Go Big or Go Home: Thoughts on this Timberwolves Draft Pick

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Buddy Hield & Dragan Bender

I’m sitting here watching Jalen Rose and Jay Williams on TV, discussing who the Timberwolves should draft tomorrow night with the fifth overall selection. Their mock of course has Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram off the board before the Wolves pick. They also have Providence’s Kris Dunn — a player the Timberwolves have reportedly shown interested in — taken before five. And they have Washington’s Marquese Chriss going fourth to the Suns, one spot ahead of the Wolves.

Rose: At number five–

Williams: –Minnesota, a team of slashers, what are you gonna do?

Rose: You need a spot-up shooter. You have Wiggins, you have LaVine, you have Karl-Anthony Towns inside, you have Rubio at the point. That’s my spot up shooter. [Rose points at the screen, where he’s got Jamal Murray going to the Wolves.]

Williams: Really? See, when I think about Minnesota, I think about THE BEST spot-up shooter in the draft. I’d replace him with Buddy Hield. I think you already have enough guys who can handle the ball with LaVine and Rubio and that whole cast of characters, and Wiggins. I think Buddy Hield is a really good fit on that team.

Rose: When Coach Cal is on the phone with his good friend TOM THIBODEAU, he’s bringing out lottery picks every year, and what Coach Cal wants he normally gets!

Chad Ford, ESPN’s draft expert and prognosticator, also has Jamal Murray going to the Wolves at five. In his Mock Draft 9.2 (Insider) he writes that, “Murray’s shooting and ability to play both the 1 and the 2 give them a versatile, go-to scorer to put alongside Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine.”

In other words, Ford views a Murray selection as the Wolves drafting a “third guard,” which is either a bench player or the starting two, depending on how LaVine’s career shakes out.

A couple days ago, Ford and Jay Bilas co-authored a mock draft piece where Ford predicted who each team would select, while Bilas analyzed who they SHOULD take. In that piece, Ford predicted Murray to the Wolves, while Bilas thought they should take Hield.

…….

To me, this is a little bit alarming, and I hope Thibodeau & Layden (that sounds like a personal injury law firm) are thinking much differently than ESPN’s finest seem to be.

When soaking up all the secondary knowledge I can about these draft prospects, I find myself nodding the most when reading and listening to Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer, Bill Simmons’s new website. Tjarks has been recording podcasts with Danny Chau, discussing all of the top prospects. He’s also been writing about them. He is not nearly as high on Murray as many seem to be.

This morning he published, “The One Side of Jamal Murray,” which is almost entirely an indictment of the Kentucky guard, focused on the lack of versatility in his skill set, and his athletic limitations that make it reasonable to wonder if he will be able to either: 1) beat anybody off the dribble in the NBA; or 2) guard anybody in the NBA.

I did not watch as much college basketball this past year as I sometimes do, but Kentucky is inevitably on TV every weekend, so I saw a fair amount of Murray. Generally, when I watched the Wildcats play, I saw Tyler Ulis doing most all the playmaking for their offense, and when Murray contributed, it was in a catch-and-shoot role. Make no mistake, he sometimes looked spectacular in that role — he’s got a sweet release from deep range, and can pop jumpers off the move in the same sort of way that JJ Redick and Klay Thompson do — but that’s all that he does.

On the Chau-Tjarks podcast, they had this to say about the Timberwolves decision at five, in the context of discussing Dragan Bender, the 7’1″ prospect from Croatia:

Chau: I don’t think I would draft him any lower than number five. Like, I would love to see him next to Karl-Anthony Towns.

Tjarks: Oh that would be great. And for me like, even if I don’t like Bender, some of these guys that might go over him, just blows my mind… Taking like, Murray over Bender, I can’t even, that’s almost a fireable offense to me… Like what are you even talking about?

……

There are a few different general ways to view this Timberwolves draft selection.

One is that they should draft “best player available,” no matter what. This sounds smart when you say it, and especially if you type it, but it ignores that frustrating thing called uncertainty.

You just drafted Derrick Williams second overall because — even though you already have Kevin Love — he was the best player available and when you’re picking that high in the draft you ALWAYS TAKE THE BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE.

