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Wolves' draft possibilities A-Z

A look at all the players likely on the Wolves' radar heading into the draft

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Another draft, another lottery pick for the Wolves. Sun's hot, water's wet, Spurs are winning, etc and so forth.

The Kevin Love situation is, of course, completely fluid. Maybe he's traded, maybe he's not. There's constant rumors about a Golden State Warriors deal that I think both myself and Eric have both taken clear stances on:

Klay is a little above average, at best, and that combined with the cost of him and David Lee is prohibitive, to say the least.

Generally speaking, ideally the kind of player you want back as the centerpiece of a superstar deal

  1. is inexpensive
  2. has star potential himself

The second point is self-explanatory, but the first seems to be eluding people.

When you're forced to rebuild...and the Wolves without Love would almost certainly be that, considering how awful they were in any configuration when he didn't play last year...the two things that you absolutely must hoard are potential and flexibility. Potential obviously is what paves the path to getting better. Flexibility is what lets you be opportunistic. And there's only one way to check both those boxes at the same time: great rookies.

Consider what the Rockets did. They didn't land Dwight Howard by just taking grab bags of whatever players were available at any given time. They hoarded their case, draft picks...made a genius draft pick in Chandler Parsons (whom we sold to them, FYI...) and then sat there until the right player....James Harden....became available. Then the combination of Harden and Parsons was enough to convince Dwight Howard to sign on...even foregoing $20 million in the process.

And it all started because the Rockets were smart enough to grab a couple great rookies and not spend the rest of their stockpile on mid-level talent.

Flexibility is key to rebuilding because you don't know what you have until you have it. Something may not work and you need to change course quickly. If you bet on Chandler Parsons and you're wrong, you're still only paying him $1 mil/year for 2-3 years. Whereas if the Wolves bet on Klay and they're wrong, you're probably stuck paying him something like $11-12 mil/year for 4-5 years. The team would be thoroughly trapped in mediocrity.

This is why the Celtics deal is far more preferable to the Warriors deal. The centerpiece of a Love trade should be cheap with star potential. A smart #6 pick is both. Klay Thompson is neither.

As for "the rest", well, for the purposes of this roundup we'll assume everything talked about it potentially in play, from the #6 pick down, and take a look at everyone the Wolves appear to have interested in that range.

In addition to the standard advanced rates columns, you'll also see VJL's incredible work with EWP and HUM scoresand his closest statistical comparison, as well as Kevin Pelton's WARP score and his closest comps (derived from the SCHOENE system) from ESPN. Keep in mind that WARP has a different purpose than simply ranking prospects top to bottom: it endeavors more to rate players in comparison to a statistical average, looking at how that one player and four thoroughly average teammates would theoretically perform. In simplistic terms, think of it is, is this guy better or worse than a league average player at his position?

Having watched WARP for a few years now, I feel pretty confident in including it. Pelton nailed last year's draft, where WARP very highly rated guys like Michael Carter-Williams, Steven Adams and Kelly Olynyk, and very lowly rated Anthony Bennett, Alex Len and Ben McLemore.

Remember: average PER is 15. Average WS/48 is .100

This is also categorized by where I think these guys will get picked, not necessarily where they should get picked.

PLAYERS IN PLAY AT #6 (possible Celtics deal)

Aaron Gordon (Arizona):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
20.4 .503 469 .183 11.1 10.4 29% 2% 1.7 Terry Cummings Anthony Randolph, Thad Young

I've maintained this for basically the entire draft process after Love "demanded" out: unless you can get the Bulls to play and a guarantee that Nikola Mirotic will sign here, Aaron Gordon is the best player you can grab in a Love deal.

His shooting is a problem, yes, but I don't think it's by any means unsolvable, and the rest of his game projects at a star level. He's tremendously athletic, can rebound and handle, and plays exceptional defense. The statistical comps nail his 3-4 versatility but miss a good chunk of his defense. Most likely, he's something akin to Andrei Kirilenko. At best, you're probably talking some sort of hybrid of Joakim Noah and Shawn Marion.

He'll already have a bit of leeway on offense here because he's going to finish in the pick-and-Rubio, regardless of whether his shot from anywhere else pans out. So you can always throw Tyson Chandler sets at him at least keep him from being a liability. But like I said, basically everything else about his game projects out great. If he can start knocking down jumpers, he might be the best guy in the draft.

