Going into last night's draft, no one knew exactly what head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden's plans were.
The rumor mill had been churning for weeks, outputting names like Jamal Murray, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, Dragan Bender, and Jaylen Brown in connection to the Wolves and the fifth overall pick.
In the days leading up to the draft, it had been reported that the Wolves top four were likely Murray, Dunn, Hield, and Bender, with Murray and Dunn being the top two on Thibodeau and Layden's board. After various trade rumors and copious amounts of speculation, the Wolves settled on Kris Dunn, the point guard from Providence, in a move that left many of the Wolves' faithful searching for answers.
For me, there are two aspects to what occurred (or didn't) last night that should be discussed. The first centers around if Dunn and Rubio can play next to each other, while the second revolves around the rumored trades that were available to the Wolves.
Playing together or is this the end?
The most important question that arose after the selection of Kris Dunn is whether or not he and Rubio can play next to each other in the backcourt. Thibodeau was adamant during last night's press conference that the two can play alongside one another, though Wolves fans have heard that before.
In an all-things-being-equal world, I agree with the thought that Dunn and Rubio can play together, but ultimately it hinges on Dunn's ability to shoot the ball. If he truly can shoot to the extent that Thibodeau thinks he can (he shot 37% from three last season at Providence), playing him off the ball next to Rubio in the starting lineup could prove disastrous for opposing teams, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Rubio and Dunn are both extremely long for point guards (both have wingspans of around 6'9"), which opens up the ability for the Wolves to switch on defense in a way similar to that of the Golden State Warriors. Add in an improved Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, as well as Thibodeau's teaching, and you have the framework for a very formidable defense.
Dunn's athleticism and tenacity may also be a boon for the Wolves' offense. During his years at Providence, he displayed a good ability to get to the rim, both off the dribble and as a cutter, and even sported a few nifty post moves. However, his biggest strengths, according to DraftExpress, come in transition and in the pick-and-roll. This unique skill set is extremely valuable and hard to find amongst point guards in the NBA.
If Dunn can shoot the three at an above average clip (an absolute best case scenario), the Rubio-Dunn combination could function in a similar fashion to that of the Phoenix Suns from the 2013-14 season, in which the starting lineup featured a dual point guard combination of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, except at a much higher defensive level. The Bledsoe-Dragic combination was a major reason the Suns racked up 48 wins, a feat the Wolves haven't accomplished since the 2003-04 season, in which the team won 58 games and lost in the Western Conference Finals.
While maybe not to begin the season, starting Dunn alongside Rubio would also allow for the Wolves to bring Zach LaVine off the bench as a sixth man flamethrower, a role in which LaVine's defensive liabilities would be mitigated to an extent. A fun strategy would be for Thibs to start the game with Rubio, Dunn, Wiggins, Dieng, and Towns, grind the opposing team down with stifling defense, then swap out Rubio and Dieng for LaVine and Nemanja Bjelica and let them rain fire from behind the three-point line.
However, the upside of having both Rubio and Dunn on the court defensively means nothing if Dunn can't convert threes at a league average (35%, typically) or better clip. If neither player can extend the floor, the Wolves will struggle mightily to create space, especially when Wiggins and Dieng are on the court next to them; this is the crux of the prospective success of the Rubio-Dunn experiment.
