Timberwolves Draft Scenarios: Power Forwards

May 12, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau speaks to the media prior to game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
May 12, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau speaks to the media prior to game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Timberwolves’ young core begins to take shape, the power forward position remains noticeably bare.

Franchise centerpiece Karl-Anthony Towns will have more long-term value if he can spend the majority of his minutes playing center, leaving the Timberwolves with the task of finding him an ideal front court counterpart.

Teams seeking an immediate contributor are generally best-off looking to fill the gaps in their rosters through free agency, but this year’s crop of available power forwards may not have a player that can become a productive part of Minnesota’s core for more than a couple of seasons.

If the Timberwolves want to make a long-term investment at the four but aren’t willing to give up valuable assets to acquire one in a trade, the team could potentially kill two birds with one stone by adding experience and upside in the same off-season by drafting a prospect for the future while signing a veteran to a short-term deal in free agency (Jared Dudley has been mentioned as a possible signing along with ex-Tom Thibodeau favorite Joakim Noah).

Led by likely top-pick Ben Simmons, the there could be seven power forwards selected in the lottery portion of the draft, and they should all merit consideration from the Timberwolves. With such a varied bevy of options available, Thibodeau could give Wolves fans a glimpse into the long-term vision for this team if he decides to draft a power forward in the first round.

Marquese Chriss

Chriss has perhaps the hottest stock in the draft pool so far, having worked his way up to a potential top five pick. He is an athletic forward with range past the three-point line and excellent defensive potential, getting him the attention of NBA front offices despite playing just under 25 minutes per game during his only season at Washington.

The power forwards that Thibodeau coached on the Bulls were primarily rebounding specialists that didn’t take shots from beyond the arc. However, he ramped-up the team’s pace and three-point shooting during his final season as head coach, suggesting that he may be open to a pace-and-space forward such as Chriss in Minnesota.

He’ll have to prove that he can be a reliable shooter, but his athleticism makes him an appealing prospect. He would, however, be a drastic departure from previous Thibodeau forwards, particularly in that he projects to be a below-average rebounder.

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Dragan Bender

The highest-rated power forward after Ben Simmons for the majority of the season, Bender is considered a top-10 pick that could go as high as third in the draft. Teams have barely seen him play, but his offensive skills have gotten their attention regardless.

Bender isn’t expected to be nearly as polished as Porzingis was in his rookie season, and there are questions about how much of an impact Bender can have on the defensive end. Drafting him wouldn’t be the prudent defensive investment that one expects of Thibodeau, but Bender has the potential to give the Timberwolves another sweet-shooting big man.  In a league that values spacing above all else, he has the chance to become a valuable offensive weapon.

Henry Ellenson

Mar 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Marquette Golden Eagles forward Henry Ellenson (13) during the game against the Georgetown Hoyas at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Marquette won 88-87. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Ellenson should be available with the fifth pick, or Minnesota could try to take him with the seventh pick by making a swap with Denver, a team that will likely trade at least two of its five 2016 draft picks. If a player that the Nuggets covet falls to the fifth pick, a deal could make sense on both ends.

Ellenson projects to be the most comparable of this year’s draft picks to Carlos Boozer, Thibodeau’s primary power forward during the first four seasons he spent in Chicago. Much like Boozer, the Marquette big man is a productive rebounder that struggles on the defensive end. Offensively, he will try to prove that he can be a stretch four in the NBA, but struggled last season when attempting to extend his shot past mid-range. If drafted by Minnesota, Ellenson could potentially work his way into the rotation early in his career. If Thibodeau is looking to run a similar system to what he did in Chicago,  Ellenson is the pick that makes the most sense.

Skal Labissiere

Labissiere was once touted as one of the most exciting prospects in the class of 2016, but struggled in his lone season at Kentucky.

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Scouts don’t have very much to go off of when evaluating him; an injury kept him from playing during his junior year of high school and he was ruled ineligible for his senior season. He did show off impressive shot-blocking skills in his limited time at Kentucky and has the potential to become a face-up threat with three-point range on the offensive end, but front offices are currently left deliberating whether his failure to put it together during his freshman season was a result of rust or a more concerning deficiency.

Labissiere’s skill set is somewhat redundant next to Towns, who is also a rangy, shot-blocking big man. If the Wolves reach for Labissiere or trade down to select him, he won’t crack the rotation until he can become at least a decent rebounder. (He only corralled 11.1 percent of available rebounds during his lone college season. In five season with the Bulls, Thibodeau never had a team finish outside of the top-ten in rebound percentage).

Of the power forwards that are contending to be taken in the lottery, Labissiere is the farthest from being a win-now prospect.  If Thibodeau is more patient than expected, developing Labissiere could be a project that pays dividends when the Timberwolves core begins to realize its potential.

Deyonta Davis

Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports /

Like Labissiere, Davis projects to be an unpolished rookie that will require considerable grooming before he can become a productive NBA player. Minnesota could trade down into the late lottery to draft him. Given his immense upside on the defensive end, pairing him with Towns could give the Timberwolves an elite defensive front court.

Thibodeau did not work with much in the way of athletic power forwards in Chicago, so drafting Davis would give the coach the chance to run his Timberwolves teams at a faster pace than his Bulls squads. His reputation suggests that acquiring top defensive players will be a priority in front office decisions.  If this is the approach he takes, Davis is an interesting dark horse candidate that the Wolves could attempt to trade down for.

Domantas Sabonis

Sabonis’ lack of athleticism, length, or a reliable outside shot limits his long-term potential, but his production at Gonzaga makes him one of the more promising ready-to-go prospects in the middle of the first round. His inside scoring and defense were both pluses, though there is skepticism about how his performance in a non-power conference will translate to the NBA.

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He’s an unlikely pick because of his limited upside, but there is a looming sentiment that Thibodeau is primarily looking for players that can contribute immediately. If none of the top options appeal to him, trading down for Sabonis could be a more mature option than gambling on a high pick.