No one knows what Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden plan to do in the draft tomorrow. Even a nearly-20 minute press conference shed no real light on their thoughts. So what happens when Commissioner Silver takes the podium to announce the #5 pick is anyone's guess.
The most likely scenario probably remains trading the pick. Thibs prefers veteran players who he's confident can pick up his intricate defensive system quickly and thoroughly, and historically hasn't given rookies much run in their first year or so.
Personally, trading draft picks is usually a move I don't support. Part of that is just the ignorance of being on the outside looking in: it's hard to advocate trading for the nebulous "someone," who could be anyone. Trading the #5 pick for Nerlens Noel would be pretty great. Trading the #5 pick for someone like Taj Gibson would really, really not be. It's an unknown quantity that I can't get behind before the fact.
But there's also a couple very tangible reasons it's generally not a great idea. First, teams who basically sell their future for a short term fix obviously put a shelf life on their success - usually a short one - while often missing out on great players. The Wolves have some exceptionally painful experience with this from the Kahn/Rambis era, as David Kahn hired and drafted incredibly poorly, then struck a boatload of deals that cost the team several draft picks to try to fix it. No more is this apparent than looking back the 2011 NBA draft, when Kahn managed to deal away Chandler Parsons, Nikola Mirotic, Donatas Motiejunas, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Norris Cole all within the span of an hour or so. Teams simply cannot outlast attrition. If they cut off the influx of young talent, eventually the consequences of that arise.
Second, the cap is going up next year. Like, waaaayyyy up. But rookie-scale salaries are hard-coded into the CBA; they aren't proportional to the cap. So the #5 pick in this draft will be owed $3.1 million of what is estimated to be around a $95 million salary cap - just 3.1% of the salary cap. This is something Nate talked about all the time, for good reason. With the amount of money teams have to pay their stars to keep them - and remember that those contracts will go up with the cap - the only way to have multiple stars on the roster and still fill it out to 12 players is to grab guys who perform far above their paychecks. The easiest way to do this is by drafting well; rookie salaries are low, and they're non-negotiable.
Say the Wolves want to address their dire need for shooters in free agency. A solid wing guy for this would be, lets say, J.R. Smith, who despite the antics he's known for had a productive (and obviously winning) season for the Cavaliers. Smith made about $5 million of the $70 million cap this year. If we adjust that for the cap spike, even assuming he doesn't get a raise, signing Smith in free agency will cost a minimum of $7 million this summer. That's over twice what the #5 pick will be owed. Is J.R. Smith, over the course of four years, likely to be more productive than say, Jamal Murray? Maybe he will be the first year. But if Murray's shooting at all translates to the pros, he'll probably at least draw even with J.R. in year two, and certainly will exceed him in years three and four when Smith is reaching his mid-30s. And at half the cost.
So while I'm as disgusted by the Wolves' never-ending playoff drought as anyone, I simply can't advocate trading high draft picks for veterans. Even in a weaker draft. This team should not just throw assets at the wall, and they should definitely not try to take shortcuts in building a team around a potentially historically great player in Karl-Anthony Towns. Especially when the draft offers a few reasonable bets to solve a few problems anyway.
I'm definitely intrigued by Washington's Marquese Chriss, who's combination of speed, shooting range, and freakish athleticism could make him an ideal fit next to both Rubio and Towns. But the Wolves have been plagued for many years by the one thing that NBA teams simply cannot get away without anymore: three point shooting. So the two players I've zeroed in on in this draft should be pretty obvious: Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield.
John wrote up a great look at Jamal Murray a couple weeks ago. I'd have little argument with drafting him; he would certainly be a great pick for the Wolves. So while this will come off as fairly negative on Murray, my feelings on this are not like last year, where I was convinced Towns was infinitely better than Okafor. But yes, I do personally favor Buddy Hield just a little bit more, and here's why.
Hield as a shooter
Everyone knows about Buddy's shooting. Hield shot the ball absurdly well this past year: 50.1% from the field, including 45% from three-point range, as well as 88% from the free throw line. In terms of simply putting the ball through the hoop, Hield was the best college scorer in the last 20 years, with only Doug McDermott having a claim to be at the same level.
Hield's three-point percentage is especially noteworthy, as he not only shot the three-ball exceptionally well, but at a crazy rate - nearly nine 3PT attempts per game. No one in college with serious NBA hopes has attempted that many since Steph Curry's junior season in 2008-2009, when he shot 38.7% from three on 9.9 attempts per game.
The fact Buddy made 45% of his threes on that sort of sheer volume leads me to believe his shooting isn't just a Derrick Williams-ish one-year fluke. Well, technically speaking, Hield was a solid shooter his junior (36% 3PT) and sophomore (39% 3PT) years, so it's not just one year for him anyway. But Hield shot nearly three season's worth of sample size last year with his 322 (!!!!) 3PT attempts. For comparison, Devin Booker shot "only" 141 threes at Kentucky. So if Buddy's shooting was a fluke, one would figure it would have dropped out from under him at some point in the season. It didn't.
