Category Archives: Timberwolves

Winning the Lottery: Early Questions

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 10.09.27 PM

As you’re certainly aware by now, the Timberwolves won the draft lottery on Tuesday night. While they can still complain that they’ve never “moved up” above their odds slotting — that was not technically possible this year, given their league-worst standing — this was the first time they’ve ever been so lucky to win the lotto: They had just a 25 percent chance of landing the top pick and that’s exactly what happened.

On Tuesday afternoon we discussed the two basic scenarios that they would face after the ping-pong balls did their thing: they’d either land a Top-2 Pick and select a big man, or they wouldn’t, and their choice would be more complicated and involve a much longer list of names and positions.

Barring something very surprising, the Wolves will draft either Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky or Jahlil Okafor of Duke. Both will be centers in the NBA, which is a position of need for this team, but not the reason for the choice; along with filling a roster void, Towns and Okafor also project as the best all-around impact players in this draft.

It took all of a few minutes for the social-media celebration to shift gears to a “Towns versus Okafor” discussion. It’s clear to me that most fans of the team want the Wolves to draft Towns, but much less clear that Flip Saunders — the team’s president of basketball operations, coach, and minority owner — will heed that collective, outsider input. For a long time it has been rumored that Flip is enamored with Okafor, and his comments on KFAN radio this afternoon did little to dispel that notion.

Whatever Flip and the Wolves ultimately decide on June 25, “Towns or Okafor” is sure to dominate Timberwolves discourse from now until then. I read somewhere recently that “to know something entails two things: for there to be no doubt, and for it to be true.” This definition of knowledge is problematic for discussing the draft because certainty levels (for the self-aware, anyway) are so low, and the truth will not be adequately tested for years to come. With full recognition that most people already understand this reality, it sometimes feels like it bears repeating.

For the Timberwolves decision maker(s), the obvious question is whether Towns or Okafor will become the better all-around player. Duh. If they could know the answer to that broad question, that would be the end of it. But they can’t know the answer right now, and given how good each player projects to be in the NBA, the decision draws a host of other sub-issues into the analysis. Some are data driven, some are conceptual, some are philosophical, and some are based on imagination.

From what I have seen of, and read about these two players, I lean slightly toward drafting Okafor. At this point anyway. I’ll spend plenty more time watching the available videos of each, and reading as much as I can. ESPN and Draft Express always do a great job covering the upcoming drafts, and Canis Hoopus (led by increasingly-well-known Layne Vashro) have had cutting-edge stats projections for years. If somehow you’re reading here and not there, I highly recommend checking it out.

My basic reasoning for preferring Okafor is that almost every time I watched Duke play, he stood out as an imposing, primary offensive option who had an unusual command of the halfcourt offense from the post. He has a great feel for positioning himself where he can make a play for either himself or teammates, and once he gets the ball in reasonable position, it seems like close to a foregone conclusion that something good will happen. For a player so big, he has incredible ball-handling ability and footwork. Duncan is the most frequent style comparison, and that’s fair, but Okafor is more advanced at this stage than Duncan was. In my opinion, his offensive skills from the low and extended post positions are at such a high level that any comparison will be faulty. I tweeted last night that comparing Okafor’s post play to others is akin to comparing Steph Curry’s shooting to others, and I stand by that. There are things that Okafor can do that nobody else would be allowed to try, and it makes comparison mostly worthless. He’s going to do things on offense in the NBA that nobody else does, with the possible exception of DeMarcus Cousins who is a superstar offensive player.

Towns is a very, very good prospect, too. He is a better defender than Okafor, even if his athleticism might be overrated by some accounts. His upside and appeal has less to do with mobility than it does with his combination of size (he has pure center size, and a frame that looks like it might broaden out into Derrick Favors-territory) and shooting ability. Towns has no obvious weakness and he figures to be a “net positive” no matter his role or situation. Such a high level of certainty that he’ll succeed in some fashion is rare, and he is a safer pick than Okafor for this reason. (Okafor struggled more on defense than Towns, and does not rebound as well.) I lean slightly in Okafor’s favor because I think he has a better chance of being a special, high-impact player who plays offense so well that he can be relied on to create plays not only for himself but others. Basically, I think Okafor has a higher chance of being a superstar in the traditional sense of the term which might’ve been overrated at one time, but is still the most important factor in building a championship-caliber roster.

