Wolves Needn’t Draft a Wing

The next Kawhi Leonard is probably not walkin’ through that door. So plan accordingly.

Many Timberwolves fans will expect the team to draft a wing player in the upcoming lottery. It’s the position of need, after all.  Flip and Rick should ignore the radio callers and message boards and draft without regard for position.

Why, you ask?

Because their goal will be a playoff appearance and a rookie won’t help them get there. They might as well try to find the best player available and look long term with the lotto pick. If there isn’t a potentially-great talent — a SINGULAR talent (!) — then trade up, down, or altogether out of the draft.

A little bit of evidence:

Of all playoff-team rookies this year, Harrison Barnes played the most minutes per game with 25.4. First, that isn’t that much playing time for a starter. Second, a big reason Barnes played that much was Brandon Rush tore his ACL. Third, Barnes did not play a key factor in the Warriors’ success. (Though, he has been very good as a stretch four in David Lee’s absence in the playoffs.) Take a longer look at that linked list and you’ll find very few rookies getting minutes for playoff teams. Patrick Beverley, Jared Sullinger and 36-year old Pablo Prigioni are about it.

The previous year was about the same. Iman Shumpert played 28.9 minutes per game on a 7-seed Knicks team that nearly imploded and didn’t have J.R. Smith until he escaped from China. Shump didn’t contribute offensively. Kawhi Leonard played 24.0 minutes for a great Spurs team. He was an exception to the rule, but still — he had the benefit of being a fourth or fifth option on a star-veteran-led team in San Antonio. Most of the players populating that leaderboard were on terrible teams. Ricky Rubio, a longtime professional rookie, played huge minutes on a Wolves team that was good with him leading it.

Rookies that contribute the most play for crappy teams. That’s how it works. The Wolves need to draft with this in mind and — assuming they keep the lottery pick — select a player that has the highest likelihood of becoming a good NBA player in a year or two.  Yes, even if that player is a power forward. The lesson of Derrick Williams is not “Don’t draft another power forward.” The lesson of Derrick Williams is, “Don’t draft a bad player.” If Anthony Bennett becomes what we hoped D-Thrill could’ve, it would open up small ball opportunities with Love at center, and deepen the Wolves bench, while also providing far greater flexibility in making key roster decisions in the next five years.

I’m not trying to write another Anthony Bennett post. Because, if the Wolves somehow get lucky and draft in the top three, Bennett might not even be the Best Player Available. And the BPA might even be a wing in Victor Oladipo or Ben McLemore.

I’m just pointing out the huge mistake that would be made if the team bases its draft strategy around the idea that they’ll fill the wing void with a rookie in the lottery. That’ll be a great way to find themselves there again in 2014.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Wolves Needn’t Draft a Wing

  1. kb

    I’m not expecting a contribution this year. But BPA doesn’t take into account the relative value of wings in the league. There’s a plethora of PFs to be had and not many rotation wings available for cheap deals. in this way, the lesson actually IS don’t draft a PF. draft AK’s understudy, draft someone to backup Morrow, or Korver, or Redick, or Pekovic, or whatever. Don’t draft a PF. Don’t draft Bennett.

    • kb

      (which is leaving aside the matter that Bennett is or will be the BPA…which I would also contest, but that’s another matter)

    • kb–

      Where’s your support for this:

      “There’s a plethora of PFs to be had and not many rotation wings available for cheap deals.”

      ?

      Also, you don’t really explain what caliber of player you’re referring to. Are you saying it’s easier to find a rotation power forward, or a star power forward? And what if the Wolves don’t think any of the wings in the draft have star potential, but they do feel that a different position player has star potential? You’re making some blanket statements that probably need a bit of nuance — at least if I’m going to be able to attempt a reply.

      For what it’s worth I think there’s a reasonable chance they trade away the lottery pick and use the 26th Pick on a wing. There will likely be a 6’6″ wing that can make threes around that spot. Allen Crabbe and Reggie Bullock seem like natural targets. The 26th Pick comes very cheap and if they can get someone that can become a helpful rotation player pretty quickly, that seems like a good use of an asset. In the lottery, the salaries and expectations are higher.

