After making the playoffs for the second time in 18 years, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ sights should be set on deeper playoff runs. In recent seasons, we’ve seen that the teams who have the most playoff success are often the ones with impressive wing depth and versatility. While there may be more pressing needs for the Timberwolves, the 2022 NBA Draft is flush with versatile wings who could improve the overall depth and versatility of their rotation.
With the 19th pick, the Timberwolves won’t be privy to the elite prospects we’re used to debating. There are a handful of forwards and rim protectors that would fill a vital need, but there is a high possibility that these players aren’t available by the time the Timberwolves are on the clock. Drafting elite talent should always be the priority, but filling a glaring need is a close second. When neither of those options is available, the best bet is to take a wing who can do a bit of everything. Here are the top five versatile wings the Timberwolves should target with the 19th pick.
5. Bryce McGowens
Bryce McGowens is one of the biggest home run swings in the back half of the first round. At 6’5.5” with a 6’8.75” wingspan, McGowens has promising size and length. While he’s a bit slender right now, he has the frame to add meaningful muscle as he matures. McGowens likely isn’t ready to contribute immediately, but if developed correctly, and if he buys in to a different role, he could be something special.
The biggest concern with McGowens is his poor decision making on both ends of the floor. As Nebraska’s primary scoring option, McGowens took some awful shots that plummeted his overall efficiency. His eagerness to settle for jumpers resulted in him shooting 27.4% from three on 4.7 attempts and 40.3% from the floor. Additionally, in terms of points per possession (PPP) per Synergy, McGowens ranked in the 37th percentile on all jumpers, 17th percentile on guarded shots off the catch, and the 25th percentile on pull-up jumpers. Not ideal.
As concerning as those numbers and poor decision making are, horrid shot selection is a reasonable explanation as there are still causes for optimism. McGowens’ long term shooting indicators are rather positive as he ranked in the 89th percentile on unguarded shots off the catch, the 85th percentile on runners, and shot 83.1% from the line on 6.3 attempts per game. Nothing about McGowens’ touch or shooting mechanics is broken (raising his release point wouldn’t hurt), but how he got his shots was the bigger concern.
Adjusting a player’s habits and tendencies can be extremely hard, but McGowens started to shift this in the middle of the season, which is incredibly rare for any player, let alone a freshman. Instead of constantly settling for tough pull-up jumpers, McGowens started attacking the rim more and generating more efficient scoring opportunities.
Whoever takes McGowens is buying in on the long-term potential of him being a 20+ points per game scorer. He struggles defensively and doesn’t provide much playmaking but could be one of the leagues most dynamic scorers one day. Unfortunately, McGowens could also struggle to ever find a role if he can’t iron out some of his bad habits. He is a gamble, but he may be one the Timberwolves are willing to make at 19.
4. Christian Braun
After his freshman season, Christian Braun was pegged as “just a shooter.” He quickly showed that he was much more and that there was nothing “sneaky” about his athleticism. Braun is an excellent athlete who isn’t afraid to challenge opponents at the rim when he has a direct lane or is running in transition. His respectful, mild-mannered off-court demeanor quickly switches once he steps foot on the court to someone who will mother-fuck you up and down the court. It’s one of the more impressive Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde conundrums.
Despite his competitiveness, athleticism, and pedigree, Braun is also an excellent shooter. At Kansas, Braun was a career 37.8% shooter from outside on 3.5 attempts per game. He has a quick trigger, soft touch, and excellent off-ball shot variety. He probably won’t be an elite shooter in the NBA, but he will be a reliable weapon who defenses can’t leave open.
In his sophomore season, Braun’s outside shooting plummeted because of the different defensive looks he was getting. He wasn’t a surprise anymore and attracted significantly more attention. At the time, he had no ways of countering the aggressive closeouts. This season, though, Braun became more effective attacking closeouts, kicking out of drives, and moving off-ball. He became more than “just a shooter.”
When we talk about wing versatility, though, defense has to be mentioned. Braun likely won’t make any All-Defensive teams, but he certainly isn’t going to be a liability. Braun fights on every possession while having the size and athleticism to guard multiple positions. Even though defense isn’t his selling point, it certainly doesn’t fall under “weaknesses.”
3. Jalen Williams
Jalen Williams was one of the breakout stars from a mid-major program as he dominated at Santa Clara. I know the temptation to immediately jump to “pssh he didn’t play anyone” is strong, but I implore you to resist it. Sure, Williams played lesser competition than some others, but he still showed up in a big way against tournament teams like Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and San Francisco. Even though there may not be a clear need for what Williams brings, the value may be to enticing to pass up if he’s there at 19.
