The NBA draft is a bigger crapshoot than you might think, especially outside the lottery. Each draft is different, of course, but once you get to the late-first round and second round, it’s all about throwing selections at the wall and seeing what sticks.
One of the ways to take such a shot is to pick a player with above-average NBA athleticism whose skills need major development. That is the way the Minnesota Timberwolves went by selecting Memphis forward Josh Minott with the 45th overall selection last Thursday.
Minott struggled to find his place in one year with the Tigers, averaging 6.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 14.6 minutes per game and starting just five of 33 games played per Sports Reference. Head Coach Penny Hardaway also reduced his role significantly in the stretch run; he averaged 11.8 minutes in the final 14 games of the season as opposed to 19.1 in the previous 14 — including single-digit minutes in the final four contests, all postseason matchups.
However, Minott’s athleticism, length and production in the time he had on the court make him an intriguing upside play. Here’s a look at his strengths and improvement areas so we know what he might bring to the Wolves.
Standing 6-foot-8 with an unofficial 7-foot wingspan, Minott is a bouncy athlete who can take up a lot of space on the court with his ability to cover ground. The sell with him is that athleticism combined with a high motor and strong defensive playmaking.
In the below sequence against Cincinnati, you get a sense for what the best version of Minott (No. 20) looks like.
This is a forward who will create positive plays for his team out of nothing with his instincts and fluidity. According to @BrianJDraft on Twitter, Minott is one of three high major freshmen since 2008 with at least a block percentage of five, steal percentage of three, offensive rebound percentage of 10 and assist percentage of 10. The others? Zion Williamson and fellow 2022 draftee Tari Eason.
Minott is an impressive open-court athlete who uses his long strides and hops to score a solid 1.096 points per possession in transition per Synergy Sports. It’s hard to stop him when he gets his momentum going downhill, and he’s a threat to throw down some monster dunks and alley-oops.
Few players in this class are better at turning defense to offense than Minott. Players who score well in transition make themselves doubly valuable when they create those break opportunities with defense.
Although Minott’s offensive fit is fickle, his athleticism is what allows him to make an impact on that end. He gets himself good looks with timely off-ball movement — his 1.256 PPP on cuts, per Synergy, is quite good — and he can cover a lot of ground on straight-line drives.
Those practical motor skills are the reason he scores a reasonable 0.982 PPP in the halfcourt — per Synergy Sports — despite lacking a jump shot or any scoring craft. He also flashes some nice off-hand finishes.
Minott can be a force on the defensive end, and not just in a “keep my man in front and challenge” kind of way. He will destroy offensive possessions and turn them into opportunities for his squad.
Combining great hands with long arms and athleticism is a recipe for scary defensive production, and Minott boasts that combination. He’s liable to simply snatch the ball away from careless ball handlers. Those impressive steal and block rates listed above are owed in large part to those claws.
Minott’s length comes in handy when bothering players off-ball. He’s a strong help-and-recover defender who has the tools to bother shooters even after getting himself out of position biting on pump fakes.
Although he’s best right now using his range to make plays off-ball, Minott has shown glimpses of high-level on-ball traits. When he sits down, slides and stays disciplined, it’s hard to get shots up over him.
Minott was a productive rebounder in his one year at school. His 12.9 offensive rebound percentage and 15.7 defensive rebound percentage both ranked second among Tigers who played at least 200 minutes on the year.
The offensive glass was the area where Minott’s constant energy served him best. He scored 1.205 PPP on put-backs per Synergy Sports.
Another beneficial trait is his ability to high-point the ball. He reads the shot well on the way up and off the rim, and he times his jumps with precision.
Minott simply doesn’t have a jump shot in his arsenal from anywhere on the court right now — he made just two of 14 3-point attempts on the year. Opponents are very willing to give him space, which junks up his team’s spacing.
Minott displays concerning form issues. Somewhat similar to Lonzo Ball coming out of UCLA, he brings the ball up the left side of his body before launching it jarringly. This leads to ugly misses, often to the left or right.
There may be a sliver of hope for Minott’s shot, however. Free throw percentage and touch are often better indicators than college 3-point percentage of how a player’s shot will ultimately translate. Minott shot 75.4% on two free throw attempts per game with Memphis, which is solid. The shooting touch, however, is not as encouraging.
Although I believe Minott processes the game pretty well, his rudimentary skill level in his handling and passing limit him to a basic offensive role. He can’t break defenders down or switch directions with the ball, which keeps him from making creative plays.
Perhaps more concerning, given his presumptive role at the next level, are Minott’s issues attacking contact. He gets bumped off his spot fairly easily, likely due to his poor ball control, and physicality takes away his explosion at the rim.
Minott is mostly going to be asked to hang out in the dunker’s spot and attack closeouts in straight lines, but if he can’t elevate through resistance, how will he score effectively in that role?
Another issue is the prevalence of head-scratching turnovers in Minott’s game. He’s unconfident in his ability to make plays, and this manifests in panicked decisions that give the ball away.
As I said, though, I believe there is reason for optimism for Minott’s ability to perceive the game. Every once in a while, he’ll pull off a high-level passing read that more closely resembles his instincts on the defensive end. When pushed into a premier role against Tulsa with three starters out, Minott threw a panoply of dimes en route to five assists and the win.
Minott’s biggest defensive deficiency is his high waist. It keeps him from sitting down in a stance on-ball and inhibits his ability to change directions quickly.
Minott plays too upright, and quicker opponents can create space with ease when he isn’t locked in. This, combined with an at times overzealous nature, can get him into foul trouble.
The other problem to note here is that Minott is good for a few blown assignments every game, which often come in the form of overcommitting to the ball.
In examples such as the first play below, some might point to teammate Lester Quinones (No. 11) making the same mistake as evidence that this is a team issue, not a Minott issue. Defensive lapses were certainly a problem for Memphis, but given that both opponents involved in the action get wide open, I feel comfortable saying Minott screwed up here.
You can see some of Minott’s inherent drawbacks in the second play; after allowing the shooter too much space and going under the screen, he gets taken out by the pick. That could be a recurring issue in the NBA if he doesn’t bulk up.
Ultimately, Minott is a true project with legitimate deficiencies. Some of those can be improved, some are harder to progress, but he will get plenty of time to develop in the G League and was among the most naturally gifted players available at the Wolves’ selection. He may have a long way to go, but the building blocks are there for Josh Minott to become an effective NBA player down the road.