MINNEAPOLIS — 14 months. That’s how long it took for Tom Thibodeau to make his first trade as head honcho of the Wolves.
That kind of extreme patience felt wise back then. Thibs waited forever for the perfect moment to pounce, shrewdly assessing the entire roster before making any crucial decisions, or so it seemed. An epic draft night deal for Jimmy Butler was the perfect game-changing acquisition two years ago, not only to break the no-trade streak but to elevate a beleaguered franchise to new heights.
At least in theory.
Fast forward two years and all that restraint, all for one offseason of blowing the entire bank account on one forgettable first-round playoff series, to break a ridiculously long playoff drought, feels like lost time (and assets) in building around superstar Karl-Anthony Towns. But, for as patient as the previous regime was, the new leaders in town don’t emit those same vibes.
On his first draft night in control, new President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas didn’t waste any time in being aggressive on the trade market. An hour before Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and R.J. Barrett were announced as the top three picks, as they were believed to be throughout the pre-draft process, Rosas cannonballed into the trade pool by executing his first major roster move. He traded the #11 pick along with forward Dario Saric — a key complementary piece in the blockbuster trade of a disgruntled Butler to Philadelphia this past season — to the Phoenix Suns for the #6 pick.
Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland had been gaining buzz as the Wolves’ preferred trade-up target in recent days, while speedy North Carolina guard Coby White was right there alongside him in the conversation. On the surface, it seemed Rosas was pushing his chips in the pot to acquire a franchise point guard the Wolves desperately need. Perhaps that was the intention before Cleveland nabbed Garland with the fifth pick a year after selecting point guard Collin Sexton with the #8 pick. The Cavs may have thrown an unexpected curveball to dash Rosas’ plans by drafting another point guard.
White may have been the obvious consolation prize if point guard was the highest priority, but the top remaining wing and the eventual selection with the sixth pick, Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, was the prospect who best fit the vision Rosas outlined in earlier this week during his pre-draft media availability. When asked about drafting for positional need versus the best value on the board, Rosas was clear in his mindset.
“You don’t know what your roster’s going to look like in three or four years,” he said. “You don’t know what your needs are going to be. For us, our ability to acquire the best talent is our focus and that’s what we’re looking to execute on.”
On Thursday night, the Wolves made a substantial trade to move up the draft board and ultimately secured the rights to a high-end wing prospect whom various draft models identified as one of the best picks in the 2019 draft class. Our good friend mr. eggplant rated Culver as the third best player with an Elite Driving grade in his final SMILODON influenced big board here at Canis Hoopus. That fits the obvious need for a perimeter player capable of 1) getting to the rim and 2) yes, actually finishing.
While the process of trading up seemed like it was designed with the intention of landing Garland — unless the smoke screening of new management is seriously that good and Culver was their preference all along when they made the move up to #6 — Rosas traded to a spot that allowed room for error. There was a secondary option he could comfortably pivot to, one that secured a player who didn’t even seem to be in the conversation for the Wolves given his stock. This first draft might also offer some evidence towards their approach: White obviously fit the point guard need but Culver was likely the best pick available. This BPA approach (and execution) matches Rosas’ comments about roster uncertainty years down the line and acquiring the best talent.
For those freaking out about the selection of Jarrett Culver at #6, the SMILODON draft projection system by @JoshsPseudonym rated him the 3rd best player in this class. Whether the Wolves keep him or not, I truly believe this was the right pick & they maximized it. #TrustTheRosas pic.twitter.com/SoUIRzQYhQ— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) June 21, 2019
FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projection also ranked Culver third overall in Upside WAR. The full rankings can be found here.
fwiw, FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO projection has Jarrett Culver as the third most valuable player in the draft pic.twitter.com/zxUbGaOCHO— Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm) June 19, 2019
“They’re on the verge of being a great team,” Culver said about the Wolves after the dust settled. “I feel like the GM and coaching staff, they’re going to get the right people in. I feel like they’re going to be a winning program for sure.”
The Wolves’ intentions to keep Culver rather than swinging another draft day trade began to solidify as the night proceeded. Rosas and the front office are still expected to work the phones relentlessly this offseason, aggressively exploring every possible avenue to surround Towns with a core that can both grow and peak together.
“I don’t know who wouldn’t want to play with [Towns],” said Culver.
After meeting with the Wolves at the Chicago combine and once again in Phoenix, the versatile wing who led the Red Raiders to the NCAA men’s basketball national championship in Minneapolis this past April feels like he can make an immediate impact on the defensive end. Culver welcomes the challenging of guarding the games best scorers across multiple positions. His natural scoring ability and strong PPP numbers offensively (read this post) give him legitimate two-way potential.
The front office is thrilled about his future with the club. “Their energy was amazing,” said Culver. “That gives me confidence, that makes me happy. That’s somewhere I want to be, where someone wants me.”
In the aftermath of Gersson Rosas’ first NBA draft as POBO, my confidence in the outcome is unshakable. Jarrett Culver was the right pick.