coming off of the bench until he improves his court vision and is a little more consistent on the defensive end of the floor. If Kevin Martin misses a stretch of games due to injury (and given his history, that’s a likely scenario), Bazz will have a chance to grab ahold of a starting spot and refuse to give it back. I’m a proponent of making him earn it.
4.) Lastly, reports are surfacing that the Wolves and Nemanja Bjelica are discussing a 3-year, $12-million deal, and could be signed as early as next week. What do you know about him, and do you think he can crack the rotation out of camp?
McPherson: If Bjelica were walking down First Ave, I don’t think I could pick him out, although a 6-10 guy is obviously going to be assumed to be a basketball player. I don’t hate bringing him over, if only for heightened competition at the power forward spot. If you’re projecting Towns as a center, then you’ve got Towns and Dieng as the future of the center spot, but really only Adreian Payne at power forward (and no, I’m not forgetting Anthony Bennett). The real question is: What is his nickname going to be?
Harper: I’ve watched a little bit of his stuff and here’s my poor scouting report on him: Very good shooter at the 3/4 position with a knack for rebounding. Very smart player who orbits open zones on the floor properly and can make a play for others when the defense over commits. I think he’s too smart and skilled and the rest of the 3’s and 4’s are too inexperienced and still developing for him not to crack the rotation, especially with Flip coaching. Can you really see Anthony Bennett or Adreian Payne (two guys I still want to see how they develop this summer) outplaying a 27-year old veteran?
Grimsrud: My knowledge of Bjelica is limited to what anyone can find on his Wikipedia page: He is a 6’10” Serbian who was the 35th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, but has continued to play overseas since that time. He has obviously improved up through his recent 27th birthday, because he just won the Euroleague MVP honor. I know that his Turkish league is the same one that Khalid El-Amin played in recently, which has no relevance here but I just wanted to force in a Khalid El-Amin reference. I’ll be honest: I don’t know what to make of the Timberwolves power forward position, or whether Bjelica should factor into it. KG is obviously nearing retirement, and cannot be counted on for a lot of minutes. I’ll die on the hill defending Anthony Bennett’s potential, but he hasn’t earned the benefit of Flip Saunders’ doubt, so he might get traded soon. Adreian Payne shows flashes, but like Bennett, they have been too few and far between. Robbie Hummel is useful as a utility man who can fill in, as needed. It seems realistic that the Wolves will find themselves in the draft lottery again next year — just not quite so high up, hopefully — at which time they’ll be looking to draft a big forward. I doubt Bjelica, being so old for an NBA rookie, has the type of long-term upside the team will covet to add to this emerging nucleus. But if he’s got game, then he’s an asset worth acquiring just the same.
Bohl: I know that Bjelica is neither Adreian Payne nor Anthony Bennett, so I am 100% in favor of the move if it ends up happening. (Sorry, Andy. I could offer some half-hearted support for Okafor over Towns, but you’re dying on that Bennett hill all by your lonesome.) I’m intrigued by a guy who has ascended through the meritocracy of the European system, something only smart players seem to do. I know he’s got great size for a power forward, that he’s made 38% of his threes in Euroleague play over the past two seasons, and that he can handle the ball pretty well, too. I’m a big fan of bringing him over.