To keep the pick or trade it away: an AWAW debate
We’re kicking off our draft coverage at A Wolf Among Wolves by debating not who the Wolves should take (though we will certainly get to that), but rather whether they should take anyone at all. If Thibs/Layden, LLC has the chance to flip the 7th pick (or package it with anyone not named Towns or Wiggins) for a veteran who can help right away, should they do it? Or is it best to just stay put and take the best player available?
Bill: So, summer’s already flying by. The Stanley Cup and NBA Finals are over, we’ve already had a rainy season, a dry spell, and so much hail that a Minnesota town had to bust out its snow plows. Must be early June.
Anyway, the draft is fast approaching – it’s only nine days away! – and we need to hammer out whether the Wolves should keep the 7th pick, adding another young piece to their talented core, or try to trade it for a veteran piece (especially a shooter) who can help them win now.
I’ve been a pretty vocal advocate for the team adding established veterans to the mix, especially one that can start and help lead the young Wolves. But you, Lucas… I’ve been following Twitter, and you seem to be in love with several prospects. So what say you? Do the Wolves NEED to keep the 7th pick?
Lucas: I’ve gone back and forth since Lottery night, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I believe the Wolves do need to keep the pick. In an ideal world, I’d love to see them take Jonathan Isaac out of Florida State (most draft sites have him going between 6-8) because he fits in perfectly, both in terms of talent and timeline.
At 19-years-old and nearly 7-feet tall with a wingspan just a hair longer, Isaac projects to be a versatile defender, with some even saying that he’ll be able to guard 2-5 at his peak. He shot 34.8% from three on 2.8 attempts per game in his lone season in Tallahassee and also posted 7.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game. Whatever your stance is on college stats and their transferability to the NBA, Isaac proved to be a well-rounded player who has the potential to mend many of the Wolves’ more obvious deficiencies (cough defense cough modern NBA lineup cough).
That being said, Isaac is often thought of as more of a project than a player who will step in right away and make an impact on both sides of the court (at least, that’s what people who watch a lot more college ball than I do say). With the Wolves’ post-season drought now sitting at 13 seasons, I’d typically say that the they need to acquire talent – whether through the draft or by trade – in order to break that slump sooner rather than later.
But after watching the playoffs and the Finals, I can’t help but think that drafting more of a project than a sure thing is the way to go right now. The Warriors, whether we like it or not, aren’t going anywhere any time soon and the road to the Finals will go through Oak…San Francisco for the foreseeable future. Let say in 5 years, if the Wolves take Isaac and he develops into what we believe he can, their starting lineup may look something like (age in parentheses): Dunn (28) – Lavine (27) – Wiggins (27) – Isaac (24) – Towns (26). That’s an incredible lineup (whatever you think of Dunn as not only a point guard, but the point guard of the future, for now, Thibs seems set on him being the guy), all in or approaching their prime, ready to dethrone Warrior dynasty.
But I have a feeling you disagree, don’t you, Bill?
Bill: I can’t disagree with your assessment of the timing, that’s for sure. The
Gentrifiers Warriors will be the prohibitive favorite for at least the next 3-5 years, so the long view is probably the right view. And the Wolves’ cap situation would be aided by the smaller, locked-in rookie scale deal the 7th pick would receive, especially since Dieng’s extension kicks in now, Shabazz’s (perhaps) in July, with Wiggins, LaVine (both in 2018) and Towns (in 2019) not far behind.
13 years away from the playoffs is a long-ass time, and while adding another blue chip prospect sounds enticing, sometimes those “high-upside” players are more Noah Vonleh or Ben McLemore than Gordon Hayward or Paul George.
The “3-5 year timeline to the Wolves’ contention” that everyone likes to talk about makes many assumptions that make me rather uneasy. The Wolves are top-heavy with prospects and short on veterans who can both a) play and b) help establish a winning culture. There are legitimate questions about Wiggins’ motor and attention to detail, LaVine’s defensive awareness and fit, and Towns’ ability to anchor a playoff-caliber defense. There are zero veterans on the team who can look them in the eye and say, “I’ve been where you want to go,” then go out on the floor and help lead/hold them accountable in between the lines, where it really matters.
