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The Franchise-Changing 1995 Draft - and How it Applies to Tonight

A pre-draft workout changed the minds of Timberwolves brass in 1995 - and it changed the franchise forever. How can a similar rule apply 27 years, and 15 picks later?

“This is the most clickbait title of all-time,” you’re probably thinking to yourself as you begrudgingly read this, trying to kill a few minutes.

Ok, fine, I admit it. The Wolves are probably not going to draft the next Kevin Garnett at pick 19 on Thursday. But I was recently reading KG’s book, in perfect timing which he went into detail about his pre-draft workout in the spring of 1995. One thing stuck out.

“A bunch of execs showed up, cats like NBA Legends Kevin McHale, the T-Wolves vice president of basketball operations; and Pat Riley, who had just been named head coach and president of the Heat...

Riley specifically didn’t want to be there. People in the early part of the draft were skeptical in particular, one of the reasons being an assault charge KG previously had on his record. Anyway.

”They wanna see how high you can jump,” said [John] Hammond (then an assistant with the Pistons), “So I’ll throw it up on the glass; dunk and pass it back to me.”

Spoiler alert, it went well, and KG showed off a few things in his bag, particularly his athleticism, that the contingent needed to see. Particularly one face in the crowd.

That day McHale was with T-Wolves general manager Flip Saunders. I later heard they’d come to the workout only as a decoy. They had the fifth pick in the draft, and their plan was to rave about me in hopes one of the teams ahead of them would be persuaded to pick me and allow a player Kevin and Flip really wanted to fall to them. But then after the workout, they were both convinced they were going to pick me. Flip said it was the best individual workout he’d ever seen.

Open Court Basketball

27 Years Later

Tim Connelly has probably not seen the best individual workout he has ever seen this year. Especially looking at prospects best suited for the Wolves at pick 19. But KG’s influence on the franchise is inarguable, and there are a couple things to take from the sentiment around his circumstances heading into the draft out of high school.

  1. Clearly scouts did not know him well enough. The idea was that he lacked athleticism and was immature. Safe to say a couple hours dispelled a lot of those concerns.
  2. The Wolves intended on using the workout attendance as a smokescreen beforehand, absolutely not intending to take him. After seeing what he was capable of, and the potential that was there, McHale and Flip obviously had a little more thinking to do.
Star Tribune

Some saw it, some didn’t. Hell, the Bullets took Rasheed Wallace the pick beforehand. But every draft has a story of some degree similar to this. Flip didn’t know he was drafting Zach LaVine until he wrote it down on a piece of paper the morning of. The question is - what’s one thing the Wolves need to see from another big - or a guard for that matter a couple decades later that can convince them to turn in the sheet of paper, and make it more than a smokescreen?


On The Clock...

Bigs

I wrote a little while back about how Naz Reid cannot continue to be the backup center for the Wolves. That point continues to stand. There’s one proven or existing tangible skill I think is incredibly important as a base when analyzing need and how a young guy can make contributions on a good team right away. Tyler Metcalf also wrote an excellent piece about rim protectors that could be targeted, so I would encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already to cross-reference.

Movement

One of the biggest current shortcomings Reid currently has is his inability to keep up with players off of a first step, and getting burned to the basket. In the high-wall scheme primarily run by Chris Finch on defense this year, it’s imperative to be able to show off of picks and recover. While drop will also be played to mix it up along with some zone (Finch in the past has been interested in playing some box plus one, but it’s tougher with current personnel), being able to move and not have cinder block feet is important.

A couple players that possess this in the Wolves range: Tari Eason, Mark Williams (big dude, but I think he can definitely show), EJ Liddell.

I love Walker Kessler as a player and think his defensive instincts can make up for a lot of his physical shortcomings on this end, but some of what I write about is counterintuitive to his potential fit. Plus, his inability to be diverse in NBA schemes right now is another turnoff. I’d be very skeptical of his ability in the high wall scheme. Yet, if he’s there and the Wolves pull the trigger, it makes me excited. It’d tell me Finch has a plan for a super exciting defensive player with a lot of potential, and can block almost any basketball that heads towards the rim. I mean, the dude defended 2 on 1s effectively more than once in the SEC.

Guards/Wings

It’s nearing decision time on D’Angelo Russell, and the future of Jaylen Nowell is also uncertain with a crowded bench and impending offseason movement. Who knows, Patrick Beverley is only as of now, here for one more year. Jordan McLaughlin has earned his stripes with a fantastic playoff series against Memphis, but it’s clear things could look very different in the next couple of years.

Initiation

Initiation on both sides of the ball is incredibly important. One of the less talked-about sub-stories of why D’Angelo Russell could potentially be gone at some point is the pace at which he plays the game and his seemingly haphazard way of dealing with the ball on both sides at times. It’s clear Finch prefers getting the ball up the floor and moving the ball around quickly in the offense. D-Lo just doesn’t do that. For that same reason, the TyTy Washington mocks to the Wolves make less and less sense to me. Washington plays loose and seemingly slows the game down, though intentional and purposeful.

Defensively, initiating contact and fighting through screens effectively is increasingly important, and we saw the difference it made in the form of Pat Bev last year.

D-Lo cut out a role by causing turnovers and being serviceable at the point of attack, but trailed off and wasn’t much beyond that. Tim Connelly raised in his pre-draft presser that it was rare to see rookies playing for the final four teams standing, especially late in the playoffs. A lunch-pail type of player in this mold that can spend a little bit of time developing in a low-pressure situation while Pat Bev eats minutes could be appealing.

A couple players that possess this in the Wolves range: Not happening, but DREAM scenario is Johnny Davis.

Continued: Jalen Williams (could be a De’Andre Hunter type if McDaniels can eventually play 4), Blake Wesley (excellent at getting in passing lanes, plays a little bit like Jaylen Nowell, but faster and a way less polished jumper).

*Wesley could be a more attractive option with a trade-back.

We’re less than 12 hours away... the last time the Wolves received a pick on draft night in the teens, it was Justin Patton. With that sobering thought, let the fireworks begin.