Only he wasn’t the best player available. In hindsight, had the Wolves drafted for need, they probably would have taken a wing player. The first wing taken in that draft was Klay Thompson. The third wing taken in that draft was Kawhi Leonard. This is not me saying that I or anyone else reasonably should have known that either of those players would become as great as they have become. This is me saying that almost every single draft selection comes with high uncertainty, and when you are operating in high uncertainty, you might as well ask questions like, “Well how much can this guy help us IF he pans out?” You might luck into greater outcomes that way.

Or you might make a huge mistake. Obviously scouting is a huge part of this. But it’s also become pretty clear that even the best scouts get it wrong a lot of the time, and a lot of this has rightly become academic, and playing percentages.

If you are willing to consider need, on some level or in some way, then you first have to decide:

  1. Are you thinking about positional needs, or conceptual needs? and
  2. Are you thinking about the short term — this roster as presently constructed — or long term, where you might add a key component to the young nucleus?

Maybe I should have switched those around.

I don’t know.

When the Timberwolves think about using the fifth overall pick in this draft, they should absolutely be thinking about the LONG term, if they want to think about needs. Their best asset is 20 years old. Their second best asset is 21. Their third best asset is 25. Their fourth best asset is 21.

Even though Thibs will do all he can to get this team into the playoffs in 2017, the big goal here is to construct a roster and a situation where the Wolves are positioned to contend for championships for, like, five or more consecutive seasons. And those seasons will begin at the absolute, pie-in-the-sky earliest, in 2018, and probably more like 2019 or 2020.

With this draft pick, assuming they don’t trade it (more on that later) the Wolves should be looking for a player that might become good enough to — by the time he’s up for a huge second contract — complement Towns and Wiggins in the starting lineup.

Conceptually, I think shooting is something that they could reasonably think about, in these terms. Towns is an interior player first and foremost, and Wiggins is not yet a good outside shooter. Adding perimeter shooting makes sense.

But, there are some things to note about “adding perimeter shooting,” in this context.

First, Ricky Rubio may or may not be this team’s point guard of the future. Some well-informed people question whether he fits the mold of a Thibodeau point guard. Thibs had Derrick Rose in Chicago, who was a slashing scorer. He also had success with chuckers off the bench, when Rose was hurt; guys like Aaron Brooks and Nate Robinson.

If Thibs isn’t a Rubio guy, the Wolves will — one way or another — acquire a different point guard who shoots the ball more reliably from downtown. In this scenario, “shooting” is not as big of a need as it seems and spending the fifth pick on “shooting” is not as wise a decision.

For a counterpoint, one might point to Boston, where Thibs won a championship as lead assistant, and Rajon Rondo was their non-shooting point guard. Maybe Ricky is here to stay, and shooting remains a need for the roster into the future. Boston had Ray Allen, after all.

Second, the Wolves have Zach LaVine at shooting guard — the same position Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray will play — and he is 21 years old and coming off a season in which he made 123 threes at a 39 percent clip.

LaVine is probably a better three-point shooter today than either Murray or Hield.

He’s also a WAYYYYY better athlete than either of those two players, and he’s also probably a better passer than either of them. Oh, he’s also good buddies with Wiggins, and seems like an all-around popular guy in the locker room who works hard and keeps a good attitude.

Did I mention he’s only 21?

Hield is 22.

The third thing to note about “adding shooting” with this draft pick is that Andrew Wiggins is (Marcellus Wallace voice) pretty fuckin’ far from a finished product. Wiggins has a really nice shooting motion. He uses the right amount of legs and arms and wrist, and it all seems pretty repeatable. He practices threes all the time. Assuming just a moderate level of progress from his current age of 21 up through his prime ages of 25 to 28, I don’t think it’s crazy to expect that he’ll become a pretty solid NBA three-point shooter.

Much like the “What if Rubio isn’t a part of the future core?” question, this one tends to mitigate the need for shooting with this draft pick.

If the foregoing doesn’t make it clear, I don’t really like the idea of drafting for a conceptual need of “shooting”; not with an asset that won’t be realized for a few years (the player taken will probably not be good, at first) and not when there are such big question marks about whether shooting will even BE a need for this team’s core in the future.

But position is a different story.

Long term, Karl-Anthony Towns is going to be a center.