Granted, a couple of the guys who could best do that (Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka) are on the free agent market, but the argument can be made that the Wolves have their foundational talent (Wiggins, LaVine, Towns) and now must support them. They need a leader and an established two-way player who can shoot. Maybe they can’t trade for the leader (hopefully Karl becomes one), but with the 7th pick and another piece, perhaps they can target the latter in a trade.
But before I start naming names, let me throw it back to you. I asked you about keeping the pick, and you immediately mentioned Jonathan Isaac. Let’s say he’s off the board… is there a scenario where the first six picks shake out in such a way that makes you more open to a trade? Or are you content that the 7th spot will yield a “must-take” prospect, no matter what?
Lucas: If Isaac is gone before 7, and I could see that happening rather easily, I think it would be smart of the team to trade back to the 10-13 range. OG Anunoby, a versatile defender from Indiana, and Zach Collins, a sort of do-it-all big man from Gonzaga, project to be available in that range and would also fill some of the Wolves problems. However, both of them are more projects as well (Anunoby will probably miss the beginning of the season recovering from ACL reconstruction and Collins is young and raw).
I can’t disagree with your assessment that the Wolves need to get older and more experienced; I championed that thought all of last season. But I think in a draft this deep it would be a mistake to trade out completely. When you have the opportunity to take someone with as much talent, whether it’s solidified or projectable, as Isaac (or, to a lesser extent, Anunoby or Collins) you have to do it. The Wolves can always worry about fit, money, the lack of veteran presence, or what have you later.
And, you’re right, with drafting another youth and projecting that the Wolves will be contenders, or at the least really, really good, in 3-5 years assumes quite a bit and is heavily based on speculation. But by trading the pick away completely you don’t allow those assumptions to have any chance at coming to fruition. Sure, Isaac might not become what we think he will, but what if he does? If he ends up not on your team because he gets drafted a spot or two before, that’s one thing. But if he ends up not on your team because you didn’t allow for that opportunity, that’s another.
I guess, the foundation of this conversation is kind of built on the idea of what’s more important: championships (or at least being in the conversation) or the more nebulous team success (so, for the Wolves that might simply be making the playoffs)? I don’t want to dive too deeply into this idea as I think that’s a discussion for a different day, but whether or not the Wolves trade away their pick or keep it (whether at 7 or later on in the first round) will determine where they stand in that discussion.
Bill: A couple things:
Firstly, the argument that the Wolves “can always worry about fit, money, the lack of veteran presence” later… Well… If they eek into the playoffs with the 8th seed next season (a very real possibility), their pick transfers to the Hawks (from the Adreian Payne deal). You can say that’s an argument for keeping the pick, but it’s equally valid to say it’s an argument for trading it, if the right situation comes up. This might be the Wolves’ last quality trade chip for awhile. Maximizing it is paramount.
Who would I have in mind? I mean, there’s nothing supporting this, but if the Wolves were to, say, flip the 7th pick and something else (perhaps Gorgui Dieng, in a three-team deal) to Charlotte for Nicolas Batum, I’d be overjoyed. I don’t know if Charlotte wants to rebuild, but that’s the kind of player I’d have in mind. Or, if the Wolves got a little crazy and gave away anyone not named Towns or Wiggins, plus the pick, to the Knicks for Kristaps Porzingis… I mean, that’d be amazing, wouldn’t it?
Is any of that likely? Hell no, and I feel insane for even typing that last paragraph, but Boogie got traded for Buddy Friggin’ Hield and a protected pick! Let me dream, is what I’m saying.
Secondly, regarding whether the team should seek “success” or a “championships,” I’m a big believer in Kanye’s line that you need to crawl before you ball. They still have so much work to do before making the leap from “good playoff team” to “real title contenders.”
Really, I don’t know what the trade market is like, and it’d be a fool’s errand to do any more guessing than I’ve already done, but my point is, I hope trading the pick is very much on the table for the next week and a half, and all the way through draft night.
Lucas: All very good points, Bill. Though we disagree on what the Wolves should do with their pick, I think we can both agree that this off-season is going to be a whirlwind and, perhaps, one of the most important for the team in recent memory.
Bill: Honestly, so long as Derrick Rose isn’t a Wolf on Media Day, I don’t really care what else happens.