Joel Embiid (Kansas):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
28.8 .655 307 .213 15.6 16 43% 1% 2.9 Patrick Ewing Sean Williams, Robin Lopez

First off, you can effectively ignore Pelton's comps on this one. Most of you probably don't have insider, but he notes there that post scorers of Embiid's profile simply haven't entered the league over the timespan his database covers. He in fact throws the comps to VJL, who's database comes up with Ewing, Hakeem and Charles Barkley.

So. Yeah. A guy who compares to three of the greatest big men in NBA history.

The we talked about a couple weeks the back. Embiid missed the end of Kansas' season plus all of tournament play with back issues. And just when GMs were starting to collectively conclude he was over them, the foot injury hits.

While most are treating them as separate instances, I see them as pretty connected, and symptomatic of guys with bad backs in general. Weak, unbalanced cores affect the whole body, and are usually chronic. I don't think Tracy McGrady was injury prone. I think he had one serious injury...a bad back...that led to a bunch of other injuries that he otherwise never would have had. His time at Tim Grover's ATTACK institute seems to support this: Grover plainly stated the problem was an imbalance in his core.

I also think this at least partially explains the constant injuries to guys like Greg Oden. For those not aware, Oden had surgery in 6th grade that resulted in one leg being longer than the other. Think that wouldn't mess your back up? I don't think it's any surprise really that he had a series of catastrophic, non-contact injuries. His whole body is out of balance (hopefully they've fixed it now. Oden himself seemed to realize there was a core cause last year and sounded determined to find out what it was)

But even if you don't consider them connected, Embiid's foot injury has to raise a gigantic red flag. Embiid's injury....described as navicular stress the same injury suffered by Yao Ming, Bill Walton and Zydrunus Ilgauskas, three big men who were almost constantly injured during their careers. Yao and Walton were forced into early retirement because of it.

I'm not sure how possible injury prone-ness would affect a player's bust score, but I have to think it'd be more than 1%. I've included Embiid here because there is a very real chance he slips into the 5-8 range with this injury, despite being the clear statistical leader in the draft. The Wolves didn't work him out, but if they deal for #6 and he's there, you have to think they'll at least consider drafting him.

But Greg Oden looms large. Teams will worry about staking their future on a guy who might not be able to stay on the court.

Noah Vonleh (Indiana):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
22.2 .604 321 .182 11.1 10.9 25% 3% 2.4 Clerence Weatherspoon Chris Bosh, Derrick Favors

So the first thing you probably notice is that other than their shooting numbers, Vonleh and Gordon are nearly identical. Creepily so, really. Their PER, WS/48, EWP, HUM, and WARP scores all fall within like, 2% of each other.

The difference in scoring is easily explained. Vonleh is a superior shooter, but Gordon moved the ball much better (75 assists to Vonleh's 18....thus the difference in their Points Produced)

Picking between them is basically picking between offense or defense. I made the general comparison a couple weeks back and I still think it holds true: do you want Kirilenko or Paul Millsap? You can't really come up with a wrong answer to that one, so it's probably just a matter of personal preference.

I do think Gordon will be the better player; he's more versatile and has more physical tools to work with. But if you need scoring punch....and the Wolves certainly will if they don't have Love...then Vonleh is the pick. The statistical comparison difference between Chris Bosh and Anthony Randolph isn't inaccurate.

Julius Randle (Kentucky):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
24.5 .567 599 .193 7.7 9.8 7% 17% 1.6 Leon Powe JJ Hickson, Brandon Bass

Of the Big Three Power Forwards in this draft, as I've come to think of them, Randle is the least attractive prospect. He dominates the scoring column, with a strong post game and crashing the offensive glass, but it falls apart on him everywhere else. He doesn't move the ball particularly well and averaged less than a single steal and block per game...major red flags for college bigs.

As you can see, his statistical comps don't exactly inspire confidence. I think, at best, he's something like a pre-Wolves Al Jefferson or pre-Grizzlies ZBo....a scoring bully in the low block, but that's about it.

I mentioned this earlier, but I have a sinking feeling that, presented with a choice of Gordon, Vonleh and Randle, Saunders would go with Randle. If a Celtics deal happens, I hope that doesn't become the case.

Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
26.9 .554 589 .220 11.4 11.9 32% 2% 3.6 Rodrick Rhodes Tyreke Evans, James Harden

Smart has the second highest EWP/HUM average and the highest WARP score in this year's draft, despite very shaky shooting. That's because, much like Gordon, Smart kills the competition in every non-shooting category, and rates out ridiculously high for his position in two key historical markers of NBA success: steals and offensive rebounds.

