It’s offseason time in the Timberwolves realm, which is generally the time of year where we all imagine how this franchise could find itself relevant and competitive again. It seems like (maybe?) Gersson Rosas and his collaborative team in the front office are moving their chess pieces in the right direction to get us there.
In particular, Rosas swung a few shrewd trades this past season that offers hope. Next up is his second draft in command of the squad, and it’s a big one. The Wolves are (likely) stocked with three picks in the top-33 selections, although the current status of the Brooklyn pick is far more dicey than it was a few weeks back. Nevertheless, let’s assume (for now) that the Wolves will indeed acquire that pick from the Nets, meaning they will have an evenly spaced out collection of assets between top-of-the-draft, mid-first-round, and early second round.
With all of that in mind, the staff here at Canis Hoopus decided to pepper our resident draft expert Jake Paynting, aka Jake Bilas, with a variety of draft-related questions to get his current pulse on the next major event on the Wolves calendar (besides the NBA Lottery, of course).
Without further ado...
Q: Who are a few prospects that have poor three-point numbers currently that you could envision becoming good shooters with more time?
It’s always hard to predict how prospects will develop in terms of 3-point shooting, especially when they’re underwhelming shooters at the college level, but there are a few guys who I’d buy stock in. At the top of the draft, both Anthony Edwards, Killian Hayes, Deni Avdija and LaMelo Ball all shot under 30 percent but have great indicators for a rise in efficiency as they develop, whether it be shot-creation, touch or free throw percentage.
Other names that come to mind as you get deeper into the draft are guys like Cole Anthony, Tyrese Maxey and Devon Dotson. I believe all three of them will be a decent step above liability level, with the chance to get to their percentages into the upper 30’s if they land in the right development system and on-court role.
Q: Say the Wolves end up with a mid-lottery pick. Outside of Devin Vassell and Onyeka Okongwu, who do you see as a good, realistic fit in that range?
If you’ve listened or read any of the draft content I’ve put out recently, you would know I’m captaining the Devin Vassell to Minnesota ship, so it hurts that he isn’t available in this scenario. With him gone, there are still some mid-lottery prospects I would like to see in Wolves colors.
Speedy combo guard out of Kentucky Tyrese Maxey would be a great fit. He is a really good slasher and team defender despite standing at just 6’3” and weighing 200 pounds. Maxey should be able to get to the rim and help boost Minnesota’s defense immediately, while still being able to do his part as a facilitator, shot-creator and shooter.
Another option is Deni Avdija, the Isreali national who has risen up many a draft board throughout the year. Avdjia has an innate playmaking ability at 6’9” and should slot into this team seamlessly as a secondary initiator. He can also get to the rim well and is a very solid rotational defender. The problem is and will be his shooting, which is currently at 34.4 percent from deep and a torrid 55.4 percent from the charity stripe. If Avdija can sort out his shooting, he would be a great Swiss army knife for this Minnesota team.
Q: If Minnesota chose to trade their first pick, who are some players they might try to target with that asset?
I highly doubt that any teams would be willing to give up any meaningful assets to acquire a lottery pick in this weak draft, so I don’t expect any high-caliber moves to unfold for the Wolves. However, James Johnson’s contract and the first round pick might just net Minnesota someone like Aaron Gordon, or even a Myles Turner type player if the Pacers are indeed interested in turning over the front court keys to Domantas Sabonis. Maybe Minnesota would need to sweeten the deal a little bit more, but that’s the level of player I’d imagine they could swing for.
Q: Are there any prospects that you could see being 1) available at 16 and 2) contributing right out of the gate?
While the draft class is admittedly average compared to most, there is still a number of first-rounders I expect can contribute to winning basketball from day dot. The aforementioned Devin Vassell will come in and make an impact with his team defense and his shooting ability. Isaac Okoro will clamp scorers from his first day on the job. Onyeka Okongwu will be a pick-and-roll threat as both a scorer and a defender on the other end. Aaron Nesmith will be a high-level shooter immediately. The list goes on, but they are the prospects I’m most certain about.
Q: If you were in Gersson Rosas’ shoes, how would you prioritize drafting Best Player Available (BPA) vs. drafting for fit?
I think the Timberwolves aren’t in a position to pick and choose what kind of talent they bring in, so my gut instinct would be to take the best player available. However, if they can find the perfect balance between high-level talent and seamless fit, they should be seeking it desperately. Someone like Devin Vassell fits that mold, as does Onyeka Okongwu and Patrick Williams.
Q: How hard do you have to squint to see a scenario in which Big Baller Lamelo Ball and D’Angelo Russell co-exist successfully?
This is a really tough one. On one hand, having multiple initiators and guys who can run pick-and-roll to a really high degree can only be beneficial for an offense like the one Ryan Saunders deploys. Both Ball and Russell like to move the ball and can create their own shots in a jiffy. When you sprinkle in the little fact that they will be flanked by one of the league’s premier offensive threats in Karl-Anthony Towns, that intrigue only grows.
However, there is a clear flaw in the plan. While I do have faith that LaMelo can become an average defender with his length and quickness, he isn’t good right now. That’s not a fun vision when you consider just how bad D’Angelo Russell is on that end of the floor, too. I’d imagine Saunders and his coaching staff would have to get the recipe just right in order for it to be anything more than just a fun spectacle that doesn’t really contribute to winning a lot of basketball games.
Q: If both Isaac Okoro and Vassell are available when the Timberwolves are on the clock, who do you prefer?
If you haven’t gathered already, I’m taking Vassell every day of the week. That’s not a knock on Okoro, whose excellent defensive capabilities and future potential are super intriguing, but Vassell is also a special off-ball defender who would put out a ton of fires on this team. The added bonus with the Florida State product is, unlike Okoro, he is a very translatable shooter, having nailed over 40 percent in both of his collegiate seasons.
This team needs defensive nous and technique, while still being able to launch plentiful triples like they did last season. Vassell brings both of those aspects and looks ready to contribute from the minute training camp begins.
Q: What does Obi Toppin’s ideal NBA role look like?
Toppin is easily one of the most polarizing figures in the draft. I’m certainly on the low side of him, and it’s because of his inability to defend any position. He looks nailed to the floor a lot of the time, and his hips and feet are like 18-wheelers when they attempt to move in space. Additionally, he doesn’t have the strength needed to guard big centers, leaving him in no man’s land as a defender.
He is a really talented offensive player, though, which means he should still have a role to play as an NBA player. I could see him being optimized in an Enes Kanter type role. Something like 20-25 minutes a night off the bench but not necessarily in crunch time and/or when defense actually becomes super important. With his ability to score at all three levels likely surpassing Kanter’s, he could probably flourish in this role.
Q: Could pairing another combo-guard like Tyrese Haliburton with D’Angelo Russell bring the best out of both players?
While it’s not my favorite fit in the draft, I do like the idea of Tyrese Haliburton and D’Angelo Russell mingling together in a Wolves uniform. Thanks to his inability to get to the rim and create for himself, Haliburton’s lead guard stock is a little bit overblown in my opinion, but he would thrive as a link-up guard who can hit catch-and-shoot jumpers, make plays as a secondary guy and push the ball in transition (where he really thrives).
If Haliburton can put all his tools together and become a solid NBA defender, he could be one of the sneakiest good fits with the Timberwolves and next to Russell. Just like the Ball-Russell fit, anytime you can get two pick-and-roll facilitating threats on the court at the same time with Karl-Anthony Towns, you are likely to enhance your offense and be tough to stop.
We’ll continue to have more draft coverage throughout the summer and leading up to the NBA Lottery, which is currently scheduled for Tuesday, August 25th.