I love this picture. It’s weird to think that, at one time, both Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were merely guys with “potential”. Now, they’re back-to-back Rookie of the Year winners, both playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But both Wigs and KAT were No. 1 overall picks, and fairly easy selections to make at that. Barring an unforseen trade, the Wolves won’t be playing with this year’s top overall selection in October 2016. This year, the Wolves will be working with the fifth pick. Plenty of talent, yes, but more to figure out.
Zach, Steve, Bill, and I all took a look at what the Wolves have to work with at No. 5. Spoiler alert: they can do a lot of things.
1. Let’s start simple. Let’s say the Wolves keep their pick. Let’s also say that Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are off the board. Who do you like at No. 5?
Zach: I’m going to assume Dragan Bender is off the board in this scenario. That’s probably leaving a field of Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray, Jaylen Brown, and Kris Dunn as the favorites to fall into the fifth pick somewhere. Of that group, I’d probably want Murray (he seems crazy fun) or Brown (he intrigues me the most of those four) the most. But I’d like to offer up a wildcard selection. Marquese Chriss out of Washington is quickly becoming my favorite prospect after Simmons, Ingram, and maybe even Bender.
Chriss has been shooting up draft boards, and Draft Express currently has him going No. 3 to the Celtics. That’s probably crazy high for him. Hell, the fifth pick might even be crazy high for him. Maybe it would be better to trade down to get him, although it’s tough to see anybody being available at 5 in this draft that teams are dying to trade up to get. I just love the idea of Chriss next to Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s 6’10” with a 7-foot wingspan. He’s got very good athleticism. He’s a good spot-up shooter (could even have NBA 3-point range at some point). He can run the floor. He’s a solid enough rebounder.
There are some real questions about his makeup and decision-making, but I like the idea of Tom Thibodeau brainwashing him into being a monster on defense.
Steve: I’m going to try not to overthink this one. My guess is that Thibodeau is not looking to add an 18 or 19 year old to the roster at this point. He’s already knee deep in guys who are 21 or younger and while they all seem to be coalescing into a core, bringing on another one means another major adjustment period, not just from college to the NBA, but from adolescence into adulthood. That effectively rules out some fun possibilities like Chriss and even a player with as much upside as Bender.
Dunn has a lot to like, but also a lot to worry about. Murray and Brown are each intriguing, especially Brown as a small ball power forward alongside Towns, but honestly, I think Hield is the safe and maybe right pick here. For all his shortcomings as far as size and defense, you absolutely know he can shoot it, and that’s the one absolutely necessary skill for a team to truly compete in the NBA that the Wolves just don’t have. Other teams might have to worry about his ceiling given that he’s already 22, but it’s almost a plus for Minnesota because he fills a specific need with a bit more maturity than you might expect from a prospect. I know it’s often frowned on to draft for fit, but in this case, it makes sense.
Tim: I’m going to name one player, even though I’ve come to appreciate a few prospects at this point. The talent pool isn’t what I wish it was, but I like what Jamal Murray brings as a NBA shooting guard prospect. He shoots from deep at a high clip (and shoots often! Yay solid sample sizes!), has a good handle, has good catch-and-shoot instincts, and had a successful college career. I like certain things Dunn, Hield, and Chriss do, and wouldn’t be furious or shocked to see any of them selected at No. 5 (especially the latter two). But Murray has a certain level of NBA-style offensive prowess that I really like.
Of course the concern of too much Zach LaVine redundancy is one that is brought up pretty frequently when it comes to Murray, and it’s legitimate criticism. They’re both about the same height, play the same position, and do a lot of the same things well. But in the case of “wing players that shoot well and can handle the ball”, I’m okay with some redundancy.
Bill: I flatly refuse to entertain the idea that Minnesota will keep the pick. I will beat this “trade the 5 plus Zach LaVine for Jimmy Butler” drum until I’m blue in the face, and you can’t stop me. YOU CANNOT STOP ME FROM DREAMING!
2. Every prospect has a weakness. Who among the guys widely considered to be in contention for that fifth pick (if any) selection do you feel the least excited about?
Zach: I’m lukewarm on Kris Dunn at the moment. He has great size (6’4” with a 6’9” wingspan) for a point guard. I’m not particularly bothered by him already being 22, but I’m a little skeptical of how he translates at the next level. It’s tough because I think the college game can make it tough to judge point guards. The teammates they’re passing to often can’t shoot. The spacing is horrendous. The skill level is low so it’s hard to judge how you make your teammates better when the teammates are really bad by NBA standards.
The lack of a reliable jump shot worries me though. He shot 29% on spot-up jumpers. He was 38% on unguarded catch-and-shoot shots, 36% on guarded catch-and-shoot. He was 33% on jumpers off the dribble. His 3-point shot was fine his senior year (37%) but he didn’t show much over the course of his entire college career in that department. He was a fine scorer in the pick-and-roll (0.869 PPP, 76th percentile), but his PnR numbers including passes weren’t good (0.847 PPP, 49th percentile). Is that his fault or just a product of the college game? I don’t know that I have the answer but it’s enough to make me wonder if he’s a sure thing at the next level.