If the Wolves do part with Rubio, they will be moving on from one of the most underrated point guards in the NBA. Rubio's defense is on par with Chris Paul, his passing ability is second to none, and his relative veteran leadership on the court is invaluable to the young Wolves. Rubio may have his offensive flaws, but he has developed into an above average free throw shooter, which, in combination with the sheer volume of free throw attempts, propelled his true shooting percentage to 52.9%, a value higher than that of Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson, Corey Joseph, John Wall, and Danny Green. Rubio also posted an offensive box plus/minus of 1.8, good for 43rd in the league, ahead of names such as Patrick Beverly, Rodney Hood, Goran Dragic, Dwayne Wade, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Despite the fact that he can convert from the line at an above-average clip, Rubio is still undoubtedly a well below average shooter; however, the contributions he provides when he is on the court are monumental, even though the numbers may not always show it. The stat that best encapsulates Rubio's importance to the Wolves comes by the way of his on/off splits. According to Basketball Reference, when Rubio was on the court last season, the Wolves posted an offensive rating of 109.2; when he was off the court, the Wolves' offensive rating plummeted to 103.3. Opponents had an offensive rating of 109.1 when Rubio was on the court, and a rating of 111.4 when he was off. Basically, when Rubio was on the court last season, the Wolves had a net offensive rating advantage of .1, but a disadvantage of a whopping 8.2 when he was off.
At the moment, there is no real way of knowing what Thibodeau is thinking. During the press conference after the selection of Dunn, Thibodeau stated that an important thing for the Wolves to do right now is to accumulate as many good players as possible, and the team definitely added a good player in Kris Dunn. While I do think the two could play well alongside each other, I can't shake the feeling that that won't happen past this upcoming season, or possibly at all.
As I said in my immediate reaction article with John Thursday night, the selection of Dunn makes it seem as though Thibodeau is trying to construct and run a team consisting of "his guys." Arguably the best and easiest way to do that is by acquiring a point guard; they are the leaders of the team, and therefore an extension of the coach, on the court, so perhaps the selection of Dunn shouldn't be that surprising. Why can't Ricky Rubio be that guy? I'm not sure. Maybe he will be. A lot could go down in the next couple of months, but he for sure doesn't appear to be one of Thibs' guys at the moment. I can't help but feel like that is the biggest roadblock standing in the way of Rubio having a long-term future in Minnesota, which I find troubling. If the selection of Dunn means losing Rubio as a result, I don't like it. But, if it means he and Rubio ultimately do end up playing alongside one another, I think it was a good one.
The Trade Rumors
It was reported by the Associated Press's Jon Krawczynski that the 76ers offered center Nerlens Noel, wing Robert Covington, and two first round picks to the Wolves in exchange for the fifth pick so they could select Dunn. Why the Wolves rejected that deal will boggle my mind for the near future. Pairing Noel with Towns would have resulted in the Wolves having perhaps the best young defensive frontcourt in the NBA, and would have allowed Gorgui Dieng to come off the bench to wreak havoc against lesser big men. Covington would have also solved some of the Wolves' outside shooting woes, not to mention that both he and Noel fit the team's perceived timeline. This trade would have addressed major needs for both teams involved, and the fact that it didn't get completed has me shaking my head.
The rumor with the Chicago Bulls centered around the Wolves sending some combination of the fifth pick, Zach LaVine, or Ricky Rubio in exchange for Jimmy Butler. KSTP's Darren Wolfson reported that the Wolves offered Ricky Rubio and the fifth pick for Butler and that the Wolves were reluctant to part ways with LaVine. I'm going to start by saying I don't buy the rumor that much of the discussion with the Bulls was an elaborate plot by Thibs to drag them through the mud one last time. That reads too much like a smear campaign for my liking.
If the Wolves really did offer Rubio and the fifth pick to the Bulls, I'm glad Chicago turned it down. I'm of the party that believes the Wolves should acquire Butler if it is at all possible, even if that means parting with LaVine, but shipping out Rubio and Dunn, seemingly an unlikely move, would have put Minnesota in a position in which Tyus Jones would be the only true point guard on the roster. The only way that move would have made sense is if the Wolves could have signed Mike Conley during free agency, but there is no guarantee that he will be leaving Memphis.
So, all in all, last night leaves Wolves' fans with a lot more questions than answers. The roster construction is still in a major state of flux, so it seems like this summer may be a crazy one. Will Rubio or Dunn end up being traded? What will the team do during free agency and how will that effect corresponding trades and signings? To sum it up simply: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. One thing is for sure: it's going to be a wild ride with tons of speculation over the next couple of months.