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Jonathan Isaac and Need-Based Drafting

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Have we developed something that resembles need-based tunnel vision when it comes to Jonathan Isaac?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Florida State vs Xavier Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I know you want Jonathan Isaac, I get it. He looks like he could be the power forward of the future, and the Wolves probably need one of those if they ever want to be great. Yes, Isaac is freakishly long, quick both laterally and vertically, his shooting mechanics seem solid, he can run the floor, and just kind of looks like what we think forwards are supposed to look like in the 2020’s.

Having fallen to the seventh pick in last Tuesday’s lottery did not help the Wolves in their pursuit of Isaac. While it seems safe to assume the top-four picks in the draft (in some order) will be Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, and Jayson Tatum, there are still two more picks before the Wolves are on the board. The Sacramento Kings at five and, at six, the Orlando Magic.

Issac to the Kangz or Magic?

It feels as if the NBA Draft world has penciled in a guard for the Kings at five. The plethora of big men already under contract in Sacramento—Rudy Gay, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, and Skal Labissiere—coupled with the dearth of guards under contract—Garrett Temple and Buddy Hield, only guaranteed guard contracts—makes the selection of a guard seem logical for the Kings. But we should know by now that the implementation of logic should never be counted on in Sacramento. Consistently, Vivek Ranadive and Vlade Divac have tripped all over themselves in decision making.

Also, the Kings are just a bad team. They may have more positional need for a Malik Monk or De’Aaron Fox, but if they believe Issac is the best player, for the next decade, that should be their pick.

At the sixth pick, the Orlando Magic similarly have a stable of bigs in Bismack Biyombo, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and even Stephen Zimmerman, but Isaac does have a very different skill set than any of those four big men. The same logic of taking the best player available could also apply in Orlando. There is at least a chance that the new Orlando management, who did not draft Aaron Gordon, will be interested in a different power forward of the future, like Isaac.

A Trade Up for Issac?

Even if the Kings or Magic do not want Isaac for their own roster, they could draft him with the intent of trading the pick to a team who wants to jump ahead of the Wolves. A team like the Denver Nuggets comes to mind.

With a skilled but slow-footed Nikola Jokic manning the frontcourt in Denver for years to come, the Nuggets will likely be taking some sort of path towards pursuing a better athlete at the power forward position this offseason. Denver has a cupboard full of guards they could dangle to Sacramento or Orlando. Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are unlikely to go anywhere, but Will Barton and Malik Beasley are enticing players at excellent dollar values. A pairing of those assets with the 13th pick could potentially be enough to get Denver ahead of the Wolves at the seventh pick.

The eighth and ninth picks, New York and Dallas are also both thin up front, they too could be drawn to the fifth or sixth pick to get their hands on Isaac.

A Revisionist History of Need-Based Drafting

Maybe everything does go to “plan,” and Isaac is still available at the seventh pick. But I have found myself asking the question; Would drafting Jonathan Isaac be a move driven by a positional need for the Wolves?

Let’s go back to the 2012 NBA Draft in an exercise that is admittedly an adventure in revisionist history. That draft had two lottery picks—Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard—that were nailed into the form of franchise cornerstones. Davis, the first overall pick, and Lillard, the sixth overall pick, have both made multiple All-Star games, the only two players from that draft’s first round to do as much.

Teams “miss” on picks every year, draft prospecting is an inexact science. However, one key factor that can contribute to a draft miss is by drafting on a need-based pretense. The picks that separated Davis and Lillard in 2012 put a premium on need as the franchises drafting two through five had all recently invested heavily in a primary ball handler.

2012 Second Overall Pick: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats

- While Kidd-Gilchrist has since turned into a solid defender, it is undeniable that Lillard has turned into the better player five years hence. Kidd-Gilchrist and Lillard were similar caliber prospects entering that draft, but the presence of point guard Kemba Walker—the Bobcat’s lottery pick the prior season—may have turned the franchise off the scent of Lillard.

-Small forward was a huge need for Charlotte that year, twilight Corey Magette and something known as Derrick Brown had been starting at small forward for the Bobcats in 2011. The need on the wing made Kidd-Gilchrist more attractive to Charlotte management.

2012 Third Overall Pick: Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

- Beal has since turned into a very good shooting guard in the NBA. He fits well off the ball for the Wizards but has never been an All-Star. In the case of Washington, they too may have ignored Lillard due to their recent investment in point guard John Wall, the first overall pick in 2010.

- The shooting guard was the position of need, the Wizards had been starting Jordan Crawford and Nick Young the season prior.

2012 Fourth Overal Pick: Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

- While Waiters is one of the most interesting players in the NBA, he has since turned into an NBA journeyman. The Cavs had just invested the first overall pick in Kyrie Irving—another point guard—and from that may have targeted a player, like Waiters, who could better fit off of the ball.

- Chad Ford’s final 2012 mock draft had Waiters going eighth, when he went off the board at four, the pick was labeled as a need-based reach. (Alonzo Gee and Anthony Parker were the Cavs shooting guards, and weakest link, the season prior.) Of course, the fit of Lillard next to Irving would have been awkward, but hindsight suggests Lillard would have been the better value pick.

2012 Fifth Overall Pick: Thomas Robinson, Sacramento Kings

- At the time of the 2012 Draft, power forward was a huge need for the Kings. The Jason Thompson experiment was failing alongside DeMarcus Cousins as the Kings had started to give starts to Chuck Hayes and J.J. Hickson.

- When it was the King’s turn to select, they took Robinson who best fit their power forward void, even though Lillard was still available. Similar to Charlotte, Washington, and Cleveland, the Kings had just invested heavily in a primary ball handler. Tyreke Evans was the Kings fourth overall draft selection two years prior and won Rookie of the Year while conducting much of the Sacramento offense. The Kings, at the time, also had a nice little rookie by the name of Isaiah Thomas.

Effective development is contingent on the environment but talent should remain the main focus of draft board construction. Lillard very well may not have become the player he is today if he would have become planted on the bench behind Kyrie or Kemba as a rookie. Lillard was fortunate to have had the opportunity to play in and start every game for the Blazers his rookie year. Whether it was the opportunity or pure talent that made Lillard a star could never be proven, but he has certainly made it clear in the years following that draft that he is in a tier above the players that were drafted ahead of him.

If available, Jonathan Isaac could very well be the best talent and best fit when the Wolves approach the podium with the seventh pick, but there is also a chance that he is not the best talent.

There is a fair argument to be made that the Charlotte, Washington, Cleveland, and Sacramento franchises would have put themselves in a better place had they ignored the fact that they already had their point guard of the future. Maybe this is a concept the Wolves can glean something from. Isaac might be a great player and a great fit, but maybe De’Aaron Fox or Malik Monk, like Lillard, are superior talents that the Wolves are overlooking because they used a top-five pick on a point guard in last year’s draft.

This time of year is still very hypothetical in the NBA mock draft game, many more individual workouts and interviews lie ahead. As of today, Isaac looks like a power forward who has a good shot at being available when the Wolves pick, but history has indicated that mock drafts are often wrong in May.

The most important thing for the Wolves is to land a player who is a collision of need and talent and both categories should be considered over the next month. I have solace in the fact that this draft it stacked. One way or the other, the Wolves are walking away with a talent at the seventh pick, even if that is not Jonathan Isaac.

Today, released their fantastic strengths and weaknesses on Jonathan Isaac.