The Minnesota Timberwolves’ current draft board more or less remains a mystery. We’ve all heard the rumors regarding POBO Flip Saunders loving Alex Len (please, no) and Shabazz Muhammad (please, please, no). We’ve heard that C.J. McCollum reminds Flip of Randy Foye, and not in a good way, I presume. We’ve seen the online push for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, which is one that I certainly agree with.
We’ll probably never know what the Wolves’ draft board really looks like, save for a leak of Jerry Jones/Dallas Cowboys-size proportions. It was recently spouted by ousted former-POBO David Kahn that Jonny Flynn was absolute ahead of Stephen Curry on the Wolves’ 2009 draft board, and not just because he loved his smile. Apparently, the scouts concurred. Of course, we’ll never know if this is really true.
So the following is what Saunders’ board should look like. Just to be clear, it is not what I think it actually looks like. I’m less nervous about that than I was with Kahn at the helm, but let’s just say that I’m still crossing my fingers that the Len/Muhammad talk is some serious smoke-screening. On a related note: one of those names is not-so-mysteriously missing completely from my draft board.
- Otto Porter, Jr., SF, Georgetown
In my mind, the top talent in the draft, all things considered. He should be able to help any team immediately, and still has a superstar ceiling. He’s still just 20 years old, and his outside shooting and length would be an enormous boon for the Wolves prospects in 2013-14 and beyond.
- Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
Yeah, he’s got the ACL injury that will keep him sidelined until at least Christmas, and possibly well into 2014. Yes, the Wolves have Kevin Love and likely, Nikola Pekovic on the roster. But the physical and defensive comparisons to a young Kevin Garnett are un-mistakable, and he would be a wonderful fit next to Love, with or without Pekovic on the squad. Just think about that three-man rotation for a moment.
- Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
This portion of my board is likely similar to Flip’s. He may have Noel at number one, but Oladipo is almost certainly in the top-three on the Wolves’ board as well. His defensive ability, tantalizing athleticism, and all-around solid game would fit a back-court rotation with Rubio like a glove. He can hit an open shot, but he isn’t a great shooter. Think somewhere along the lines of an extremely souped-up version of Mickael Gelable, with even more athleticism and obviously a greater upside at this point in their respective careers.
- Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
Some think that Mclemore is the best overall talent in the draft, while I remain skeptical. There are rumblings that Saunders isn’t nearly as high on McLemore as he is on Oladipo, but it’s hard to see why he wouldn’t be considered one of the top-four players in the draft, and a solid fit on the wing-bare Wolves.
- C.J. McCollum, G, Lehigh
McCollum is a very good shooter (49.5% from the field, and a blistering 51.6% from long range last season) and apparently very intelligent. Those are probably the two main requirements that coach Rick Adelman looks for in players that fit his offense. The main downside is his size, standing at just 6’ 3”. Pairing him with Rubio is a smallish backcourt, but with his shooting ability and Rubio’s length and defensive prowess, methinks this is plausible.
- Kentvious Caldwell-Pope, G, Georgia
Yep, this is my list. I highly, highly doubt that any NBA team has Caldwell-Pope this high on their board, but remember, I’m doing this from my perspective of what the Wolves should do. KCP is a big (6’6”) shooting guard with good college shooting numbers (50.5% from the field, 37.7% from distance). His upside is definitely there, as he is just 20 years old and played at a so-so program at the University of Georgia. Various mock drafts have him going anywhere from #9 to Minnesota (Chad Ford at ESPN.com) to #19 to Cleveland (DraftExpress.com). He’s my “realistic pick” that I want the Wolves to make if they stay at #9.
- Cody Zeller, F/C, Indiana
At the start of the college season, Zeller was the consensus number-one pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, but that consensus changed rather quickly. The Indiana big man had an up-and-down year, often overshadowed by Oladipo’s breakout year and a hesitancy to take over games. His speedy, end-to-end game, size (7’ 0”), and feel for the game are definite positives. He needs to add consistency on a mid-range jumper, but he remains the second-best big man in the draft, in my opinion. If the Wolves go big at #9, it better be because Zeller has fallen into their laps.
- Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
Another player who some believe has the most upside in the draft, drawing comparisons anywhere from a potential bust ala Tyreke Evans or a superstar like Chris Paul. I firmly believe he’s somewhere smack in the middle of the two, and he absolutely has the upside to be a star. No, the Wolves don’t need a point guard, and yes, they have 4 or 5 on the current roster, but if he somehow slipped to #9, they’d have to take him. That said, there’s no way they’d trade up to grab him.
- Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga
I really, really like Olynyk. He just isn’t a great fit for the Wolves. He’s shaped similarly to Love, albeit slightly taller, and he is probably a worse defender than him. Love has become a passable defender in the post, but he should not be paired with a subpar defender if this team is to take any steps forward next year. Olynyk’s offensive feel and passing ability would fit the Adelman offense nicely, but his defense would probably scare me off. Still, at #9, he might be tough to pass up if some of the wings are off the board.
- Dennis Schroeder, PG, Germany
Okay, this pick wouldn’t happen. But seriously, I’m not putting the horror that is Shabazz Muhammad on my draft board. If I was the Wolves, I honestly wouldn’t rank him. He scares me that much. Austin Rivers-style. Schroeder likely has a guarantee from a team in the late lottery (Utah Jazz?), but his upside would be too much to pass on. He isn’t really ready to run point on an NBA team, so I don’t think Adelman would be too keen on picking him at #9. Or at all, probably.
- Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse
After Schroeder and now Carter-Williams, we’re officially into the “doesn’t really fit the Wolves but if he falls to #9 and nobody else is there so this is better than reaching” portion of the draft. I know, I’m a staunch proponent of the “SYRACUSE!! NOOOO!! STAY AWAY!!” school of thought, but Carter-Williams athleticism is tough to pass on in the late-lottery. Of course, jump-shooting is his main deficiency, and that’s the one thing the Wolves absolutely need to improve this off-season.
- Shane Larkin, PG, Miami (FL)
Another point guard, another player that isn’t a great fit but is absolutely better than Shabazz Muhammad. Can you tell that I’m petrified of Shabazz Muhammad?
- Mike Muscala, C, Bucknell
So many angles here. Muscala has historically good rebounding rates (from DX: [Muscala’s] overall rebounding improvement was so pronounced that he became the second best rebounder (14.8 boards per 40 minutes pace adjusted) in college basketball this season, and tied with Kevin Love and Andrew Bogut in our historical rebounding database.), is nearly 7-feet tall, has wonderful touch around the basket, and a decent jumper. So why is he being projected as a second-rounder? Sure, he played in a poor conference, but I don’t recall Kenneth Faried playing fantastic competition. No, they aren’t the same player at all, but rebounding translates. Let me say it again: rebounding translates. As a bonus, he’s from Minnesota (Roseville High School), and Tubby Smith embarrassingly didn’t recruit him to the ‘U’. I love Muscala, and would snag him if he falls to #26. Expect this to not happen, and a savvy team like Oklahoma City or San Antonio will snap him up.
- Alex Len, C, Maryland
Let me make myself perfectly clear: I do not want Alex Len on the Timberwolves. But he’s also a 7-footer with upside, and if he slides into the middle of the first round (he won’t), well…GMs get fired (often wrongfully) for not taking chances on talented 7-footers. He really is the anti-Muscala, finishing 91st in the country in rebounding rate. He’s 7’ 2”. That’s scary. His post-moves are nice, but the Wolves already have that in Pekovic. I say Len is a bust of historical proportions if he’s picked in the top five or six like he probably will be. He could have a nice career as a backup, however, if he slides into the middle-late portions of the first round.
- Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
I’ve soured a bit on Dieng, as well, but I think he’s a better fit for the Wolves than Len. He’s a good defender and is extremely athletic, and could very well be a (very, very) poor man’s Serge Ibaka in due time. He’s already 23 years old, so I don’t think he improves a ton beyond what he already is, even if he hasn’t been playing basketball for that many years. He can run the floor, pass, and block shots. He would fit next to Love and also be a nice change of pace off the bench to spell Pekovic. It would be nice if he was a better rebounder, which is the main thing keeping me from putting him higher on my board.
- Rudy Gobert, C, France
Gobert is a 7’ 2” project, and not someone that Adelman will want to teach as they go. Then again, there’s something they like about Chris Johnson, who may stick around in 2013-14 as a 10-12th man. Gobert has touch for a big man but almost no feel for the game, so assistant coach Jack Sikma would definitely have his work cut out for him if Gobert somehow headed to Minneapolis. He didn’t show well at the combine, but he’ll almost for sure be grabbed by a team in the mid-to-late first round based on sheer upside alone before he’d get to the Wolves at #26.
- Mason Plumlee, C, Duke
Plumlee is already 23 years old, and I’m not sure why I put him below Gobert. To step in and be Pekovic’s back-up at 10-15 minutes a game (or more, depending on injuries and foul trouble, which seem to be inevitable with Big Pek) is a good role for an older rookie like Plumlee, and he should be up to the task. He should have a better pro career than his brother, and his athleticism would line-up nicely next to Love and manifest well in the open court with Rubio at the point.
- Allen Crabbe, SG, California
Crabbe is an intriguing player, originally slotting as an early-to-mid second round pick but doing himself a lot of good at the combine and in workouts thus far. He shot 53.2% from the field at Cal but just 34.8% from long range, although he’s been impressive in shooting drills in the past few weeks. He’s big at 6’ 6”, and although not especially quick, he’s supposedly very good at running off screens and getting open for jumpers, as well as a solid player in transition. He’s probably my “realistic pick” at #26, especially if the Wolves can’t land Caldwell-Pope at #9. If he slips into the second round, he’s a potential steal.
- Sergey Karasev, SF, Russia
Rumors are now swirling that Karasev has a guarantee, and it wouldn’t shock me to see Cleveland take him at #19. He’s a stellar shooter, but concerns about his defense make me very nervous. I think the Wolves would grab him if he fell to #26, but I don’t think they will. Saunders saw him work out recently on the West Coast and compared him favorably to Toni Kukoc, but I’m not sure his all-around game is quite on that level. For what it’s worth, Draft Express has the Wolves’ selecting Karasev at #26.
- Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
Withey is another older big man who could step in and play 10-15 minutes right away off the bench. He’s already 23 years old, and Draft Express has him falling all the way to #28. Chad Ford has the Wolves selecting him at #26, and if Karasev is indeed gone, he could absolutely be the pick. If he is, say good-bye to Greg Stiemsma. Withey would add some similar defensive toughness with potentially some higher offensive upside off the bench.
- Steven Adams, C, Pitt
Adams is another guy that I really didn’t want on my draft board, but if he starts to slide, who knows. The Wolves may be intrigued by Adams, but he’s another “project big” that Adelman should not want to mess with. He’ll probably be picked in the #10-15 range, but I’m not a fan. He has little-to-know feel for the game and is very inconsistent, so I’d stay away.
- Reggie Bullock, SF, UNC
I like Bullock a great deal, and I believe that he’ll ultimately be a more-than-solid role player on NBA teams for years to come. He’s a 6’ 7” small forward with a deadly spot-up jumper, ala the Spurs’ Danny Green. He has an adequate wingspan and is a good athlete, but doesn’t have great explosiveness or really any “star-quality” traits. But if you can land a good role player in the latter part of the first round, it has to be considered a resounding success.
- Jamaal Franklin, SG, San Diego State
Franklin isn’t an ideal fit for the Wolves, as he’s a shooting guard that isn’t a great outside shooter. He is tough, a good defender, and a tenacious player when it comes to getting to the bucket, but not an ideal player to pair with Rubio due to his outside-shooting deficiencies.
