The 2021 NBA Draft is shaping up to be much less exciting than it was in 2020 for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves do not have a single pick in this year’s draft, which isn’t great for a team that finished with the sixth-worst record in the league. This team has some serious holes to fill in the rotation, and this is a front office that prides itself on being active and making moves. While I don’t think we’ll get a revelatory trade up into the first round, I do expect the Timberwolves to either get into the second round or make some moves on the undrafted market.
This front office has done an exceptional job of finding talent outside of the early first-round in the draft. Whether it is later picks like Jaden McDaniels, Jaylen Nowell, and Leandro Bolmaro (hopefully) or undrafted free agents like Naz Reid and Jordan McLaughlin, the Timberwolves have found excellent value where others have missed. The 2021 NBA Draft is very deep, and there will be a lot of talent that slips through the cracks.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a handful of specialist wings but very few two-way options. Those who are good defenders can’t shoot, while those who can shoot can’t defend. As we head into the draft, I want to highlight a few diamonds in the rough the Timberwolves could acquire to fill that need. Here are three of my favorite sleeper wings that the Timberwolves should be taking a long look at.
Isaiah Livers was one of the most important and experienced wings in the country last season. Livers didn’t put up extraordinary numbers, but his importance was obvious as Michigan’s play took a precipitous drop when he got hurt. Livers doesn’t have one elite skill, but he does a little bit of everything very well.
Besides being a jack-of-all-trades type player, Livers is also an incredibly efficient scorer. According to Synergy, Livers ranked in the 92nd percentile in overall scoring points per possession (PPP) with 1.075. Livers’ high efficiency is a symptom of his excellent decision-making and self-awareness. Despite his highly efficient scoring, Livers is at his best without the ball. Livers’ extraordinary sense of floor balance, spacing, and off-ball movement will translate to the NBA immediately. He won’t clog an offense and will always be an off-ball shooting threat.
Here, Livers does an exemplary job of showing his willingness to move and screen off-ball. Livers begins the play by setting a back screen to set up the post-up and then immediately relocates to the opposite wing. As the ball gets double-teamed, Livers sees a hole in the middle of the zone created by his teammate’s previous cut. Livers’ teammate is already in the motion of passing, so he misses Livers. As the ball is kicked out, Livers pauses while his teammate reinitiates the post-up, which occupies the lone defender on that side of the zone. Livers proceeds to flare to the corner and knock down the open three.
Livers scored most of his points in an off-ball role as he scored 1.028 PPP spotting up (73rd percentile), 1.429 PPP in transition (94th percentile), 1.571 PPP on cuts (95th percentile), 1.333 PPP running off screens (92nd percentile), and 1.253 PPP shooting off the catch (86th percentile). Few players in the entire country had the off-ball impact that Livers had.
Livers isn’t exclusively an off-ball scorer. He is also an excellent passer. Livers won’t be a primary creator, but he can attack closeouts, make the extra pass, and run the occasional pick-and-roll. When you factor in Livers’ assists to his overall PPP, he still ranks in the 92nd percentile. Not too shabby for an off-ball wing. The ball never sticks with Livers. He will always look to make the right play, and his unselfish play will be a boon to any offense.
Livers is also equally versatile and selfless on the defensive end of the floor. He can switch 1-4 and be a defensive leader. Not in the sense of being an All-NBA level defender, but instead as a stabilizing presence who won’t make mistakes. Livers constantly communicates on defense, makes well-timed rotations, moves his feet well, and can guard multiple positions.
I believe Livers should easily be drafted, but it wouldn’t surprise me if teams hesitate to draft an older wing who had a late-season foot injury. If that happens, the Timberwolves should eagerly pursue his two-way versatility.
Chaundee Brown will likely go undrafted because he is an older wing with nearly no on-ball threat. Out of the 204 possessions attributed to Brown, he only took 13 shots off the dribble, ran the pick-and-roll seven times, and had zero isolation possessions. Not doing a great job selling him am I?
Brown may not be much of an on-ball threat, but he was one of the best off-ball shooters in the country. Overall, Brown scored 1.103 PPP (94th percentile). Brown also scored 1.243 PPP spotting up (94th percentile), 1.688 PPP on offensive rebounds (99th percentile), 1.273 PPP on jumpers (96th percentile), and 1.373 PPP shooting off the catch (94th percentile).
The TLDR version: he’s a damn good shooter.
Unfortunately, Brown does very little with the ball. He is an excellent athlete, which he uses to attack closeouts (64th percentile), but he can’t create anything on his own due to his poor ball-handling. While poor ball-handling is a significant turnoff for top picks, it is a non-factor for late-round role players. On a team full of on-ball creators, Brown will get dirty looks if he even takes a dribble. As a legitimate off-ball shooting threat, Brown can either make defenses pay for helping off him or will force defenses to stay honest, opening lanes for his teammates.
As a defender, Brown was one of the most effective high-energy on-ball defenders in the country. He gladly picked up his man full-court and actively switched everything on the perimeter. Brown is a very good athlete who can move his feet with quicker guards or get physical with bigger wings. As an isolation defender, Brown ranked in the 93rd percentile in PPP allowed. Brown isn’t the best team defender, but his perimeter point-of-attack defense tended to make up for any off-ball shortcomings.
Derrick Alston, Jr.
Derrick Alston Jr was one of the better shooters in the country this season and is an interesting upside swing. The vast majority of schools showed very little interest in Alston when he came out of high school. Despite not being a highly ranked recruit, Alston worked his tail off to average 17 points per game in back-to-back seasons and finish this last season with 44/38/85 shooting splits. The 6’9 190-pound wing projects to be an excellent shooter.
The only gripe with Alston’s shooting is his slow release. Alston takes his sweet time on his shot, but his high release point combined with his length makes it nearly impossible to block. Alston’s slow release will be a bigger liability against NBA defenders, and it even hurt him shooting off the dribble in college as he ranked in the 48th percentile when shooting off the dribble.
As an off-ball shooter, though, Alston won’t have many issues. He scored 1.2 PPP in spot-ups (92nd percentile) and 1.223 PPP shooting off the catch (83rd percentile). Alston likely won’t bring much as an on-ball threat, but he will be an above-average off-ball shooter.
Unlike the previous two prospects, Alston has a longer road to becoming a positive defender. His lanky frame is a significant hurdle. He still lacks the requisite strength to defend in the post, and his long limbs limit his lateral agility. Alston has more room for error given his height and length but needs to continue improving his awareness. If he puts the time in, Alston could grow into a quality weakside rim protector.