But like I said, my certainty about Towns vs Okafor is low, and yours should be too.

Having digested the lottery news for 24 hours, here are some questions that I have thought of and/or encountered on Twitter, with my own short responses.  Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments:

1) Should the Wolves decision be affected by the makeup of their current roster?

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INBOX: Thinking Through the Basic Lottery Scenarios

mudiay

If the Wolves land 1 or 2 in tonight’s lottery, they’ll almost certainly draft a big man. If not, then the possibilities are wide open and could include Emmanuel Mudiay from Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Patrick J: Hello Wolves fans. The NBA’s Draft Lottery is tonight. The Wolves have the best chance of winning the lottery, and the rights to the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, because they lost the most games of any NBA team last season.

The Wolves have a 25 percent chance, according to the ping-pong balls. And, by virtue of losing more than any other team, they are guaranteed a top-four pick. For what we endured from November-April, this is penance. The Wolves should/will(?)/need to add an impact player.

The Season of Tanking is now behind us. And we have reason to be optimistic. If the ping-pong balls “break good” for the Wolves tonight, the franchise will have an opportunity to draft a high-caliber prospect at a position of need. And, were it not for all of the “injuries” the Wolves had last season, we’d already know that the Wolves have some nice pieces in place–we just happened to see relatively little of them. If nothing else, here’s hoping that we see 70+ games from Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and (even) Kevin Martin in 2015-16.

That said, the Wolves’ draft position will determine who they select and what kind of player that person is. Below the fold, we look at different draft scenarios for the Wolves that depend on their lottery luck (or misfortune) below the  fold. Continue reading

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NBA Draft Notes on Duke’s Prospects, from a Dookie, Part III: The Tyus Jones Edition

tyus

(Eds. Note: This is the third and final installment of a three-part series of guest posts from friend of the blog Jon Wallace (@jonwallace3), a Duke graduate, current Washington, DC resident, great American, and die-hard Blue Devils fan.)

Part I: Jahlil Okafor

Part II: Justice Winslow

Tyus Jones, he of Apple Valley, Minnesota lineage, is the third of the three freshmen from Duke declaring for the draft. He is also the prospect with the murkiest future. A 6’1” point guard with excellent vision, high basketball IQ, and average athleticism, Jones will probably have to wait until the playoff teams start picking to hear his name called. However, he has shown that he can fit in with other high usage players and take over the game when it’s Magic Johnson’s favorite portion of the game, winning time. In fact, if there is one indelible legacy that Jones leaves at Duke is that of being perhaps the most clutch player since Laettner or Battier. When Duke was down or needed a spark, Jones created something. When they needed free throws to ice the game, Jones knocked them down. When Duke needed a bucket at the end of the shot clock while trying put a close game away, Jones would rise up and hit a three. He did it against UNC (twice), UVA, and Wisconsin (twice).

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NBA Draft Notes on Duke’s Prospects, from a Dookie, Part I: The Jahlil Okafor Edition

Jahlil Okafor: Future Timberwolf?

Jahlil Okafor: Future Timberwolf?

(Eds. Note: This is a guest post from friend of the blog Jon Wallace (@jonwallace3), a Duke graduate, current Washington, DC resident, great American, and die-hard Blue Devils fan.)

Draft Notes from a Dookie

Hi, I’m Jon W. You might be familiar with me.

Please excuse my brief indulgence into the draft and NBA career prospects of the Duke early entry candidates from an unabashed Duke homer. This team has been one of my favorite sports teams to follow in my lifetime so there is no way I can be unbiased in the evaluation of these three players.