Steve: I will nod my head at everything Zach said about Dunn, but also provide my own answer for variety’s sake: Jaylen Brown. I think Brown has the making of a good NBA player, but given the construction of the Wolves, I wonder exactly how he fits in. His size (just 6-foot-7 but with a 7-foot wingspan) and strength make him a possibility as a small ball 4, but I doubt he’ll be able to fill that role immediately, leaving him to play wing off the bench. The Wolves obviously need more depth overall, but their positions of greatest concern remain shooting guard and power forward, and Brown doesn’t directly address either one of those, while maybe addressing a little of each. Do they need to cope with finding a spot for another tweener right now?
Tim: Dammit, you guys took mine. Okay, I’ll go with another dude.
I like Buddy Hield a lot, and have hopes that he’ll be at the very least, an advanced NBA shooter from the start. But that’s assuming that he’s going to be able to play off the ball as well as we hope. I’m not as worried about his defense as I am about his overall ability to get open and get clean looks off. If his point guard is a guy like Ricky Rubio? Sure, that would be less problematic. But with a point guard that may require more creativity out of the wings, I’m unconvinced he’s where he needs to be in that regard.
Bill: I feel least excited about anyone who is not named Jimmy Butler, the guy that the Wolves should acquire by dealing away the 5th pick and Zach LaVine. I do not care if it’s “impossible,” and I don’t want to hear explanations that “Gar Forman and John Paxson will never work with Tom Thibodeau.” No. I refuse. Jimmy Buckets is the answer to all of the Wolves’ questions.
3. Is there an under-the-radar guy, expected to go later in the draft, that you think could hit it big at the next level?
Zach: This will not shock anybody that I love Dejounte Murray (I’m talking a lot about Washington guys). He doesn’t shoot the ball all that well from deep, but he’s shot it better in recent pre-draft workouts. He’s basically a Jamal Crawford clone from Seattle, and I love everything about how fun his game is. Will it translate to the NBA? I have no idea. I think he’ll be somewhere between Tony Wroten and good Jamal Crawford. This means Britt Robson and I will argue about him for a decade-plus and I can’t wait.
Steve: I’m warming up to Denzel Valentine, although it doesn’t seem at all clear where he’s going to go in the draft, with some mock drafts putting him in the top ten and others at the end of the first round. And to reiterate, I hardly follow college or the international game at all, so pretty much everyone is under the radar to me. With all that said, I’ll say I like Furkan Korkmaz to blow up at the next level because of his delightful name and the fact that he looks like Harry Potter.
Tim: I’ve really enjoyed seeing Domantas Sabonis rise up the draft boards in the last month or so. A few months ago, he was seen as a last first/early 2nd round pick. Now, DraftExpress have him going 17th to the Sixers. Maybe I’m biased, (watching highlight videos of his dad is one of my favorite youtube binges), but Sabonis has impressed me the last two years at Gonzaga for more than just namesake. Over this past season, he’s improved a ton as a post presence the past year, and is a steady (although athletically challenged) defender. He’s a guy I’d love to snatch up if he falls.
Bill: A fun fact: Jimmy Butler slid all the way to the 30th and final pick of the first round in 2011. Why take a chance on some other potential diamond in the rough when you can acquire one that became an All-Star, all for the low, low price of the 5th overall pick, Zach LaVine, and Gorgui Dieng?
4. With the Wolves’ young core starting to form, how interested are you in the idea of trading down, or even out of the draft? What would it take?
Zach: I’m definitely not married to the idea of having to grab a guy with the fifth pick. I’m pro trading down if it means getting someone like Chriss. I also like Wade Baldwin, Deyonta Davis, Domantas Sabonis, Juan Hernangomez, and Denzel Valentine for trade-down options. But if they were to trade out of the draft completely to bring in a good veteran to complement the young core, I’d be all for that. You could package the pick with Shabazz Muhammad or Gorgui Dieng or anybody who isn’t Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins (maybe even Zach LaVine unless they’re getting a top 20-ish guy in return) and I’d be happy with it as long as it’s a good all-around player or a veteran you just can’t pass on adding to the team.
Steve: Trading down is fine, although again, once we get out of the top ten or so, I’m out of my depth. I do like Valentine a lot as a four-year player with a high basketball IQ, great vision and serious size. His biggest problem appears to be defense, which also happens to be one of Thibs’ absolute strengths. Maybe that’s a good fit.