Of course, Hield's calling card is the catch-and-shoot, which will also be his primary role at the NBA level. Fortunately for Buddy, he was an incredible shooter with his feet set, making 49% of his standing shots. This was also mostly from three-point range, and often with defenders right on top of him or flying by.
Buddy also worked himself into an incredible shooter off the dribble - almost unrealistically so, considering the types of shots he was taking. Hield employs a bewildering array of step-backs, spins, and shot fakes to slide defenses out of his way.
Hield made 37% of his pull-up jumpers, which is one skill he has over Murray, who shot just 32% on pull-ups with a far lower degree of difficulty on most of those shots.
Of course, unless your name is Curry, Durant, or Nowitzki, these aren't shots you want to be regularly taking in the NBA. As Shane Battier once pointed out, the odds of your average NBA player making a shot are basically cut in half as soon as they take the first dribble.
That said, having defenses aware of the possibility adds an extra dimension they have to plan for, which opens up more space on the floor. A player who can only shoot set shots isn't too difficult to defend, particularly for smaller guards like Murray and Hield, and that sometimes forces those players into very niche roles.
Whether the Wolves pick Hield or Murray, they need to get shooters on the floor now more than ever. Thibodeau's system is low pace/high efficiency, which means fewer transition and early shot clock opportunities and a lot more precision halfcourt sets. The only way to find space on the floor in the halfcourt is to, well, space the floor. This is critical for the Wolves to address, and again, the draft is the most straightforward and efficient way to do this.
Putting the ball on the deck
The difference between Murray and Hield's pull-up shot percentages is really a symptom of the differences in their ability to handle the ball. This is basically the one big gap between them that has me leaning towards Hield, despite the difference in their ages.
Hield has massively improved his ability to handle the ball over the last two years or so. This has translated into a prolific ability to create space and attack the basket.
Buddy converted 55% of his 2PT shots this past season, including 56% of his shots in the paint, compared to Murray who barely broke 50% on his 2PT shots. Most of this is the difference in their skill levels handling the ball, which leads to a difference in their ability to finish at the rim.
Murray tends to do what Wiggins did his first year: drive straight into bodies and loft up a poor shot over raised arms. But Murray doesn't have Wiggins' height, length or athleticism to fall back on, and defenders don't get any slower, shorter or dumber (mostly) at the NBA level.
Buddy, on the other hand, attacks defenses in much the same way as old man Dwyane Wade. No, I'm obviously not saying Buddy will be Wade. But at the same time, I think we've seen that Wade doesn't need to be Wade either. At 34 years old, Dwyane Wade has become the NBA's Ser Barristan Selmy. He still carves up defenses as well as anyone in the league using ball control, long strides, and an intuitive sense of space, timing, anticipation, and body control to protect the ball and finish drives. Those are the kind of intangible traits I'm seeing in Hield that I'm not seeing in Murray.
Hield can definitely be turnover-prone. There are times he plays fast and loose with his handles, and makes ill-advised passes. His turnovers skyrocketed last season after being very manageable before. My thinking here is that his insane usage rate at Oklahoma had a big hand in this, where Hield had to take stupid risks and force plays to happen simply because no one else had anything to offer. The second-leading scorer on his team scored half as many points and shot just 41% from the field. At the NBA level, where he won't have to be the do-all-everything-always for his team, I believe (hope) that Hield will play a more refined brand of basketball that should lead to fewer errors.
Overall, the big concern here for me is that often when college players can't control the ball at the NBA level, they stop attacking the basket, and thus stop getting to the free throw line. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for perimeter players to get to the free throw line. A shooter who isn't taking free throws has to shoot well over 50% to be even a moderately efficient scorer, and again, unless your name is Curry, Durant or Dirk, that's simply not going to be an option for you.
This is what sunk Randy Foye, Wes Johnson, and Michael Beasley. It's why OJ Mayo didn't achieve stardom, and the biggest reason Jimmer Fredette isn't Steph Curry v2.0. Jimmer didn't lose his shooting touch, he's a career 38% 3PT shooter in the NBA so far. What changed, more than anything, was his free throw rate went from .386 in college to .109 his rookie year in the NBA. He just couldn't attack the basket anymore, and it killed his game. I find it highly unlikely either Murray or Hield will fall into Jimmer territory, but of the two, I think Murray has the bigger risk to, because Hield has shown an ability to handle the ball and attack the basket that Murray so far has not.
Obviously the age gap here plays a factor, as Hield wasn't much better with the ball his freshman year than Murray is now. And not only is Murray only 18, he's a young 18. So he could very well improve his handles to or even past the level Hield is at.
But he could also not. Age is no guarantee of improvement, especially with handles, as the Wolves should be well aware. I tend to think that being older means a guy is more NBA ready is a bit of a red herring, but there is merit to it in cases where the extra years lead to demonstrably different skill sets. Is Hield more NBA ready just because he's older? No. But he is more NBA ready because his handles are better, which for him is a factor of him staying in college three more years.
