There are some interesting prospects in the middle of the first round that the Minnesota Timberwolves may be able to draft with the Nets’ draft pick, should the season be cut short.
If the year ended with the current standings, the Minnesota Timberwolves would get the No. 16 pick in the 2020 draft, as well as wherever their actual pick lands following the lottery.
The No. 16 pick was originally the Brooklyn Nets’ pick, but will head to the Wolves via the Atlanta Hawks because of this year’s deadline trade.
Let’s take a look at a few prospects who should be options around the end of the lottery and into the late-teens in this year’s draft.
One prospect that might be available is former five-star high school recruit, Precious Achiuwa (forward, Memphis), projected to be late lottery/teens pick. Similar in some ways to Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic, Achiuwa has a 9-foot standing reach and ridiculous mobility for a player that size.
Even without James Wiseman, Achiuwa has anchored one of the best defenses in the country. Memphis led the country in allowing the lowest effective field goal percentage at 41.2 percent. Achiuwa has impressive physical tools, at 6-foot-9, 225 pounds with a 7-foot-2.25 wingspan and 9-foot standing reach. His standing reach is just one inch shy of franchise center Karl-Anthony Towns’ 9-foot-1 mark, which gives him the tools to potentially be a unique rim protector.
Unlike Isaac though, Achiuwa already has an NBA ready body, with tree trunks for legs. He is sturdy enough to fight in the paint for position and corral rebounds. That kind of standing reach combined with his sturdy frame allowed Achiuwa to play the center position for Memphis once James Wiseman left the team. That is the kind of versatility that would allow the Wolves to utilize him similar to Paul Millsap and Jeremy Grant for Denver.
A player that can defend the rim in a pinch if KAT hedges on the perimeter, and then be a switchable defender after he switches onto a perimeter player. One thing that stands out with Achiuwa is his cat-like quick reflexes from a standstill position. He explodes to the ball and wins a lot of 50/50 balls, even versus smaller, quicker guards. And in the open floor in transition, Achiuwa can turn on the jets and accelerate, being taller and faster than everyone.
Offensively, Achiuwa has even more upside than Isaac. His handle isn’t advanced at this point but his quick first step and acceleration allow him to blow by most defenders on the perimeter and combined with his strength and size. It is very hard to stonewall him from getting to where he wants to go.
Achiuwa also flashed a quick cross over mid-drive and a spin move showing off his fluidity. He has the physical tools to attack the rim with drives from the perimeter and initiate in the half-court, to score himself or drive and kick. Achiuwa has also been used for setting screens for his teammates and been a force in the pick-and-roll game, making plays as a lob finisher.
Overall it is a bit surprising how a player with this much talent is mocked so low in this draft. Most scouts knock him on his shot selection, touch around the rim, and decision making, but a lot of that can be fixed with NBA-level coaches. You cannot, however, teach his combination of size, athleticism, and coordination.
Achiuwa already has a high floor, and with his defensive potential (as well as some possible career arcs), he might also have a high ceiling. For example, Pascal Siakam initially was just a guy who made effort plays and sprinted in transition, then developed into an All-Star. But even early in Siakam’s development, just the hustle plays at his size was still very impactful to winning. Having big wings like Achiuwa that make plays defensively could be crucial in crunch-time lineups.
The way the NBA changed into pace and space, emphasizing speed in transition, you can’t win with two average athletes in the front-court, so drafting a superior athlete at power forward should be the highest priority for Rosas. And as we’ve seen with the Raptors, you can’t have too many strong athletic forwards in your starting lineup — especially if one or two of them can also space the floor and shoot.
Speaking of shooting, the next player that could be on the board with the No. 16 pick is Aaron Nesmith.
Per Synergy, Nesmith was in the 97th percentile when it came to scoring off-ball on screen-plays. In the NBA there are only three players this past year that scored in the 90th percentile or higher and averaged at least one possession per game where an off-ball screen-play was attempted: Landry Shamet, Kawhi Leonard, and Fred VanVleet.
Nesmith is a rare knock-down shooter that is capable of generating looks in a variety of ways including off-ball movement.
Guarding players off-ball who excels at getting open and shooting threes without any time to set their feet is extremely difficult, as we’ve seen with the Warriors. The Warriors built a dynasty with the splash brothers, who both have that skill. And given that you need two or more players to defend someone like Stephen Curry sprinting around screens, having another knockdown shooter like Thompson makes it nearly unstoppable.
For the Wolves, there is Malik Beasley, D’Angelo Russell, and Karl-Anthony Towns, who are capable of generating these shots off of screens, but only Beasley has the quickness to create these shots consistently. However, Beasley is also undersized for his position and might be best coming off the bench.
Nesmith is 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. His frame will not stop him from transitioning into a starting role, given that he has the size to defend most wings and even some bigger forwards like Brooklyn’s Taurean Prince. Given how the league views shooting it wouldn’t surprise me if Nesmith is drafted in the lottery, especially after Cam Johnson unexpectedly jumped into the lottery in the 2018 draft.
Another additional option is Josh Green out of the University of Arizona. Green’s energy and suffocating perimeter defense make him a prototypical 3-and-D prospect.
At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, he can defend up to the three positions, which would desperately help the Timberwolves’ backcourt, currently anchored by two guards that struggle with defense in Russell and Beasley. In transition, Green was always the first or second player down the floor, making him a constant threat down-court.
He is an excellent shooter, hitting 36 percent from three. Green also with another good guard in Nico Mannion, so there was no real opportunity to display his playmaking.
Green’s assist to turnover ratio is good, and he made a lot of great passes in transition on the move, so there is a chance he could be a reliable secondary ball handler. Between his two-way ability, there’s is a good chance he turns out to be a good starter in the NBA. Green’s biggest weakness though is his vertical leap and overall athleticism (thus limiting his overall athletic potential).
A 3-and-D player is a great fit with the Wolves, considering that Russell and Towns will initiate the offense most of the time. However, given that Jordan MacLaughlin is probably the best driver on the team, it would be best to draft a prospect that has some upside at finishing at the basket.