  2. I understand where you are coming from with the BPA strategy. It’s true that we should be a playoff team next year if we aren’t overcome with injuries again and playoff teams don’t draft for need as much as they draft for the future. I get all of that. But we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to how our roster is set up now or to how the league is set up these days. Apart from AK we have no startling caliber wings on our team. That isn’t necessarily even a knock on are team, its more a sign of the times. Most of the quality wings in this league are over the hump in terms of age and productivity. The ones that aren’t (George and Harden for example) are franchise pieces. The rest of the league is made up of glue guys who are nothing but 3 shooters or if your team is lucky are D and 3 players. So BPA has to account for the scarcity of a position as well as talent between front court and back court players. There just aren’t many of them out there which is why you see more and more 2 pg lineups. There are a plethora of undersized combo guards in this league and with the recent trend of small ball more and more teams can get away with it (ourselves included).

    There are a handful of players in this draft that will be quality starters but I see zero all stars in this draft. Unless you account for position scarcity, this just isn’t that talented a draft pool. That being said, some of these players would be nice 3rd, maybe 2nd, option players. Don’t tell me a playoff team couldn’t use an athletic 2 guard who can run transition with Rubio and space the floor with his 3 pt shot (McLemore), or that a playoff team can’t get use out of a ballhawking wing who can guard 1-3 and out hustle nearly everyone on the floor (Oladipo). Even someone like McCollum, who I like a good deal, would provide 3 pt spacing and someone who could create their own shot for themselves or others (not to mention get to the line and spell Rubio at times). Point being would you go BPA if it was Burke knowing we have Rubio? Would you go Bennet knowing that we have Love, Pek (most likely), Williams and Cunningham? I mean how many undersized PF’s with ZERO rim protecting abilities do we really need? That’s not to say these guys won’t turn into good players. They very well might. But we shouldn’t repeat the rubio draft and take 3 pg’s in the draft and get 5 deep at one position and woefully thin at another.

    • Jon–

      Good stuff. On this point:

      “There are a handful of players in this draft that will be quality starters but I see zero all stars in this draft.”

      We’re looking at this a little bit differently. I’m thinking in terms of the team’s philosophy heading into the draft decision process. If “all things are equal” then sure, take a wing player. But if there’s a player that the team has pegged as best available, and they feel strongly about it, take that player. Doesn’t matter what position he is. Drafting in the lottery is about acquiring an asset. If the player is good, he’ll be tradeable.

      Oladipo and McLemore won’t be logging big minutes on any good teams next year. See the lists linked in the post.

  3. Dave A.

    When assessing college talent, remember this: In many cases two people have been guarding the player, his opponent and his own coach. Scouts need to evaluate talent separate from college games. I played college ball, and I’ll guess that 50% of most talent is ever realized within a coach’s system. Sometime less is more within the college team-oriented system. This, however, doesn’t always translate to the NBA.

  4. I won’t pretend to be a draft expert, because I don’t watch nearly enough college ball to qualify. I also don’t want to recycle what I read on mock drafts and pawn it off as my own critique; that’s intellectually disingenuous.

    However, I disagree with the main premise of this article – the Wolves ought to draft a wing. It’s Flip’s job to think long term; the reality is, the roster currently has three point guards (Rubio, Barea, Ridnour) and two undersized shooting-guards-who-should-really-probably-be-point guards (Shved, Malcolm Lee), and two power forwards (Love, Williams) under contract for 2013-14. It’s likely Kirilenko returns, and hopefully Chase Budinger as well, but the best long-term fit for this team is a wing. If the Wolves’ building blocks for the future will be Rubio, Love and Pekovic, a wing is the next logical need.

    Sure, it’s enticing to simply declare – “Take the best player available, position be damned” – but in order to construct a well-rounded roster, the Wolves need a wing, for now AND for the future.

    Just my two cents…

    Love the site, keep up the good work.

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