Top potential Wolves draft choices go head-to-head


The Wolves will have a fantastic draft slot in the upcoming 2015 NBA Draft. They won’t know exactly where it will land as of yet, but somewhere in the #1 to #5 range is a pretty safe bet.

There’s been a lot of talk about who is high on the Timberwolves’ draft board. For awhile, the consensus number-one overall pick was Duke center Jahlil Okafor and the Wolves, like many other teams, certainly would love to have him. Of the top prospects in the draft, however, he’s the only true center.

In theory, the Wolves have two solid NBA centers in Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng, although Pekovic has struggled mightily to stay on the court and Dieng has some pretty obvious shortcomings. Even still, Okafor isn’t the best fit if the Wolves are indeed unable to trade away Pekovic.

Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns is a perfect fit as a power forward for the Wolves, and the four is the spot that they need the most right now. ESPN 1500’s Darren Wolfson had this to say earlier this week:

We’ll go into the pluses and minuses of Okafor and Towns versus some of the other candidates for the top few picks in the draft, but on Saturday it was all about D’Angelo Russell’s Ohio State Buckeyes going up against Stanley Johnson’s Arizona Wildcats.

Unfortunately, neither shot the ball well at all; it was quite unsightly, in fact. But Russell’s basketball acumen and passing ability were on full display. This happened:

(h/t @LostLetterman)

Beyond that, however, it was disappointing. Russell finished shooting just 3 of 19 from the floor in the loss, scoring a painfully inefficient nine points. He was just 1 of 7 from beyond the arc, although he was able to contribute seven rebounds and six assists, including the above no-look dime through traffic.

Johnson wasn’t any better. The Wildcats’ freshman was 1 of 12 from the field including 0 of 4 from three-point range. He added ten rebounds, two steals, and one assist, but struggled severely despite his team’s big victory.

Saturday aside, Russell is the better prospect. Through Thursday’s overtime win over VCU, he had shot 42% on three-pointers while attempting 6.6 threes per game on the season. He also averaged five assists per game with a very impressive assist rate of 29.9% while only turning the ball over 15.1% of the time while often functioning as a primary ball-handler.

The Ohio State freshman attempted 45.2% of his shots from beyond the arc this season and shot .31 free throws for every field goal he attempted from the field. Those numbers, combined with his impressive shooting percentages (46%/42%/75.3%) and size (6′-5″) make it pretty clear that he’s a legitimate NBA prospect and a potential star.

Plus, he did this against Iowa earlier in the season:

Wolfson has also had a steady trickle of news on the Wolves’ interest in Russell.

And that brings us to Stanley Johnson. The University of Arizona freshman’s rate-based numbers and shooting percentages are all inferior to Russell’s, but some of the periphery numbers that often are a decent barometer of professional success remain impressive.

A steal and block rate of 3.2% and 1.7%, respectively, are very good for a 6′-6″ guard/forward. They signify a certain level of activity and knowledge of the game that will definitely translate to the NBA. He turns the ball over too much, but other than his other numbers all being less-impressive than Russell’s (but still awesome), there isn’t too much to be worried about.

In other words, Johnson is a pretty solid bet for a top-five or six draft pick, and will likely be a very good pro, if not a bonafide star. Russell, on the other hand, is pretty close to a “can’t miss” prospect. Here’s Wolfson again:

In short, Russell is the best guard prospect in the draft, and it’s not close. But if the Wolves, in true Wolvesian fashion, win a few games down the stretch and/or have terrible luck in the draft lottery in May and end up with a pick somewhere in the #4 to #6 range, Johnson should be the pick.

We’ll have a number of follow-ups on the Wolves’ draft process and the top prospects, especially Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your Saturday and the weekend of NCAA basketball.

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