The NBA Trade Deadline is always an important time of the year for most of the league. For the Minnesota Timberwolves, the narrative typically surrounds which big-market team will poach one of the Timberwolves’ best players for a measly package that would get automatically rejected in your 2K simulation. This year, however, the talk surrounding the Timberwolves, by those who have actually seen them play, is about them buying, not selling. It is an unfamiliar concept, but there is a constant theme throughout this year’s deadline and every year prior: future draft picks.
How different franchises view and value draft picks is one of the most fascinating characteristics of roster construction. Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder treat draft picks like Scrooge McDuck in his money pit, while Les Snead and the Los Angeles Rams treat them like a toddler refusing to eat their broccoli. Obviously, circumstances play a significant role in the treatment of draft picks, but the organization’s general approach to the known vs. the unknown is pretty consistent.
This season might be the most split I’ve ever seen the Timberwolves fan base in terms of going all in for a big trade instead of staying the course. As someone who has historically been tied to underperforming franchises in non-prestige markets, I am relatively risk adverse to moving draft picks. Mortgaging the future for immediate returns can be fun in the moment, but it can quickly derail the organization’s overall success. Despite my historic aversion to moving draft picks, I am much more split on how the Timberwolves should approach this specific trade deadline.
When thinking about moving draft picks, there are three important aspects to consider. First, what is the state of the current team? Second, what has the organization done with recent draft picks. Third, what is the quality of this draft class.
I want to start with some brutal honesty which shouldn’t come as a major surprise (which I guess doesn’t make it that brutal), but the Timberwolves aren’t good enough to win the title this season. Making an all-in trade with a bevy of draft picks just doesn’t make sense. There isn’t a player on the market that would immediately propel the Timberwolves into the legitimate contender tier, eliminating any notions of shipping out multiple draft picks.
This is the most connected and enjoyable to watch Timberwolves team in quite some time. They have improved on the fringes through trades and internally developed their young talent. To deny that this team is improving and looks like a legitimate problem come playoff time is just inherent stubbornness. With that said, there are still areas that need improvement, mainly shooting and rebounding. Accepting this reengages the potential need to move draft picks.
What makes my hesitation grow when it comes to moving draft picks is the Timberwolves’ recent success with them. Anthony Edwards wasn’t the obvious top overall pick, but he’s quickly proving their selection right. While nailing the first overall pick shouldn’t be overly lauded, the Timberwolves have also found immense value at pick 28 in Jaden McDaniels, pick 43 in Jaylen Nowell, and even snagging Naz Reid as an undrafted free agent. I know there has been serious turnover in the front office, but there are still plenty of holdovers combined with an impressive coaching staff, making the idea of organically building through the draft a legitimate option.
I never like to say that a draft class lacks talent because there are always a few players that inevitably become excellent players. Compared to recent drafts, which have been absurdly loaded with talent, this year’s is fairly underwhelming. It may be unfair to compare this season to the recent outliers we’ve had, but even the next couple are incredibly promising.
As the Timberwolves continue to climb the standings, though, moving this year’s first-round pick becomes more enticing. The Timberwolves are currently slotted to draft 16th, which is a range where the sure-fire contributors start to tail off. There are prospects who could develop into meaningful contributors like Max Christie, Caleb Houstan, MarJon Beauchamp, Jeremy Sochan and others, but they will be projects and likely won’t meet the necessary thresholds soon enough to help this core win. There are also a few older prospects who could help fill specific roles in the rotation like Ochai Agbaji, Mark Williams, and Tari Eason, but whether they end up adding more value than a proven veteran is impossible to know.
As we approach the trade deadline, I hope the Timberwolves make a move to improve their bench production, despite their recent resurgence. Adding some shooting and/or rebounding would significantly help this team’s chances of climbing into a guaranteed playoff spot. How they go about doing that, though, is the issue.
Moving their bench pieces who aren’t contributing would be my preference, but to poach a quality rotation player from a dawdling franchise will require draft compensation. Fans have long bandied about adding Myles Turner (which I’ve never been overly enthused about), and to do so would require at least a first-round pick along with salary that will take away production from the current rotation. For the Timberwolves to move a first-round pick, they should be getting a starting quality player, but breaking up the current starting lineup is something I’m not craving to do.
The more realistic, and preferable, option is for the Timberwolves to move their three second round picks. Consistently finding value in the second round is unsustainable, and no one needs three second round picks. The Timberwolves don’t need to overextend themselves by unnecessarily adding players to their rotation. What they do need, though, is adding on the fringes with consistent shooting and rebounding. A role that historically can be added with matching salary and a second-round pick or two.
Given the current state of the team and who is available on the market, moving a first-round pick feels unnecessary.