He also, from a purely physical standpoint, is a guy you'd imagine no one would want to guard in a handcheck-free (or even an old handcheck enabled) NBA. He looks like he should have been at the NFL combine as a nose tackle.

The only pause here is his poor outside shooting makes him a very bad fit next to Rubio. Those two as a backcourt would probably struggle to hit 30% of their threes, which would be all but a death sentence in the modern NBA.

From a sheer talent perspective, Smart is up there with anyone in this draft. So if he's on the board, give serious thought to what path the team should take. He'll almost certainly directly conflict with Rubio for usage and ultimately leadership.

Dante Exum (Australia):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
21.8 .549 --- .190 --- --- --- --- 3.3 --- Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday

Exum played in the Australian league, so he doesn't have any college numbers to rate out by. I used his games in the FIBA U19 tournament to calculate PER, TS% and WS/48, as it was the closest I could come to against college competition (he played against US guys like Gordon, Smart and Elfrid Payton there) But that's a very small 9 game sample size. I'd assume Pelton used his Aussie stats run through Hollinger's old Euro-stat translator for his WARP score.

In any event, the resulting numbers and comps are close enough to his scouting report and general impressions of watching him that I'm comfortable they're in the ballpark. Exum is, in broad terms, pretty similar to smart: a big, versatile guard with an inconsistent shooting touch. I'd lean much more towards the Holiday comparison than the Irving one, but yeah. That's the deal.

For the Wolves, he'd present basically the same problem as Smart: how do you pair him with Rubio?

PLAYERS IN PLAY AT #11-13 (possible Nuggets deal, Wolves' own pick)

Keep in mind here, the star potential rating isn't particularly important. You don't find stars at #13 unless you're the Spurs. The number to watch is the bust potential rating.

Gary Harris (Michigan State):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
22.5 .561 542 .188 7.5 7.5 7% 21% 1.9 Veshon Lenard Xavier Henry, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Despite being a little short for a 2 guard, Harris is a great blend of offense and defense and would be an ideal fit next to Rubio. As you can see from the scouting video, he does most of his damage moving off the ball, and is a capable facilitator and defender to boot. He also has great downhill speed and body control, making him a weapon in transition as well.

The comparison to Hoopus' dream pick last year...Kentavious accurate and is likely to catch a lot of eyes. And as you'll soon see, he has by far the lowest bust potential of the guys being considered in this range. I started off in Harris' corner and that hasn't changed for me: if he's there at #13 (or #11) then he's my pick.

Doug McDermott (Creighton):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potenial WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
32.8 .644 788 .261 3.1 4.7 1% 48% 1.8 Dan Langhi Adam Morrison, Jon Leuer

Well. McDermott can, at the least, really really really shoot the ball. In 4 years at Creighton, he never posted below a .600 TS% and only once was below a .600 eFG%, and his efficiency rating is absurd, particularly for a guy who's an average/below-average rebounder and posted almost nothing in terms of assists, steals or blocks. That's how good of a shooter he is.

Unfortunately, the markers of a successful NBA career aren't shooting related. McDermott was not a good rebounder, particularly on the offensive end, and his steals rate is basically 0. Drafting him puts the Wolves at high risk of the next Adam Morrison (Pelton's comp is legit statistically based here. It's not him making the easy grab) If McDermott shoots at anything less than a Peja level, he'd league average at best. If he doesn't, then he's a specialist and maybe a washout.

Nik Stauskas (Michigan):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
22.7 .642 594 .193 4.6 6.1 2% 39% 1.2 Casey Jacobson Ben McLemore, Doron Lamb

Stauskas doesn't shoot quite as well as McDermott, but generates points in abetter range thanks to being a much better facilitator. That added versatility also brings his bust potential down from an alarming level to merely bad.

Where Stauskas really struggles is defensively. His steals% was third lowest in this draft class, and just by watching him you can see he's kind of Kevin Martin-ish on 'd'....he gets beat off the dribble consistently, doesn't box out, and often just stands around nowhere in the vicinity of his assignment.

He wouldn't be the worst pick in the world....certainly he wouldn't scare me like McDermott would...but if Harris is off the board it's probably better to trade down. There's better prospects that will be available outside the lottery.

