Keita Bates-Diop should be an option for the Timberwolves in the draft

(Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Keita Bates-Diop figures to be one of the best-case scenarios for the Minnesota Timberwolves come draft night.

With the Minnesota Timberwolves jostling for playoffs, fans have welcomed the thought of not having to watch the latest mock drafts hoping for the next star Wolf.

However, the team does have both a first-round and a second-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft; while their original first-round pick is owed to Atlanta if the Wolves make the playoffs, the Wolves own Oklahoma City’s draft pick by way of Utah.

And with a tight salary cap situation, Tom Thibodeau and his front office cohorts will be under pressure to hit a home run with pick that is projected to land somewhere in the No. 20 to 25 range.

Don’t forget, 2017 first-round pick Justin Patton didn’t make his NBA debut until 77 games into his rookie season, so there may some added pressure due to Patton’s lack of an impact this season.

One of the finest options in the latter stages of the first round is Big Ten Player Of The Year and Ohio State standout Keita Bates-Diop.

The 22-year-old is listed at 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds. This size, combined with his ability to handle the ball and shoot the three, means that KBD projects as a player able to man the small forward and power forward spots in the small-ball NBA revolution.

Having already declared that he is NBA-bound, Bates-Diop ranks at 25th on Tankathon‘s latest mock draft, 36th in Sports Illustrated’s and 25th on ESPN’s version — right in Minnesota’s range.

With the Timberwolves desperate for cheap wing help, a ready-to-play junior on a rookie scale contract is a match made in basketball heaven.

Bates-Diop put up a conference-best 19.8 points along with 8.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.6 blocks in 34 games at Ohio State this season, hitting 48 percent of his field goals and making 66 long-range bombs at a respectable 35.9 percent.

The lengthy forward is silky smooth with the ball in his hands creating a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches. His sneaky-good handle allows him to get to the rim with ease and in case he can’t, the mid-range game is butter.

According to RealGM, Bates-Diop posted an elite 116.7 offensive rating and 26.3 player efficiency rating (PER). The 22-year-old boasts a 3-point jumper that will keep NBA defense’s honest, and while he is no Andrew Wiggins, KBD has enough athleticism to comfortably get by in the big leagues.

With the Timberwolves sorely lacking wing help off the bench, Bates-Diop projects as a guy who can immediately help from all three levels on the offensive end.  If Thibs can carve 15 or so minutes out of his infamously strict rotation, KBD could thrive of the bench as a role-playing scorer.

With the Wolves ranking 29th in points per game off the bench thus far, lord knows they need one. Tyus Jones is a massive plus off the bench, but he isn’t much of a scorer, Gorgui Dieng has been underwhelming in a bench role and Jamal Crawford hurts on the defensive end just as much as he helps on offense.

Throw in the fact that restricted free agent Nemanja Bjelica may have played his way out of the Timberwolves summer price range with his sizzling 3-point stroke, and you can see why Thibodeau desperately needs an efficient bench scorer like Bates-Diop.

What will make coach Thibs really lick his lips is the Big Ten Player Of The Year’s glaring defensive potential.

Watch KBD’s on-ball defense package below, it is something to behold. He looks long and awkward by nature, but when he locks into his impressive defensive stance he becomes a mobile monster.

Bates-Diop constantly chases smaller guards out of their sweet spots, either blocking or closely challenging majority of the time. He has quick feet and defensive IQ that you rarely find in one-and-done freshman.

These tools led to 93.9 defensive rating and a career-best 2.47 defensive win shares, which ranks him 21st in the entire country and above lauded defensive presences like Mohamed Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr according to RealGM.

The Timberwolves have been torn apart around the basketball circles all season for their atrocious defense, deservedly, and the problem starts with the bench. No matter what injuries have effected it, the starting five possesses a defensive rating of 107.7 – 18th in the NBA – while the bench has a league-worst 112.0 rating.

Bates-Diop would be the perfect addition to a bench unit that disregards the defensive end of the floor far too often.

He projects to be available no matter where Oklahoma City finish in the standings, and his final year at Ohio State should be on repeat in the Timberwolves draft headquarters.

Next: The misconstrued career of Gorgui Dieng

While other teams overpay on 19 and 20-year-olds, Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden should be looking at an older, ready-made role-filler with their first-round pick.