- Tim Hardaway, Jr., SG, Michigan
Rumor has it that the Wolves like Hardaway, Jr. He’s a 6’ 6” guard that played alongside Trey Burke on Michigan’s national runner-up team in 2012-13, but wasn’t nearly as consistent as he was expected to be on that squad. He has less-than ideal shot selection, and is a very streaky shooter. He absolutely still possesses a great deal of upside, and he is another player I could see the Wolves taking at the end of the first round.
- Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
Saric could go as high as #10 or as low as the end of the round. In fact, there are new rumblings that he might pull out of the draft very soon. Saric has a huge upside as a point forward-type player. He isn’t a great shooter, but he’s nearly 6’ 10” and handles the ball extremely well. He’d be a fun fit on the Wolves’ internationally-flavored roster, as well as seeing him run the floor with Rubio. He won’t fall too far, if he stays in the draft at all.
- Glen Rice, Jr., SF, D-League/Georgia Tech
Rice played in the D-League last year, but he didn’t hit his stride until late in the season. His attitude and off-court issues will scare teams away, but he’s still just 22 years old and shot 37.9% from deep last year for Rio Grande Valley. He’s as NBA-ready as pretty much anyone in the draft class, so you could do worse in the late-first, early-second rounds. I would expect him to slip into the second round (guaranteed money to a guy like Rice is scary), but I wouldn’t despise the Wolves taking a chance on him at some point.
We’ll stop there, since the Wolves currently hold the #29 pick. They also possess two late second-round picks at #22 and #29 (#52 and #59 overall). I highly doubt that the Wolves will keep all four draft picks, and I would suggest that the Wolves consider packaging their two late-second round picks to move up towards the top of the round…hopefully, for one or more of these guys….
Nate Wolters, PG, South Dakota State
Wolters is from St. Cloud and like Muscala, was not recruited in the least bit by former Gophers’ coach Tubby Smith. He destroyed the Summit League and lifted his team to consecutive berths in the NCAA Tournament. Wolters is 6’ 5” and is a very good shooter with a great feel for the game. He’s a good passer, and concern over his defense is probably the main reason why he’ll slide into the second round. That, and he played at South Dakota State. He’d be a nice back-up for a team like the Wolves.
Trevor Mbakwe, PF ,Minnesota
I legitimately believe that Mbakwe will be a solid fourth-big in an NBA rotation in the near future. Yes, it all goes back to rebounding rate. He was fourth in the NCAA in that category last year (remember, Muscala was #2 and Len was #91), and his impressive showing at the Brooklyn combine only helped. He will be drafted, but again, probably by a stats-savvy team like Oklahoma City or San Antonio. Alas, the Wolves will say he’s undersized.
Pierre Jackson, PG, Baylor
Jackson is a 5’ 10” point guard who might squeak into the late first round, but still has significant upside as a good backup guard in the NBA. He plays well in the pick-and-roll and is extremely athletic, and is likely a good enough shooter to see playing time at the next level.
Colton Iverson, C, Colorado State
The University of Minnesota transfer had a fantastic year for the Rams, and is another player whose stellar rebounding rate should allow him to be selected in this June’s draft. Iverson was 10th in rebounding rate last year, and has solid post moves to go along with his 7’ 0”, 260-pound frame. He is likely not much more than a fourth or fifth big in an NBA rotation, but he should be able to hold his own, even as a rookie.
Isaiah Canaan, PG, MurrayState
Canaan is a 6’ 0” point guard that is an exceptional shooter off the dribble, but played at a small school and struggled more than scouts wanted him to in his senior year. He shot 37.1% from long range and is also a very good catch-and-shoot player. Despite good size and length, his athleticism is not great, but he should be a poor-man’s C.J. McCollum. Strange to compare him to another virtual unknown, I know, but the small-school, similar build and body-type, and good shooting was too easy of a comparison to pass up.