With the draft a week out, things get serious.
The new mock at Draft Express has the Wolves taking Finnish big man Lauri Markkanen with the seventh pick leaving, in their scenario, Malik Monk and Dennis Smith Jr. on the board. DX isn’t the only mock draft that predicts this pick for the Wolves, several other reporters around the internet are mocking Markkanen to the Wolves.
It’s important to remember, of course, that although DX does a good job at this and often seems to have the pulse of the draft, there is nothing set in stone and the Wolves have been remarkably tight-lipped since Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden took over. Markkanen has been linked to the Wolves at various times throughout the spring, perhaps because the perception is they need a stretch four. Which is true, they do, but that doesn’t mean they have to like Markkanen specifically.
Still, he’s come back around to the Wolves in mock-draft land after drifting lower on most boards over the last month or two. That may in part be because he’s one of two lottery level players we know have visited Minneapolis (Zach Collins being the other.) It may be for other reasons or no real reasons—it’s impossible to know at this point.
But what if it is Markkanen? If the top six includes the three point guards, Jackson, Tatum, and Isaac, I am pretty agnostic about who the Wolves pick—I have to be because I’m self-aware enough to know I’m pretty bad at this prospect stuff.
But the guys left at that point: Monk and Smith chief among them along with Markkanen all have their pros and cons. Markkanen gives the Wolves something they need: Shooting. He shoots it off the catch and off the dribble. He doesn’t need a ton of room. He’s gonna be able to shoot it. He’s a pretty fluid guy for his size who can create some space attacking close-outs. He got to the free throw line a solid six times per pace adjusted 40 minutes at Arizona.
The question is going to be whether he can do enough else to stay on the floor in the NBA. He’s not going to be a good paint defender. The hope is his footwork and agility is good enough to guard forwards on the perimeter, at least reasonably well. He’s not likely to be a real positive on the boards, which could turn out to be a major flaw. He’s a better athlete than, say, Steve Novak, but is it enough?
The statistical draft models are down on him I believe because his non-shooting stats are very poor. 1.2 assists, 0.5 steals, and 0.7 blocks per PA40...that’s being a non-factor in areas other than scoring. This often signals a lack of physical ability and/or a lack of awareness that can be debilitating at the highest level. That said, I can’t claim to have watched Arizona and don’t know what if any explanations there might be for those numbers.
I don’t know that Markkanen would be my choice for the Wolves no matter how the top six plays out. Still, seven-footers who are real shooters—not just guys who can occasionally make them when you leave them wide open, but guys you have to guard 24 feet from the hoop—aren’t in large supply, and Markkanen along with Karl-Anthony Towns would give the Wolves two of them. That pairing, if Markkanen is good enough, could be a unique weapon in the NBA.