If there was one thing that rubbed me the wrong way about Saunders overall as the head of the front office, it was that sometimes it seemed like he gave up too much to get things that could have been gotten for less. A first-round pick for Adreian Payne? Thad Young for Kevin Garnett when they simply could have signed Garnett in the offseason? So along those lines, I really don’t want to see this pick moved for someone they could get for less. The combinations are endless, but, for example, I’d rather see Muhammad and Dieng moved rather than one of those two and the pick. That said, if the fifth pick is integral to getting a veteran who can be both productive and a leader (as opposed to guys like Andre Miller, Tayshaun Prince and Garnett, who were more the latter than the former), then I’m fine with it.
Tim: I’m more interested in trading out than down, personally. I like a few guys late in the draft, but I like the idea of using the fifth pick as a trade chip for a legitimate player (though I don’t have any idea who that would be) with a reasonable enough contract. If Thibs isn’t wowed by anyone that falls to him (I doubt that happens) at No. 5, then let’s get out of the draft and nab someone we KNOW is good.
Bill: Believe it or not, I am very, very interested in trading the 5th pick, along with Zach LaVine (and Gorgui Dieng, too, if they ask politely) to the Chicago Bulls for Jimmy Butler, who checks many of the boxes Zach, Steve, and Tim laid out above. He is a “top-20ish guy,” who absolutely could not be acquired for less, and we KNOW he is good. In fact, Butler is an excellent two-way player who would make a great addition to the core group in Minnesota.
5. Are the Wolves now at a point in their rebuilding process where they can start prioritizing “experienced, can-play-right-away” prospects (Dunn, Hield) as part of their consideration?
Zach: I think so, if only because I think they should be adding the best player available. If they determine it’s an older prospect like Dunn or Hield, I’m fine with that. I have concerns about both (Dunn mentioned above, obviously) at the next level, but it doesn’t mean I think they’d be mistakes to draft. Dunn could end up being the point guard of the future. I don’t want to trade Ricky Rubio unless you’re bringing in an awesome player and have a real, non-Tyus Jones option as the starting point guard of the future. If you think Hield’s shooting is too good to pass up and Thibs can mold him into a defender, there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t be a part of this core.
Steve: I think I’ve basically already said I’m fine with it, and I agree with Zach’s points entirely. Generally, “best player available” is a good policy, but the Wolves are in something of a unique situation in that they already have a trio of very young players showing both current talent and future potential in Wiggins, Towns and LaVine, plus other young pieces that could work with them. I think with that young core, the basketball fit has to be there, but I also think the chemistry and character fit has to work, and Hield, for example, definitely seems to fit the bill of a guy who will slot in right alongside the other young players personality-wise.
Tim: You guys nailed it. “Best player available” would be a cliche draft term if it weren’t so relevant (especially to the Wolves) every year. My worry with Dunn and Hield is that, despite their successes in college, that they won’t be the best players available at pick 5. Of course, I might be wrong, but there are other prospects that stand a chance of sitting there (which I’ve named) that Thibs might see as a better fit. All this said Hield specifically might be the safest pick in the draft, if nothing else for his insane shooting ability. That, combined with the experience and his monumental year-by-year improvement, make him a more enticing prospect.
Bill: The best player the Timberwolves can parlay that 5th pick into is this guy named Jimmy Butler. Therefore, the Wolves should trade the pick to the Bulls for Jimmy Butler, and throw in Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad if GarPax asks politely. Whatever they want! Anyone not named Towns, Wiggins, or Rubio can be had, so long as Jimmy Butler III ends up in Minnesota.
6. If you were a prospect, and could pick your music as you walked up to shake Adam Silver’s hand, what would it be, and why?
Zach: Victory by Diddy, Biggie, and Busta. I’d walk slow AF, soak in the moment, and give Adam Silver a gigantic bear hug. Either that or Shake Your Tailfeather and give a shoutout to Bad Boys 2.
Steve: Hm. How much time do they get to walk up? I’d love something with a truly slow build and then epic drop like “Farewell” by Boris (I used it soundtrack a Maya Moore gamewinner in the playoffs last year), but if we have to be quick about it, let’s stick with Boris and go with “Korosu.” That riff crushes.
Tim: Getting drafted would give me more confidence than I’d know what to do with. Walking up onto a stage, looking all spiffy in my suit, shaking Adam Silver’s hand….I’m going with E-Pro by Beck. Has that perfect combination of manly sophistication and rock and roll baddassery for the walk up.
Bill: Did you guys know that Jimmy Butler is a huge Taylor Swift fan? Listens to country music to get himself pumped up before games? And got guitar-playing tips from Garth Brooks? In honor of Jimmy, a future Timberwolf, I’d either choose “22” by T-Swift, “Jimmy On My Mind” by Loretta Lynn, or “Standing Outside the Fire” by Garth.
In conclusion, in case I’ve been cryptic or unclear with my responses, I really think that the Timberwolves should not use the 5th pick for themselves, but should instead package it iin a trade for Jimmy Butler. And if that doesn’t work they should draft Buddy Hield or something, I don’t know.