By: Alex Berg
Earlier this week, the NBA Draft lottery revealed that the Minnesota Timberwolves would be selecting fifth in next month’s NBA draft. While many fans complained while pointing out the team has never “moved up” in the draft lottery, I couldn’t get too worked up. For the first time in over a decade the lottery/draft doesn’t feel like a make or break. The pieces are already in place for a strong foundation, anything added in this draft is just gravy. Plus, can’t we just be happy they didn’t move down? By percentages, the Wolves were more likely to land the sixth pick than any other.
Now that I got that out of the way, let’s take a look at what the Wolves might do with that fifth overall selection.
Trade the pick for an established player
This is the avenue I have been suggesting for a few months now, and until recently it seemed as if most fans were against it. My reasoning was the Wolves finally something to build on, but at some point the team would have to try to accelerate that instead of keep adding younger players. I think once Glen Taylor shocked the world by bringing in Tom Thibodeau to coach the team, others were warming up to this possibility. Both Taylor and Thibodeau are going to want to win and compete at a high level as soon as they can.
The only problem with this route might be the lack of a market for the pick. I know everyone tends to attach high draft picks to incredibly high trade value, but unfortunately that is not always true. Look back to last year’s draft. Reports across the league suggested teams outside the top-3 were trying actively to trade down or out of the first round, yet there were not any trades in the lottery. Oh, and last year’s draft class appeared to me much stronger than this 2016 class.
Thibodeau’s entrance was followed nearly immediately by speculation that the Wolves may look to acquire Jimmy Butler in a trade. On the surface, it sounds great, but it would be a steep price. Zach LaVine and possibly even Gorgui Dieng would have to be included with the fifth pick to even get Chicago’s attention. It would certainly solidify the team’s defense, but trading LaVine is not something I would like to do. He just turned 21, has an incredibly high ceiling and seems to fit in well with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns -- the franchise’s cornerstone players. I wouldn’t move LaVine until seeing what Thibodeau can get out of him.
I’m not sure what other options there would be as for an established player. Maybe Derrick Favors from Utah? But with Utah being on the cusp of the postseason this year with a young roster, I wouldn’t expect Favors to be moved. Eric Bledsoe is also a little intriguing but he is also coming off a major injury and I’m not sure there would be enough minutes to go around if he entered a rotation that already included LaVine and Ricky Rubio.
I would certainly look to trade the pick if I were Taylor and Scott Layden, but I’m just not really sure what the market would look like. This is obviously all guesswork on my part.
Trade down in the first round
As far as finding a market for the fifth pick, I think this route will have more suitors. The price tag wouldn’t be nearly as high for another team, but if a team liked a player enough to move up a few spots, the Wolves still may be able to add an asset or two in addition to a lottery pick. One scenario I’ve thought about is a team in search of a point guard falling in love with Providence’s Kris Dunn. I’ll explain below why Dunn doesn’t do a whole lot for me, but he’s still the top choice at his position in the draft.
Sacramento and Milwaukee are the two teams that stand out to me as potential trade partners. Hypothetically speaking, the Wolves could be able to move just 3-5 spots while adding a player like Willie Cauley-Stein (probably unrealistic, but let me dream) or Miles Plumlee.
Coming out of the draft with one of the aforementioned players along with a top-10 pick (Denzel Valentine, Henry Ellenson and Jakob Poeltl would all be possibilities) would not be a bad night for the Wolves.
While I would be pretty shocked if this were to happen, I guess I’ll include it just for fun. The price to move up into the top-2 would probably be higher than the Wolves would want to pay and moving Shabazz Muhammad to just move up a spot or two might not even make much sense. This scenario would have to require the Wolves falling in love with a prospect.
Keep the pick
The order of the first two picks is anyone’s guess at this point. LSU’s Ben Simmons and Duke’s Brandon Ingram will likely be off the board after the second pick, but after that the draft seems wide open. Dunn, Jaylen Brown, Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray and Dragan Bender are some of the most likely players to follow. Here is a quick rundown on them:
Kris Dunn, PG, Providence
I really liked Kris Dunn at Providence. I think he could become a pretty good point guard in the NBA too. The problem with him and the Wolves is that selecting a backup point guard when there are other needs does not make much sense. Adding a shooter makes more sense here, and I don’t see the team giving up on Tyus Jones quite yet.
The anti-Rubio crowd entertains me when it comes to Dunn. Frustrations about Rubio’s shooting has led some to wanting to move on from Rubio and draft Dunn to fill his spot. First of all, the Wolves are aiming to be a playoff team in the Western conference next season. Good luck doing that with a rookie point guard playing 30-35 minutes a night. Also, take a look beyond the points per game in Dunn’s statline. His 37.2 percent shooting from behind the college 3-point line was serviceable, not worth getting overly excited about. He’s a career sub-70 percent shooter from the free-throw line and he’s only three years younger than Rubio.
If the Wolves plan to add shooters in free agency and see Dunn as a backup to Rubio, I would be all for it. I just think a shooter in the draft is the most likely route here.
Jaylen Brown, SF, California
He’s a freak athlete, but not the best shooter. He’s a little too raw of a prospect for me to consider here. The Wolves have all the high-flying dunkers they need. Experience and shooting carries more value.
Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma
This is probably my choice for the Wolves. Hield averaged 25.0 points per game last season at Oklahoma and would instantly step in and add a well-needed scoring punch to the Wolves bench. He shot 45.7 percent and showed the ability to step out beyond the NBA 3-point line. With the Wolves current roster, he fits the biggest need and would likely be the best player available at the fifth pick if he is on the board.
It seems like everyone’s concern with Hield is his age. He will turn 23 in December, so he would basically be a senior citizen in comparison to Towns, Wiggins and LaVine. The fact that this is an issue for some people is laughable to me. He’s still young, he’s not in a nursing home. Plus, take a look around the NBA. Look at the good guards and how long they played in college. Damian Lillard, four years at Weber State. Klay Thompson, three years at Washington State. Stephen Curry, three years at Davidson. Isaiah Thomas, three years at Washington. CJ McCollum, four years at Lehigh. Experience isn’t bad.
Jamal Murray, PG/SG, Kentucky
Murray is right behind Hield among my top choices. He averaged 20.0 points per game and shot over 40 percent from long distance at Kentucky. Hield’s experience gives the very slight edge for me, but I would be fine going either way.
Dragan Bender, PF, Israel
His name is Dragan Bender. Are you sold already? If not, look no further than his 7-1 frame combined with his versatile skillset to be intrigued. No, he’s not Kristaps Porzingis and whether he is ready for the NBA remains to be seen. But his ability to stretch the floor, distributing abilities as a passer, and defensive potential makes him project as a good fit in the modern NBA.
We all know how much can change in a month, so the team could end up going in a completely different direction. Having options is good.
As we get closer to the NBA draft, I may take a stab at a mock draft. After the draft, we can look ahead to free agency and what/who the Wolves will be looking to add.