Adreian Payne (Michigan State):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
25.1 .607 443 .200 2.4 3.1 1% 48% 0 Rob Kurz Hakim Warrick, Rob Kurz

Payne is my fanboyish, totally irrational dark horse pick in this race. He future projection scores get knocked down because of his age, but I don't think his age is going to be a big factor here. He's hyper athletic and absurdly versatile for a big (his eFG% and assist rate is higher than half the guards in the draft)

Pelton notes that it's definitely his age that drags down his WARP score...if he was a sophomore, his comps list would impress...but that 4 year seniors are 4 year seniors mostly because of physical limitations. I suppose being kind of asthmatic is a definite limitation, but in terms of athleticism, Payne is unlimited. He didn't stay because he's earthbound like a Hansbrough.

So while I don't think Payne can reach what Aaron Gordon will become, I think he is better than he gets credit for. Stretch 4/5s that can also play defense are a rare commodity, and Payne's combo of dunking/three ball shooting figures to be a dangerous weapon in a Rubioops offense.

(I'm also semi-suspicious of him being in the Green Room. Not sure who else but us would be considering him that high up)

James Young (Kentucky):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
16.6 .536 527 .145 4.2 4.0 1% 39% 0.8 Harrison Barnes Bandon Rush, Tobias Harris

James Young has an ideal physical frame, but the billing here doesn't fit the production. Young is touted as a knock-down shooter, but his 47% FG percentage (and just 35% from three) seems to contradict that scouting report.

Behind that, Young didn't rebound particularly well for his position, nor did he move the ball. His size and athleticism would lend to being a solid defender, but Young performed poorly overall on 'd'....he didn't get out in the passing lanes or contest shots very well, and is slow to move his feet laterally, leaving him beat off the dribble more often than not.

Overall, you're looking at a very bland player here. He's got standout height/reach, but doesn't excel at anything in particular and has a couple glaring issues.

Rodney Hood (Duke):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
20.1 .590 507 .169 1.8 2.3 1% 57% -0.2 Desmon Farmer Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock

Well, Klay Thompson fans, if you want a knockdown shooter who doesn't rebound, move the ball, or get to the line, the Rodney Hood is the pick for you. And at a fraction of the cost.

Shooting is literally the only thing Hood does well (and he does genuinely shoot it really well) Outside of that, his ball movement and FT rate are average at best, and he rebounds terribly for his position. 6'3" Gary Harris posted more rebounds and a better rebounding rate than Hood at 6'8".

Hood also is a complete liability on defense. Rarely does he even get into a defensive stance, much less contest shots or get into the passing lanes, and his defensive awareness is non-existent.

But what really drags down his score is his age. People don't realize he's actually 21; most people think he's a frosh. But his freshman season was two years ago at Mississippi State, after which he sat out the mandatory year after transferring to Duke.

So yeah. You can pay something like $10 mil more/year for Klay and get basically what you see here with a modest dose of defense. Or you can draft Hood. But really, you shouldn't draft Hood. Don't draft Hood.

Zach Lavine (UCLA):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
14.6 .545 325 .111 4.4 5.5 5% 33% 0.9 E'Twaun Moore Avery Bradley, Bradley Beal

Lavine is pure, long term potential, with emphasis on long term. He'll have moments where he absolutely wows with sheer athleticism, but as a whole this is the profile of a guy who's not ready for the NBA.

Zach Lavine is a poster boy for why Adam Silver wants the age limit raised. With another year or two in college, Lavine would probably be a top 10 pick. He's a strange case because the tools are all there, he just doesn't use them; the question is, is that because he hasn't figured it out yet, or because he's incapable of it? His per40 minute numbers are pretty good, but he only played 24 minutes a game in reality.

Something kept Lavine from being the player he can be, so if you're looking at drafting him, you have to really study and make sure you know what that was. Is he Russell Westbrook, where a combination of youth and circumstance artificially limited what he was allowed to do? Or is he Joe Alexander, an athletic wonder boy who just doesn't have the basketball IQ to know how to use his gifts? Lavine is an extreme high risk/high reward pick. There's a potential all star in him, right next to a potential washout.

EXTRA -- PLAYERS IN PLAY AT #16-27 (possible Celtics, Bulls or Suns deals)

Dario Saric (Croatia):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
19.2 .584 --- .197 --- --- --- --- 1.4 --- Al Harrington, Corey Maggette

Like Exum, the advanced stats here are estimates. I ran Saric's Adriatic League numbers through John Hollinger's rough Euro-to-NBA stat model, then calculated what I could from that. Saric's base numbers come out to be something like 12 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals a game. Not bad at all.