Long term, Andrew Wiggins is probably going to be a small forward and Zach LaVine is going to be a shooting guard.

In the event that LaVine’s development stalls, or for some other reason they move him, it is also possible that Wiggins will get moved over to shooting guard.

This team does not need a shooting guard when it already has Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins.

This team’s core doesn’t really have a long-term “need,” but it does have a void, and that void is power forward.

That’s why, in this very abstract, academic analysis, I’d rather they draft either Chriss or Bender, if one of them is available when they pick. I think that’s a smarter percentage play, in the totality of Timberwolves circumstances, than drafting a shooting guard who doesn’t project to do much in terms of defense or playmaking.

Bender is 7’1″ and can shoot, and he can move his feet on the perimeter on defense.

If you just watched what Steven Adams was able to do on defense against the previously-thought-unbeatable Golden State Warriors, you’ll agree with me that pairing a 7’1″ dude who can move next to Karl-Anthony Towns sounds like a potential recipe for defensive devastation.

When thinking about these prospects, think about what it would look like if they panned out, and if they got into a nice zone on a Timberwolves roster that already includes guys like Towns, Wiggins and LaVine.

With Hield, do you really think they’ll reconstruct an offense that works to free him up to jack jumpers?

This team is KAT’s, and the threes it attempts will arise out of double teams sent to Towns. They won’t have a pin-down offense for a running shooter because they won’t need to.

With Bender or Chriss (in the “He panned out!” scenario) they add all sorts of upside to their defense, and their versatility to gameplan in a playoff series.

Size matters.

So does athleticism.

Since nobody being honest, with self awareness, knows what Buddy Hield’s career is going to look like (remember Trajan Langdon in college? yeah, he was awesome too) and certainly nobody knows what Dragan Bender, 18 years old from Crotia, will eventually become, we’re all talking about a dice roll here.

The one thing you can control is the size and — to a large extent — the position, of the player. Bender fits. He fits next to KAT and [potentially] creates a Twin Towers. Both guys can move, and both guys are really fucking big.

Take Dragan Bender.

Or Chriss, whatever.

Just don’t draft a two guard.

Now, the last question is, “What if they scout all these guys — Hield, Murray, Chriss, Bender, whoever else — and they don’t really like ANY of them?”

Well, in that case, I guess they see what they can get in a trade. Maybe a trade down, to target somebody like Denzel Valentine from Michigan State or Domantas Sabonis. Valentine was an all-around stud at Michigan State who seems destined for a reasonably successful pro career. Sabonis has short arms, but good everything else. Also, his dad is Arvydas Sabonis. If the Wolves can have Karl Towns Sr. and Arvydas Sabonis both on board as player dads… I don’t know, that’d be cool.

Or maybe they can trade the pick in a bigger package, for a great player. Jimmy Butler is the name being thrown around. DeMarcus Cousins is the name that I throw around. But if the fifth pick, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, and Nikola Pekovic’s contract could bring back a bigtime stud like Butler or Cousins, that would be hard to turn down too.

The possibilities are endless.

Just don’t draft a two guard.

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Comments

Filed under Timberwolves

4 responses to “Go Big or Go Home: Thoughts on this Timberwolves Draft Pick

  1. Reaper

    I’m in your camp on this one. I don’t know who’ll pan out, but I know we need defensive toughness inside.

  2. Go with size and toughness. Offensive will come over time.

  3. Nathan Anderson

    Great thinking and writing. We will learn something tonight about the front office. Of course, what we learn is subject to the same uncertainty. I was disappointed when they drafted LaVine and again when they traded the pick for Bazz and Dieng. Having turned out well does not mean good process, but each move did turn out pretty well despite my concerns at the time.

  4. jmndodge

    Well written – immediate help will come from veterans – trade/free agent players.. KG’s decision, the latest progress reports on PEK, and Tbbs philosophy going forward. Bender would be a good bench fit – a veteran bench PG for depth and if the right free agent PF/SF is available we make a move. Payne/Rudez/Prince//KG (likely) are gone – factoring in a backup bench PG – and a free agent SF/PF there is still room to draft both a big (Bender( and a wing. Go for size/discipline/shooting ability – abd expect him to play D-league for a year.

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