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.
Best-Case Scenario: The Wolves Land a Top-2 Pick
Andy G: Personally, I think the 1st and 2nd Picks are effectively the same for the Wolves. I say this because I think they’d be wise to target a center, and the top two picks (as projected by the likes of Chad Ford and Jonathan Givony) are centers: Karl-Anthony Towns from Kentucky, and Jahlil Okafor from Duke. As long as the Wolves land in the top two, they are assured a chance to draft either of those big men, each of whom has his own look that some project as a franchise pillar.
Consider the Wolves most promising young players. Andrew Wiggins is a wing. Ricky Rubio is a point guard. Shabazz Muhammad is a wing. Zach LaVine is a combo guard. The frontcourt is devoid of promise right now, unless you write for this blog and hold out hope for Anthony Bennett. Pekovic was supposed to be the long-term center, but his lower-leg issues will always compromise his health and stamina. He cannot be considered a part of this team’s future. Garnett will soon be retired as a player and entering the ownership ranks. Dieng is probably not a starting frontcourt player on a good team (on either side of the floor, unfortunately). Payne is still raw, and did not show enough (yet) to be viewed as a long-term piece.
The Wolves would like nothing more than to add a [close to] seven-foot player to the nucleus they’re building with guards and forwards. Okafor could be an MVP-caliber offensive player, if he reaches his potential. Towns could combine defense and offensive versatility in ways that add up to all-around excellence. There seems to be a consensus that Towns is the superior prospect, and for good reasons: interior defense and rebounding are really important, and he’s better at those things than Okafor is. He’s also a good shooter, which Okafor is not. Shooting means he doesn’t have to clog up the lane on every possession that he’s in the game.
I’m slightly more intrigued by Okafor because his post game is the best I’ve ever seen from a college player (let alone a freshman college player) and I think he might be the rare, completely-unstoppable post scorer, in the mold of prime Tim Duncan, and DeMarcus Cousins. If he’s that good, then his team will want him in the paint all night long, because it’ll be a great way to score points and foul out opponents. If he’s that good, then complaining about his “fit” will be akin to complaining about Chris Paul dribbling off too many screens or Steph Curry shooting too many threes, because it prevents one of their worse teammates from doing something less effective with the ball.
If the Wolves land in the top two tonight, the draft will be relatively simple. They’ll draft Okafor or Towns, and be pretty damn excited about it.
Second-Best Scenario: The Wolves Pick 3rd or 4th
Patrick J: What happens if the Wolves don’t end up with Okafor or Towns? Well, the future could still be very bright. I’m notoriously optimistic about high-upside guys whose NBA bodies, athleticism, and (eye-test) skill-set suggests that they’re well fit for the NBA game. And I think that if the lotto balls don’t fall in the Wolves’ favor – that is, they fail to get one of the top two picks – I’m still optimistic and enthusiastic because it means that the Wolves will likely end up charting some kind-of uncharted territory, with a pick that would likely be Emmanuel Mudiay, DeAngelo Russell, or Kristaps Porzingis.
Despite recent reports that have Jahlil Okafor falling from his expected draft position of #1 or #2, I believe that he will be drafted first or second–especially if the Wolves have a say in it. Hyphenate Karl-Anthony Towns seems like a lock for the second overall pick if not the first, so I’m working off of that assumption.
So, what does #3 look like? Well, you likely have a selection of a few very intriguing and possibly difference-making players: Mudiay, Russell, or Porzingis.
All three have their allure.
No holds barred here: My favorite is Mudiay. Yes, he fubar’d NCAA eligibility, but he landed in China, and he played well when it counted. More importantly, he is the total package. He has the body and the skills of what could be a hybrid version of John Wall and good Dywayne (sp?) Wade. That’s a very good thing, regardless of the team’s need (which is not at the point or shooting guard positions, with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin locked up to multiyear contracts and playing – when healthy – at a high level).
I’ve watched perhaps more film of Mudiay than of any other prospect. Frankly, he’s the most tantalizing player in this draft, and I won’t be surprised if he ends up being the best player who comes out of it. He has the body and skills to be an alpha in this league on order of the two aforementioned stars, or of someone like healthy Brandon Roy.
Still, Mudiay’s background is weird: He’s a point guard from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Eds. Note: Serge Ibaka notwithstanding, Kinshasa is no Rucker Park); he didn’t qualify for college ball under Larry Brown at SMU; and he played sparingly in China due to injuries. His main accomplishment was that he came back during the Chinese playoffs and played extremely well, according to DraftExpress.
China was a staging ground for Mudiay. His time there makes me wonder what things would look like if you’d have switched his situation with that of DeAngelo Russell’s. Russell was not as highly touted as a prospect, coming out of Montverde Academy with top NCAA prospect Ben Simmons as his sidekick. He went to Ohio State, where he ran an offense that depended on his skills and is run to feature pro-style sets. Unlike many, I’m not convinced Russell is the clear pick if Okafor and Towns are gone when the Wolves pick.
I’m not picking on Russell here. I believe he’ll be a very good NBA point guard. He reminds me a bit of (current NBA player) Isaiah Thomas, who is extremely productive, albeit in what is usually a “special” role. Russell is bigger than Thomas, and he has a knack both for scoring and assisting. And he can take and make three-pointers. This is something the Wolves need and should want. Another player Russell reminds me a of – at least somewhat – is Mike Conley. Conley went #4 overall, was universally underrated, and perhaps became so underrated that he is now either properly rated or overrated. (Eds. Note. It doesn’t really matter for this discussion.)
Still, if Flip Saunders wants home runs instead of singles, and if the Wolves end up with the #3 overall pick, I’d personally run the putative “risk” on Mudiay, despite the attractive qualities that Russell will offer to any NBA team that selects him.
Andy G: More than anything, I think a top two pick means relative certainty, and landing 3 or 4 means a longer list of possibilities. They’ve seen Russell, they’ll work out Mudiay and Porzingis, and probably consider others like Willie Cauley-Stein, too. Also, if Philly is one of the teams picking 1st or 2nd in this scenario, the Wolves will probably try to arrange a trade with them to get Okafor or Towns. (Philly has drafted shot blockers in each of the past two years, and will presumably have more interest in Russell or Mudiay than in Towns or Okafor.) So there will be a lot more to discuss if the Wolves land 3 or 4.
Lottery is on ESPN tonight at 7:30 central time.
Go Wolves. (Corey Brewer voice.)