I'm definitely not saying Murray can't do it, but after years and years of Foye and Brewer and Wes and Beasley and Derrick Williams (and even, to an extent, Wiggins) and always waiting for it to get better, the "his handles will improve" bet is simply not one I'm personally willing to take anymore.
Rebounding, Putbacks, and Blocks
This category could more appropriately be called "Hustle, Timing, and Anticipation," because that's what's really being highlighted here. This is more or less just added evidence of Hield's awareness of the floor and intuition for making plays happen.
One of the things that's puzzled me is the assertion that Buddy has a low basketball IQ. I don't get that. I can't watch a player shot fake two defenders into flying by him, instinctively shield the ball with his body on drives, or perfectly time blocks and putback dunks, and think "he doesn't get it." Is Buddy a basketball savant like a LeBron or Jason Kidd or Larry Bird? No, of course not. But he's not a pile of bricks like Gerald Green, which some scouts seem determined to sell him as.
In terms of non-shooting intangibles, again, I'm seeing a level of intuitive timing, anticipation, body control in Hield that I'm not seeing in Murray. And again, it's entirely possible that Murray improves all of this in the next 2-3 years, but gambles on intangibles are not my thing. The Wolves have Towns and Rubio and Thibs and a 13 year playoff drought to end. I think they should be prioritizing high floors over high ceilings now.
Height and Reach
Also a factor is the difference between Hield and Murray's physical stature. I think the perception here might stem from the fact that Hield has spent the last two seasons playing small forward in a 3-guard lineup, so people were seeing him matched up with forwards instead of guards without consciously realizing it a lot of the time. So he looked undersized when he's really not. Contrary to most people's impressions, Hield actually measured bigger at the combine than Murray, and Jamal is the one who is undersized for the 2-guard position.
Also kill this now: Hield's not undersized. Height/reach combo about same as Wes Matthews, Tony Allen. > than Murray pic.twitter.com/SCWmAmNg9E— Key Sang (@Phantele_) May 20, 2016
The key difference here is wingspan, which tends to play a critical role at the NBA level, where reach matters more than height. Height only goes in one direction; reach goes in every direction. Three inches in wingspan is a huge difference in the NBA. It's basically the difference between Klay Thompson and Chris Duhon. In terms of position, Hield's reach puts him on equal footing with your typical NBA shooting guard and could even allow him to slide to small forward in smaller lineups, while Murray is basically deadlocked at 2-guard.
The Thibodeau System
This is less of a selling point and more of an observation (to us at least...it may very well be a selling point to Thibs). We have a pretty good idea of the system Thibs prefers to run, and I don't see someone in his position at this point in his career making wholesale changes to it. He wins a specific way, and he's going to try and build to the team to do that.
And of the roles Thibs has historically built into his offense is the backcourt kamikaze gunner. Nate Robinson. Aaron Brooks. He even fielded Jimmer for a bit. Per 36, a point guard under Thibs led the Bulls in FGA/gm all but one season, with three season seeing a point/combo guard also second in FGA/gm (the list expands to include John Lucas III and Jimmer Fredette under these conditions). I'm not sure what the reasoning behind it is - that should be one of the more fascinating studies this year - but it's consistently something he likes to turn to, and a role Buddy is perfectly built to fill.
The comparison I see here is mainly Nate Robinson. I think, in watching Robinson's time in Chicago, he was not only playing much the same role that Buddy excels at, but playing it in very much the same way. They take the same shots, attack the same spaces, make the same cuts...all of it.
So there's a familiarity level there for Thibs, I think, that could also help Buddy earn consistent playing time under him that another rookie probably wouldn't. Hield is not only very much suited for a gunner role, but for a sixth man role as well, as he's used to and capable of being a one man army (read: will not always be dependent on Ricky Rubio setting him up).
Also, Hield very much has the mentality that Thibs prizes - he's tough-minded, obviously will work hard to improve, and is insanely competitive. Hield fought harder last year than any player I've personally watched play college basketball, and his standards for winning and personal perfection rival KAT's. He's like an offense-for-defense version of Jimmy Butler, and that no doubt holds appeal to Thibs.
It will be interesting to see how the dynamic between Thibodeau and Layden plays out tomorrow. My impression is that Thibs is sticking to his preference for readiness and gritty mentality, which probably means Hield and Kris Dunn, while Layden seems more focused on long term potential, meaning Murray and Dragen Bender. Those seem to be the four names that everyone is hearing.
Told it's Boston tomorrow where Jaylen Brown has been summoned. Distinct possibility: Dunn, Murray, Bender, Hield all left at 5. #twolves— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) June 18, 2016
Whatever the Wolves do, they need to nail it. This is likely the last big draft asset they will have for a long time; throwing it away because it's a weaker draft or the team needs more veterans or whatever seems shortsighted to me, and could have serious consequences in the years to come. The Wolves' first and foremost need by mile is shooting, and they have a straightforward way to grab one of two potentially great ones here. I prefer Buddy. Murray would be perfectly fine too. Just don't let the opportunity go to waste.