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Draft Night Playbook for the Minnesota Timberwolves

Draft week is officially upon us.

It is finally here. After the most prolonged pre-draft process in NBA history, we have finally arrived at draft week. It has been 253 days since the Minnesota Timberwolves last played a game, and we have an exciting event to look forward to.

For all its flaws, the NBA Draft still provides a sense of hope to destitute franchises. It injects new life into the team and supplants dread with unwarranted optimism. In most cases, it doesn’t even matter who our team selects because we immediately find a way to talk ourselves into it being the one thing that will propel us to nothing but long-term success.

In the 2020 NBA Draft, the Timberwolves currently have picks number 1, 17, and 33. I’m going to take you through every conceivable option (or at least the ones I can think of that make sense and are realistic) that the Timberwolves could pursue on draft night.

I want to qualify this by saying I am writing this on the afternoon of Sunday, November 15th, 2020. The Dennis Schroder trade news broke, but nothing else has. The below scenarios may all drastically change once the transaction window officially opens on Monday, November 16th, but as of now, no moves have happened.

Colorful introduction? Check. Necessary disclaimers to cover me? Check. Alright, let’s get into it. We’ll first go through prospects the Timberwolves could target with each pick based on consensus rankings, mock drafts, and team needs. After that, we will explore many trade options the Timberwolves could (and in some cases likely will) pursue.

First Overall Pick

LaMelo Ball

Over the last week, the LaMelo Ball going first overall idea gained a tremendous amount of momentum. The Timberwolves finally had their in-person workout and interview with him, and he is at or near the top of nearly every draft board out there. If Ball is the selection, it will be because the Timberwolves believe in his potential and ability to reach his peak.

If you exclusively look at highlight packages, Ball is one of the most impressive prospects you’ll ever see. He is an excellent ball-handler and makes passes that make you question if the ghost of Antoine Tyler is out there with him.

Ball’s combination of size, playmaking, and IQ is undeniable. He has the potential to be a generationally great playmaker. Unfortunately, that’s where the intrigue ends for me.

This season, Ball shot 39 percent from the floor, 28 percent from three, and 70 percent from the line. These aren’t numbers of a good shooter. There are numerous reasons for these paltry numbers, most notably his shot selection. Ball had free reign to do whatever he wanted, and he wanted to pull up from 30 feet early in the shot clock a lot. Ball’s mechanics were also incredibly erratic.

While I am not one of the people who buy that Ball’s shot will improve, I understand the reasoning behind that thought. Ball has excellent touch on his passes and floaters, so one would think it will eventually translate to his jumper. Additionally, once Ball has a shorter leash, his shot selection will improve, therefore improving the efficiency.

It isn’t exclusively the jumper that concerns me with Ball’s scoring, though. He is also incredibly averse to contact at the rim. At 6’6, the hope would be Ball would invite contact to draw fouls and get to the line. The reality, though, is that he makes unnecessary shot adjustments that throw off what should be an easy layup.

The final area of Ball’s game that garners so much debate is his defense. I prefer guys who work hard and, at the minimum, try on defense. We saw very little of this season from Ball. He takes unnecessary gambles, goes through long stretches of not trying, and seems to generally not care about defense.

With that said, it wouldn’t stun me if Ball turns it around defensively. He has excellent size and is a brilliant basketball player. Eventually, that has to translate at least somewhat to the defensive side, right?

The case for Ball at the first pick is that he may be the best player in this draft. At worst, the Timberwolves will get an elite playmaker who makes those around him better. If he improves his jumper and defense, he could easily be the best player and a winning lottery ticket. LaMelo Ball isn’t the perfect fit in Minnesota and is far from an ideal prospect, but as each day passes, it seems more likely that he is going with the number one pick.

Anthony Edwards

Approximately 365 days ago, teams were hoping for the first pick so they could draft Anthony Edwards. Unfortunately for Edwards, his lackluster season failed to cement his foothold as the top prospect.

A simple glance at Edwards is all you need to understand why he is considered a top pick. Edwards is built like a linebacker and has an NBA ready body. There isn’t a physical tool he lacks, but maybe there is a psychological one missing.

