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2021 NBA Draft Preview: Diamonds in the Rough — Bigs

The third and final installment of our NBA Draft preview takes a look at some of the lesser known big men in the upcoming class.

2021 NBA Draft Combine Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

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 are built around a franchise center and have one of the better backup centers in the league. However, Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid have similar skillsets. The Timberwolves need to add some vertical spacing and rim protection. 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 big men that the Timberwolves should be taking a long look at.

Jericho Sims

At this point, I fully expect Sims to be drafted, so the Timberwolves will have to trade into the second round to get him. Sims was largely slept on during the season because of his limited offense. Sims has been one of the hottest risers since evaluators honed in on his defensive versatility and dazzled at the combine with his freak athleticism.

At his core, Jericho Sims is a freak athlete. Sims had some of the freakiest measurements at the combine as he measured 6’10” in shoes, 250-pounds, 5.5 percent body fat, and a 7’3” wingspan. Sims also recorded the second-highest max vertical leap at 44.5 inches, the fastest lane agility for a center, and the fastest three-quarter court sprint for a center.

Sims is not a skilled big man. His productiveness stems purely from his freak athleticism. Offensively, Sims would immediately become the Timberwolves’ best vertical spacer. He is an above-the-rim finisher, excellent rebounder, and quality rim runner. Sims scored 1.556 points per possession (PPP) when he was the roller in the pick-and-roll (97th percentile), per Synergy. D’Angelo Russell had his breakout season in Brooklyn with Jarrett Allen, who is also an excellent rim runner. Sims is powerful and has an absurd catch radius. When the lob goes up, odds are high that Sims is coming down with it.

Sims also was an elite offensive rebounder, another area in which his catch radius and leaping ability come into play. Not only did Sims average 2.2 offensive rebounds per game, but he also scored 1.294 PPP on putbacks (70th percentile). Sims will immediately help the Timberwolves stay in the top ten in offensive rebounds and pull them up from 27th in defensive rebounding.

As a defender, Sims is an excellent rim protector at worst. Sims didn’t record a ton of blocks, but his explosiveness and verticality deterred interior scoring consistently. Sims is difficult to post up because he is strong, explosive, and long. He can hold his own against the stronger big men and move his feet to stay with the quicker ones.

Sims has also shown some promise as a weakside rim protector. Awareness isn’t his biggest strength, so there are a handful of rotations that Sims will miss. However, Sims has a high motor and the athleticism to quickly recover.

Sims’ rim protection is enticing and desperately needed for the Timberwolves, but the most intriguing part of his defense is his ability to switch on the perimeter. Sims shouldn’t and won’t be a full-time switcher, but when he must, Sims is fully capable of moving his feet to shut down guards and wings. Sims has exceptionally quick feet, and he gets in a low defensive stance which allows him to stay balanced and quickly flip his hips.

Yves Pons

Yves Pons is another muscle-bound freak athlete. If you need some motivation to hit the gym, search for their shirtless team photo after lifting from the start of the season… sheesh. When watching Pons, it’s impossible not to think of a former fan favorite draft target: Brandon Clarke.

Pons is an elite shot-blocker despite measuring at 6’7”. Pons makes up for being an undersized big man with his near 7’1” wingspan and 42.5-inch max vertical leap. Few players explode off the ground with the power and brutality that Pons does.

On the Timberwolves, Pons would immediately fill that rim-protecting power forward role fans have been clamoring for. Pons moves decently enough on the perimeter to not be a liability, but his true impact is his rim protection. He rotates well from the weak side and is a devastating defender in transition. If a shot goes up anywhere near Pons, there is a high probability that he will block it.

Offensively, Pons is much more limited. He is a good lob finisher, but Pons has almost no touch on his shots. Pons at least showed a willingness to shoot from outside, but his funky mechanics, along with his line drive release, resulted in him ranking in the 30th percentile when shooting off the catch.

Like Sims, though, Pons is at his most effective around the rim. He ranked in the 72nd percentile in offensive putbacks and in the 94th percentile as the roller. Pons can handle the ball a little and is a capable passer, but offense isn’t his calling card. Despite that, Pons has the tools to fill a need for the Timberwolves right away.

Jay Huff

Jay Huff is a bit of a departure in physical stature than Sims and Pons. Huff is a lanky 7’1” center from Virginia who is an elite shot-blocker and can space the floor. He is extremely comfortable defending the pick-and-roll in a variety of styles. While I’m not a fan of drop coverage in the pick-and-roll generally, we saw how valuable it can be in the playoffs. Huff is excellent at defending in drop but can also hedge and recover.

Huff’s most significant rim protection comes with his weakside rotations, though. Huff will chase blocks at times, but his rotations are typically well-timed, and he’s proven to be one of the countries most effective shot blockers in back-to-back seasons.

What differentiates Huff from Sims and Pons is how efficient a scorer he is. Huff finished the season with shooting splits of 58/38/83 and ranked in the 98th percentile overall with 1.172 PPP. Huff is a deadeye shooter from outside and helps space the floor while also being a legitimate lob threat. Huff scored 1.062 PPP on spot-ups (78th percentile), 1.459 PPP on cuts (89th percentile), 1.394 PPP as the pick-and-roll roll man (92nd percentile), and 1.16 PPP shooting off the catch (74th percentile). Huff would provide the Timberwolves with outside shooting, vertical spacing, and rim protection. Not too shabby.