That said, I will try to give you my honest and candid opinions as to the strengths, weaknesses, and NBA prospects of Jahlil Okafor, Minnesota native Tyus Jones, and rising prospect Justise Winslow. There’s interest in these guys in Minnesota.

This is for good reason. I’ll spend this post on Okafor–who is the most realistic future T-Wolves player, and the best prospect of the three. My next two posts will be on Jones and Winslow.

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INBOX: Timberwolves Season in Review Part II: The Forwards

Shabazz Muhammad and Andrew Wiggins

Shabazz Muhammad and Andrew Wiggins

Andy G and Patrick J: As the NBA Playoffs begin, we’re going to continue recapping the season that was for the Timberwolves. We’re breaking this down into general positions, with a focus on who is still on the roster — as opposed to the slew of players who were traded mid-season, like Corey Brewer and Thaddeus Young. In case you missed Part I on the guards, be sure to check that out.

Today, we’re talking forwards. Basically, there’s a lot of hope at the three and a lot of uncertainty at the four. Read on below the fold for our takes.

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INBOX: Timberwolves Season in Review Part I: The Backcourt

Ricky Rubio

Patrick J: On Wednesday night at Target Center, the Timberwolves faced the Oklahoma City Thunder in the final game of their 2014-15 season. That game was meaningful for OKC–the Thunder needed the win, as well as a Pelicans loss, in order to make  in the playoffs. (Eds. Note: The Pelicans did not lose. New Orleans is the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Wussell Restbrook is left to stew at home, leap over tall buildings, or do whatever restless superstars who miss the playoffs do. He may want to consult his former UCLA roommate, Kevin Love, who had plenty of experience missing the playoffs until this season.)

For the Wolves, Wednesday’s finale didn’t feel significant at all. It was a continuation of most of ‘Sota’s season, really. The Wolves were out of the playoff race almost as soon as it began, and — through a series of roster management decisions — signaled many times over that they were much less interested in fielding a competitive night-to-night lineup than they were in securing a high 2015 draft pick under the guise of squeezing every ounce of potential out of rookie Andrew Wiggins.

We thought it made enough sense to kickstart the recap process and look at some things we learned about this Wolves team, this season.

Part I will focus on the guards. Part II, which will come over the weekend, will look at the wings.

In this entry, we don’t dwell on Mo Williams or Lorenzo Brown. You already know why.

Read below the fold for more on Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Zach LaVine.

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Timberwolves This & That

A few Timberwolves items to touch on as the season winds down:

  • The Wolves lost both ends of a road back-to-back this week. On Tuesday at Sacramento they lost by 5. That doesn’t seem so bad until you realize that the Kings — perhaps also wanting to lose for boosted lottery position — held DeMarcus Cousins out of the game. Rudy Gay scored 33 for Sactown. Omri Casspi poured in 31 of his own. Derrick Williams had 18. Yeah.

The next night at Portland, against a very good Blazers team (but one the Wolves beat in the last game Kevin Garnett played in) the Wolves got predictably throttled. They trailed by 10 after the first quarter, 19 at the half, and lost by 25.

  • They continue to sit their best players, aside from Kevin Martin who has returned to action. Garnett, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Shabazz Muhammad, Gary Neal, and Anthony Bennett remain out.
  • Despite the miserable circumstances he’s been intentionally placed in, Andrew Wiggins continues to impress. Against the Kings he had 26 points and 8 rebounds in +13 action. Against Portland, Wiggins dropped 29 points, along with 5 boards and 4 assists. As was obvious months ago, he’ll win the Rookie of the Year, which is what the entire franchise has been emphasizing, and will continue to emphasize as both a legitimate cause for celebration and a distraction from the shameless tanking effort. The Wolves have HUGE questions going forward about their coaching staff and strategy, their team defense, their medical management, and most of their personnel. But unlike most teams in their building stage, they seem to have landed a franchise player, which is the most important and difficult thing to acquire. As much as I hate the basketball that has been played for most of this season, this is a fact worth acknowledging.

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