Edwards went through long stretches of games where you completely forgot that he was on the court. That is not something that should be happening with someone of his stature. He wouldn’t move off-ball or work on defense. His effort was subpar, and he generally looked disinterested. As a Timberwolves fan, it is impossible not to get Andrew Wiggins PTSD. Do the Timberwolves need another freak athlete who loves contested pull-up jumpers and intermittently tries on both ends of the floor?

I have genuine concerns with Edwards, but he still has the highest ceiling in this draft. If he reaches his peak, dear God, this kid will be good. He can score at will, has the tools to be a good defender, and is a freak athlete. Edwards also wasn’t helped at all growing up. He moved around through numerous teams based on what was best for the coaches, not what was best for Edwards. Georgia was the first time he ever received legitimate coaching, and he has yet to be in a role where he isn’t the main guy.

In Minnesota, Edwards won’t be the primary option. At best, he’ll be the third option, which will help him develop as an off-ball scorer, something he is incredible at when he wants to be.

Picturing Edwards working off-ball during a D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns pick-and-roll is not difficult. When Edwards takes a dozen contested pull-up jumpers in a row or gets beat on a backdoor cut, it’ll be impossible not to have Wiggins flashbacks. However, the best-case scenario for Edwards’s development is somewhere he won’t be the first option, which is precisely what he’ll find in Minnesota.

Deni Avdija

So, this one is more of a reach, but I feel compelled to mention it because I do believe Avdija is the best player in this draft. Unfortunately for me, there has been virtually zero Avdija to Minnesota rumors. Since I am perpetually in denial, I’m going to go galaxy brain on this and assume that it is all diversion tactics my Minnesota’s front office to throw other teams off the scent.

Avdija’s fit with the Timberwolves is seamless. He can immediately slide into the power forward role and contribute to winning basketball from day one. He is an excellent secondary or tertiary playmaker and one of the best transition finishers in this draft. Minnesota has expressed the desire to run in transition more frequently this season, and Avdija is more than capable of filling that role.

Defensively, Avdija isn’t perfect, but the growth he’s shown in the last few years has been exponential. Avdija has stated that previous coaches told him not to worry about defense, so he was never coached how to defend until a few years ago. Now, Avdija is a good shot blocker, an excellent help defender, and has improved his perimeter defense.

Now I’ll hop off the bandwagon and acknowledge some significant aspects I am betting on when it comes to Avdija. Intangibles like work rate, work ethic, and competitiveness are things that I value highly (sometimes too highly) with prospects. Avdija’s are second to none. I am betting on his work ethic to continue his drive his shooting and defensive improvements. If that bet doesn’t hit, though, I may miss big.

The biggest issue plaguing Avdija is his shot. Shooting 34 percent from three and 52 percent from the line is unacceptable. I expect these to improve, not to elite status, but at least to league average. After they returned from their break in play, Avdija’s shot looked better. His form was smoother and more consistent, but he still saw similar results from three. The bright side, however, is that Avdija’s free throw percentage breached 70 percent.

Deni Avdija makes too much sense in Minnesota, but if his shot never improves and we continue to get meager results, it will be disappointing.

Honorable Mentions

Some other longshot possibilities with the first pick include James Wiseman, Killian Hayes, Obi Toppin, Isaac Okoro, and Tyrese Haliburton.

Schematically, Wiseman makes zero sense. It would be a fun experiment with Towns; however, the 7-foot freshman who has played 70 minutes of competitive basketball in the last calendar year is making his preference of not being in Minnesota known.

Killian Hayes is another option to consider, but the similarities and redundancy with Russell are too significant, in my opinion. I don’t think the Russell comparison for Hayes is necessarily a good one, but there are some similarities. Another thing to be considered is that just because Russell can play off-ball doesn’t mean he wants to. I would be surprised if this front office brings in another ball-dominant point guard after the massive investment they made in Russell at the last trade deadline.

Obi Toppin would at least be incredibly fun to watch on offense. His fit in this roster makes sense and would help them play with pace. While they may average 130-140 points a night, the defense would be disastrous. Not just Timberwolves bad, but like historically awful.

Isaac Okoro is a player I feel should be getting more hype at the top of the lottery, but all intel has him in the middle to the late lottery. The only flaw in Okoro’s game is his jumper. That’s it. He is the best defender in this class, an excellent slasher, an impressive passer, and a freak athlete. Okoro has interviewed and worked out with the Timberwolves, so while he may be a surprise pick, don’t be stunned if that’s the direction they go.