Early in his career, Williams will likely spend most of his time as an off-ball shooter. This season, Williams ranked in the 97th percentile when spotting up, 97th percentile on all shots off the catch, and the 100th percentile on guarded shots off the catch. Essentially, the results couldn’t be much better.
What makes Williams so intriguing, though, is his on-ball creation. Despite not being an overwhelming athlete, Williams was one of the most effective pick-and-roll creators in the country as he ranked in the 87th percentile scoring out of the pick-and-roll and his passes also ranked in the 87th percentile. Williams gets to his spots by controlling the pace of the game. He is always under control, dictates the pace of play, and expertly uses change of pace dribbling to create space. On top of that, Williams delivers passes from unique angles to all areas of the court.
As a defender, Williams offers a lot of upside despite his lack of explosiveness. He has great length and is a quality screen navigator. Williams may struggle defending isolations, but overall, he shouldn’t hurt a team’s defense.
With the Timberwolves, Williams would immediately bolster their outside shooting depth, while also providing on-ball equity as a second side creator.
Note: McGowens, Braun and Williams all participated together in a group workout for the Wolves this past Thursday, according to Andrew Slater of Pro Insight.
2. Ousmane Dieng
Ousmane Dieng’s first half of his season was some of the worst basketball that any prospect in this draft produced, and that may be putting it lightly. The point of that isn’t to torch the kid, but instead to highlight how impressive and unlikely the second half of his season was as Dieng looked like a completely different player.
Including him on this list is cheating a bit as he will likely be long gone, but you never know how NBA teams will value an erratic international performance. At 6’10”, Dieng provides incredible length and fluidity on the wing. He is a good off-ball shooter with consistent mechanics and a soft touch. The real intrigue with Dieng’s offense is what he can do with the ball. He currently isn’t a consistent on-ball scorer, but the flashes of space creation and slashing are promising for his long-term possibilities. Even more impressive, though, is Dieng’s playmaking. He is an excellent passer with great vision and passing accuracy.
Defensively, Dieng has tantalizing upside. Despite the early struggles, his on-ball defense took a major turn at the midpoint of the season. He started playing with more physicality, moving his feet better, and played more confidence. If that improvement carries over, Dieng could be a multi-positional defender who could even defend the point of attack. The bigger improvement with his defense needs to come with his rotations. It isn’t anything abhorrently bad, but he is frequently late on rotations.
Dieng likely will go in the lottery because he fits the exact archetype that every team looks for. He will be a project. In fact, I think he’ll likely be a disaster his rookie year, and that’s perfectly fine. Dieng showed this year that he is more than resilient enough to go through a rough stretch, learn from it, and overcome it.
1. Ochai Agbaji
Ochai Agbaji is one of the lucky recipients of being labeled with the “too old” tag in this draft, and its utter nonsense. Agbaji is one of the best developmental stories in recent years. As a freshman, the Jayhawks’ sharpshooter was purely a high energy defender you thrived off his athleticism. Now, he’s a versatile scorer, tough on-ball defender, and one of the best off-ball defenders in this class.
Agbaji’s off-ball scoring reliability is a thing of beauty. He ranked in the 83rd percentile in spot up scoring, 75th percentile in transition, 97th percentile on cuts, and 89th percentile in shooting off the catch. He runs hard off screens and uses his athleticism to provide vertical spacing on back cuts. Agbaji doesn’t need the ball to make an impact, but he has improved tremendously in this realm. He ranked in the 76th percentile when attacking close outs and in the 62nd percentile operating the pick-and-roll. Agbaji won’t be initiating the offense, but he isn’t a liability with the ball.
What is perplexing, though, is how many have tried to peg Agbaji as a poor defender. If Agbaji is a poor defender, then there are very few if any prospects in this class who are good ones. What so frequently gets lost in prospect evaluation is understanding a prospects role in college, how that affected them, and then how to apply that to their role in the NBA. Agbaji had a tremendous offensive load in college that likely sapped some of his energy away from the previously elite defense that he produced. Even if his defense took a step back from previous seasons, it was still excellent. In the NBA, though, Agbaji will have very little on-ball responsibilities, allowing him to regain that same defensive excellence.
With the Timberwolves, Agbaji will be ready to contribute on day one. He doesn’t need the ball, is an excellent off-ball scorer, and a brilliant defender. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also apparently an extraordinary leader and worker. Don’t get caught up with how old he is. He’s already better than most people claimed he would be in previous years, so what’s stopping him from improving more?