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4-D Chess: Drafting Robert Williams

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How the Wolves can play to their strengths by fortifying the center position

NBA: Golden State Warriors-Championship Parade Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Like everyone else watching the NBA Finals, I couldn’t help but imagine how the Wolves would fare in this type of environment. All of the modern NBA teams (at least the good ones) have figured out that playing a bunch of long, athletic wings who can shoot threes, defend across multiple positions, and attack off the dribble makes roster construction a million times easier. After all, if slow big men and weak defenders are just going to be put in the meat grinder of high pick-and-roll screens all day long, why not fill your team with a bevy of wings who can keep up?

The Timberwolves are not your modern NBA team. They like to play with multiple bigs at all times. Rare are the teams that do not need more wings, but the Wolves have decided that we do not need them, we only need two that play 40 minutes a game. It just makes everything easier.

However, the team is facing a crossroads of sorts. Although Justin Patton is hopefully returning from injury next year and will be able to make his 2nd NBA debut (perhaps for more than four minutes this time), the team will be losing their 4th center on the roster in Cole Aldrich, assuming the Wolves waive him to save on cap space.

This puts the team in an uncomfortable position of only having three centers signed on in Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, and Justin Patton. It is possible that Taj Gibson could play some spot center minutes when teams are rolling with ultra-small lineups, but the team should be understandably worried that they do not have enough lumbering centers to put on the floor.

It is easy to understand the Wolves thinking. The Bucks were able to blitz the league by putting out lineups with five players taller than 6’5”. Why not up the ante and make sure you have enough players to put out an all-center lineup?

After all, how many centers do the Warriors have? Frickin’ 6. Centers get you rings. Period.

Enter Robert Williams. Everyone here on the Canis team is writing up why their prospect should be the one the Wolves draft and I want to put my money behind Robert Williams, although it is very possible that he is gone before pick 20. Maybe a trade up to Denver for pick 14 could work?

After all, Derrick Rose will be able to handle the backup point guard/shooting guard duties all season so the Wolves could easily make Tyus Jones available.

So what makes Robert Williams special? Let’s break this down in the patented Draft Express style (RIP from the paywall).

Strengths: Tallness. Dude is 6’9” (so not too tall, which is good. We don’t want to scare KAT) and he has a 7’5” wingspan. This fulfills our goal of making sure we have enough tall people on the floor.

Doesn’t like to shoot threes. Robert Williams is 2 for 30 on threes in his NCAA career, which means he would fit in well with the rest of the guys. If drafted by the Wolves, we could hear about how his corner three game is improving and then never see him shoot it. We like that.

Offensive rebounding. The Wolves have been one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the NBA over the last two years. The best teams capitalize on their strengths. Robert Williams posted an Offensive Rebounding Percentage of 10.2 percent last year. Jacob Evans was only a 5.2 percent. Sure Deandre Ayton has a 14 ORB percentage, but at least 10.2 percent is higher than what a measly wing can provide.

Blocks. Specifically, highlight blocks. Hopefully, Williams could emulate Karl-Anthony Towns and his ability to chase blocks whenever he can, regardless if his man gets an easy offensive putback. We want our bigs to bring activity, regardless of if that is a fruitless activity or not.

Pick-and-roll defense. Williams biggest asset is that he looks to be in the mold of Clint Capela, who has proven how invaluable his skill set is to Houston Rockets. Williams is an incredible athlete that may be able to stay in front of NBA guards. Karl-Anthony Towns has struggled (as most centers do) defending the high pick-and-roll. Would the Wolves consider a game plan where Williams plays the defensive possessions and Towns play on offense? Maybe this is the defensive innovation we have been waiting for. ICE 2.0.

Experience playing out of position. Williams was not placed in the best position to succeed last year at Texas A&M as he primarily played at power forward rather than his natural position at center. The Timberwolves often require players to play out of position, whether that is three point guards trying to share the floor or two centers battling it out for post-up touches. On the Timberwolves, Williams would be able to shine, or rather gently glow, as he would likely be forced into playing at power forward again.

Weaknesses - Centers don’t have weaknesses. That is why the Wolves need more of them.

Timberwolves Outlook: The Wolves should do anything in their power to draft Robert Williams. He has all of the promising tools to play center in the NBA, yet he is not in the top-five pick area, which would only make Towns nervous about his status with the team. However, that would be a strong Thibs power move to draft another center to make sure KAT doesn’t get too comfortable with his privileged position.

Another solid pick for the Wolves would be Mitchell Williams, who is like a worse Robert Williams but still shares the same last name, which is important. If the Wolves are smart, they will be orchestrating a draft day trade to move up for Robert Williams to help fill out their roster.

Otherwise, that Dzanan Musa guy looks really fun and he has an awesome name.