Tyrese Haliburton is a player that NBA front offices seem to be falling in love with. I like Haliburton more than most Timberwolves fans seem to but taking him at one is a substantial reach. Regardless of where he lands, Haliburton will contribute to winning basketball.

Seventeenth Overall Pick

Precious Achiuwa

Regardless of what the Timberwolves do with the first pick, Achiuwa makes sense at 17. He is a freak athlete with a nonstop motor. Defensively, Achiuwa can play next to Towns or even play some small-ball center minutes. He is a good shot blocker and has the potential to switch on the perimeter. He still needs to work on his defensive footwork and staying low in his stance, but the foundation is there for it to happen.

The offensive fit is less evident with Achiuwa. He is excellent at running in transition, but he isn’t a good shooter, inconsistent with his ball security, and doesn’t have an excellent feel for the game. If he can develop a decent corner three and cut down on his turnovers, Achiuwa’s offensive impact will skyrocket.

Tyrell Terry

Bring him home! Tyrell Terry is one of the most polarizing prospects in this draft. Some have him in the top ten while others have him in the second round. Ever the fence-sitter, I have him at 20. The main selling point with Terry is his jumper. It is smooth and pretty and everything you want out of a jump shot. It is a skill that is easy to see translating to the NBA, and it is effortless for Terry.

Besides having a pretty shot, Terry is also incredibly comfortable at moving without the ball and relocating. It is a skill all great shooters have, and the fact that it is already second nature to him is highly encouraging.

The biggest concern for me with Terry is his size. He was previously listed at 6’2 160 pounds, a measure that simply can’t compete in the NBA. Terry has allegedly added 15-20 pounds, which is excellent. He still needs to continue that growth, but he’s 20 years old, and adding 30 pounds overnight is not healthy. While the addition of weight is encouraging, I hope that he can keep it on once he is playing, practicing, and traveling full time.

Besides the weight, Terry also struggled defensively. There were times where he competed at a high level, but he followed it up with some significant lapses that will drive coaches crazy.

Terry is an awesome kid who is very coachable by all accounts, so hopefully, these are just kinks that will get ironed out. He is also a brilliant player, which makes blunders like these all the more frustrating. While his defensive awareness can be improved, it is still worthy of note.

Desmond Bane

If you desire shooting, look no further than Desmond Bane. Bane is an expert with his off-ball movement and isn’t shy about rising off the dribble. He is a lights-out shooter who is useful in a multitude of situations.

Bane is the perfect example of the if-this-guy-was-two-years-younger mantra. He is just a good player who can shoot at a high level, move the ball, and defend at a competent level. Bane’s fit in Minnesota is almost too perfect as he would help them immediately. Also, as the formerly known as Malik Beasley incident rapidly evolves into the Malik Beasley Debacle, who knows how much playing time could be available at shooting guard.

While Bane is a well-rounded player, he isn’t perfect. He isn’t an explosive athlete, and his lateral quickness leaves something to be desired. While I think the age argument frequently gets overblown, it is worth noting that even though Bane will contribute to winning basketball now, there isn’t much more room for growth in his game.

Honorable Mentions

Also, keep an eye on Josh Green, Aaron Nesmith, Malachi Flynn, Jalen Smith, and Theo Maledon. All of which are versatile players who could slide into the rotation immediately.

Thirty Third Overall Pick

Tyler Bey

Tyler Bey makes almost too much sense with his defensive fit. He has the athleticism to switch on the perimeter while also acting as a weak-side rim protector. His plus-six-inch wingspan of 7’1” combined with his pogo stick like leaping make him a great shot blocker and an enticing fit next to Towns.

Offensively, however, Bey makes absolutely zero sense. He is an excellent interior finisher, but that’s about it. He’s shown improvements in his shot, but I’m hesitant about buying his shot as a strength with only one three-point attempt per game. Until I have a substantial sample size, Bey is still a non-shooter in my eyes, and the Timberwolves have proven that they are not looking to have multiple non-shooters on the floor at the same time.

Xavier Tillman

Xavier Tillman is the poster boy for the “He Does All the Little Things” crown. Besides being an inspiring leader, great teammate, and overall wonderful person, Tillman is also a pretty darn good basketball player. He won’t shock you in any specific category, but he will do the little things that contribute to winning basketball.

