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Monday Musings: Next Steps

How the draft impacts the Wolves roster heading into free agency

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the NBA Draft, it was clear that the Wolves were starved for NBA-ready wings. The team essentially had two wings on the roster in Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler, both of whom were leaders in the NBA in minutes per game. With the primary backup wing, Jamal Crawford, opting out of player option, there was no one left to soak up those minutes going into next year.

Thankfully for the Wolves, this draft was particularly deep at the wing/combo guard position, particularly for teams drafting from 20-35 or so. Our hope was that the Wolves, barring a trade, would simply play it smart and pick-up one of the available wings.

Amazingly for the Wolves, they not only stayed the course and picked the likely best wing available at the time in Josh Okogie at #20, they also were able to draft another combo wing in Keita Bates-Diop who unexpectedly fell all the way to pick #48 due to his age. Bates-Diop was actually someone who was thought of a realistic pick for the Wolves at pick #20.

As a result, the Wolves were able to get the best of both worlds. With Okogie, the team was able to take the high-potential pick, as while Okogie certainly looks the part of a 3-and-D wing that can play today, his potential ceiling is incredibly high, even more so a for a late-first round pick.

With Bates-Diop, the team found a likely ready contributor, an older wing that can play the 3-4 position, provide solid defense, and pick their spots on offense while shooting threes at a respectable percentage.

This draft certainly helped fortify the Wolves roster, which was direly in need of young talent on cheap contracts. If both Bates-Diop and Okogie pan out as simply rotation players that are able to come off the bench and give 10-15 minutes a night, that would still be a positive result coming out of this draft. It is incredibly valuable to have players at the wing positions. This is seen easily enough with the current Wolves roster, as even with a full mid-level exception it is unclear if the Wolves will be able to add a quality backup wing in free agency.

Having two backup wings on rookie-scale contracts, assuming both players succeed in the NBA, makes the Wolves roster instantly more viable. It may be the first step, but if the Wolves are able to grab another legitimately good wing with their mid-level exception, suddenly the team goes from having zero backup wings to having 3-4 depending on what happens with Nemanja Bjelica.

Having Bates-Diop as well as Okogie also makes potentially losing Bjelica a somewhat easier pill to swallow. Going into the offseason, it did not seem tenable for the Wolves to bring on an additional wing while bringing back Bjelica. It just seemed so much more likely that, even though Bjelica is going to be a restricted free agency, a team like the Utah Jazz or Indiana Pacers that is looking for a little more shooting at the power forward position would snap him up at a price the Wolves were unwilling the match.

As is the case with many of our favorite players, the Bjelicassaince may take place somewhere other than Minnesota. Similar to Ricky Rubio, Bjelica never really seemed to click with the Thibs universe for better or worse.

The other thing that the draft taught us is making it even more clear that the Wolves are not likely to be trading Gorgui Dieng or Andrew Wiggins in the near future. There are very few teams in the NBA where a trade makes sense for either of these players and now that Brooklyn is preparing to make a run on the free agency class of 2019, there are even fewer suitors for Dieng.

As for Wiggins, there are certainly merits for pursuing a game-changing Wiggins trade. The teams that might go for something like that, such as the Toronto Raptors, are still out there, but it’s hard to see a move that makes sense for both teams unless the Raptors think that they can make Wiggins and DeMar DeRozan work together. If the Wolves were to pursue a cap-clearing move with Wiggins, it is likely that trade will be available next year, Whatever happens next year, it is unlikely that Wiggins will play worse. The argument that he is not in the right situation and a different team could unlock his potential will still be viable next year.

However, after the draft, it becomes less likely that the team will be able to pursue an immediate trade. On a positive note, the Wolves now own all of their future draft picks!

With free agency on the horizon, the Wolves now face several important decisions. They managed not to make any self-inflicted bad moves on draft day, but the immediate question is what happens with Derrick Rose. All signs point to Rose returning to the Wolves, but if he is given a significant piece of the MLE, and then subsequent minutes reflecting that value, the team will be limiting their own chances of success. Both in the opportunity cost of bringing on an impact player, as well as holding back the playing time of the players that need development.

However, if the Wolves are able to continue on this path of making smart, reasonable decisions that reflect a pursuit of an NBA roster that best compliments the skill sets of Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, the future could certainly look a lot brighter.