Saric is a clear lottery talent, but I've included him here because yesterday he committed to two more years in Europe, which I think will knock his stock down significantly. Lottery teams are looking for immediate help, not Euro draft-and-stash prospects. The one exception might be the Sixers, who have two picks in the top 10, but otherwise I'm not sure any other lottery team takes that chance. There's a lot of teams in the lottery under a lot of pressure to win now.

Pelton notes in his comparisons that the scores don't really capture what a unique playmaker Saric is. He's 6'10" but can facilitate like a guard. A more accurate set of comparisons would probably be Hedo Turkoglu, Toni Kukoc, Lamar Odom or non-injured Jonathan Bender. He carries his team's offense and can be a prolific scorer, but you get the sense he'd prefer to blend more.

I really doubt Flip would take Saric at #13, especially if it's the Wolves' only pick, but I'd love to trade for a second pick in the 14-19 range (the Suns and Bulls are actively shopping theirs) to take him. The idea of a high talent player you won't actually have to pay for 2 years sounds like just the kind of thing the Taylor machine would go for. I have high confidence Saric will pan out. Mobile euro big men who can move the ball have a great track record in the NBA: the Gasols, Hedo, Diaw, Kukoc, Detlef Schrempf. Assuming he's non-fictional, I'd expect a lot of teams to fight to try and pick him up with a mid-to-late first rounder.

(Wouldn't it just be so inevitable if he fell to the Spurs at 30)

Kyle Anderson (UCLA):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
24.7 .566 603 .189 14.9 9.3 23% 7% 1.5 Luke Walton Chris Singleton, Earl Clark

Kyle Anderson is one of the most unique and confounding players in the draft, with a physical frame and skillset that seem at odds with each other.

In the most basic sense, Anderson is a point guard. That's the way he plays the game: high usage, pass first. His EWP score is through the roof, as he piles up numbers in the success marker areas. If you consider him a forward, he's a great facilitator. If you consider him a guard, he's an exceptional rebounder. Either way, he grabs steals.

One knock is Anderson's slower footspeed and low athletic ceiling. That raises some concern about his ability to break down defenses and defend at the NBA level. VJL's star/bust potential model (if I understand it right) accounts for this, which is why his percentages differ from Embiid's despite very similar EWP. But the real catch here is, as a high-usage, so-so shooter, Anderson will HAVE to have the ball in his hands....or at least be the focus of the offensive be truly effective. As Pelton notes

He is not a major threat without the ball in his hands, so whatever team drafts Anderson may need to make him the focal point of its offense

That ain't gonna happen on a Ricky Rubio team. Anderson rarely wasn't the decision maker in the UCLA offense so there's not much data about how he fares off the ball, but it's probably safe to say it's not that great. I think the place for Anderson is with a team with a scoring point like the dynamic San Antonio has with Diaw and Parker/Mills. Rubio is anything but a scoring point.

I'm certainly not going to say don't draft someone of Anderson's profile. Just understand there will need to be adjustments to get good basketball out of his rather bizarre skillset, and then weigh if those are adjustments the Wolves can afford to make.

Jordan Adams (UCLA):

PER TS% Points Produced WS/48 EWP HUM Star Potential Bust Potential WARP VJL comp Pelton comps
28.3 .603 594 .237 12 8.5 16% 12% 3.0 Ronnie Brewer Dion Waiters, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Adams, I think, is the definite pick for the Wolves between the two underrated UCLA guys. Wheras Anderson is a high-usage distributor, Adams is a low-usage, off ball shooter, which makes him a better fit for the roster and generally means you don't have to reinvent the wheel to accommodate him.

His EWP trails Anderson by a not-insignificant amount, but his WARP score is stellar: 5th highest in this year's class. Of the projected lottery picks, only Marcus Smart and Dante Exum have higher scores. So Adams projects as a guy who will likely be significantly better than what's expected of a guy at his position. I would side more with Pelton's comparisons here, as Anderson is more of a shooter than a cutter, and I think very best case is something like a Michael Redd, just to give an impression of what kind of player he is.

I think, regardless of whether Love stays or goes or if the Wolves already have 2 picks, they should make a play for Phoenix's #18 or Chicago's #19 to grab Adams. Dumping off a mid-level, long term deal like Chase or Brewer for Adams at a rookie salary would be a net gain both on the court and in the books.