His fit alongside Towns is interesting, but I struggle to see him having much success at the four due to his lack of athleticism. Instead, Tillman can act as a sound backup center who can control the defense and move the ball on offense.

Tre Jones

Tre Jones isn’t being mentioned because he is a Minnesota kid or because of his brother’s connection to the team, although those don’t hurt. I’m mentioning him because the Timberwolves have talked with him multiple times, there is a preexisting relationship, and Jones is an excellent player.

The backup point guard role is a role this front office believes it can fill easily and inexpensively. Depending on what happens with Jordan McLaughlin’s contract, they may look for a cheap option in the second round of the draft.

Jones is the best guard defender in this class. He is tenacious, intelligent, and athletic. He is also a quality floor general but has struggled with his shot. If his shot is improving like some claim, his value in the second round will be tough to pass on.

Honorable Mentions

Paul Reed, Zeke Nnaji, Jay Scrubb, Robert Woodard, and Isaiah Joe.

Trades

I know you thought we were done, but I meant it when I told you I would try and cover all potential scenarios. This draft gets unfairly ridiculed, and I like many of the players, but it would be shocking if the Timberwolves made and kept all of their picks, especially with this front office.

Charlotte Hornets

The first trade is something that has been in the ether for a while now, and it is with the Charlotte Hornets.

This trade allows Charlotte to move up and get their franchise center in James Wiseman and enable Minnesota to move back while adding an excellent young forward in PJ Washington. Washington’s versatility would be more than welcomed in the starting lineup. This trade also works with Miles Bridges, who may be more available. However, Washington is the better player.

Besides getting a young player who can contribute right away in Washington, Minnesota also still gives themselves the option of selecting whoever Golden State doesn’t get. While this isn’t the sexiest trade, it makes a lot of sense and would bring back tremendous value.

Minnesota likely would try to get a 2021 or 2022 first-round pick included, but my guess is Charlotte would shoot that down unless it had substantial protections on it.

Oklahoma City Thunder

So, the Thunder are just stockpiling a bevy of assets right now as they look to rebuild. The desire to move Chris Paul is both mutual and not a well-kept secret, and the Phoenix Suns seem to be in the market. Perfect opportunity for the Timberwolves to swoop in and get some value.

The Timberwolves get a proven forward in Kelly Oubre, stay in the lottery, and pick up a 2021 first-round pick. Even if Oubre decides to leave after this season, it just gives the Timberwolves more room to operate in a loaded free agency class.

Another variation that would be preferable would be to include Shai Gilgeous-Alexander instead of the 2021 first-round pick. This version is also less likely to happen as Gilgeous-Alexander is likely a player they are looking to build around.

Regardless of the final machinations, there is value for the Timberwolves if they can get involved with a trade between the Suns and Thunder.

Atlanta Hawks

The Timberwolves have also been rumored to want to move back into the lottery using the 17th pick and Jarrett Culver.

This move back up would likely be to grab Tyrese Haliburton, who the team has reportedly been impressed with. This move would give the Timberwolves a player more suited for their playstyle and save them some money, which Dane Moore expertly broke down.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets are not in a good place right now as Russell Westbrook has asked for a trade, and now reports are that PJ Tucker is “100% available.” On top of that, the Nets have allegedly embarked on a pursuit of James Harden despite him not requesting a trade or being available for trade. If the Rockets go into next season with their roster as currently constructed, I would be stunned.

The Timberwolves bringing back Robert Covington and bringing in PJ Tucker would be an incredible value for pick 17 and James Johnson. Covington’s absence was immediately felt after being traded, and Tucker would provide a sense of toughness and leadership this team lacks.

As far as the other teams go, it’s a lot of chaos, and that’s probably close to the best value they could expect to get back for Harden while the Nets get a former MVP to accelerate their win-now mentality.

Harden being moved is probably not going to happen, even though it would be so much fun. The reports that PJ Tucker is available are very enticing and something that should be explored.

I love this idea from Jack. The value coming back would make the Timberwolves’ playoff pursuit next season drastically more realistic. The Timberwolves may need to include a second-round pick to sweeten the pot, but something along this route doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Draft night always brings chaos, but with the first overall pick and a passion for trades, I would be stunned if the Timberwolves don’t make some serious moves in the draft.