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2023 NBA Draft: 3 Potential Trade Up Targets for the Timberwolves

Minnesota is reportedly looking to move up from No. 53 overall, their lone selection in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

Miami v Houston Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves only own the #53 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, suggesting that it’ll be a quiet night. However, there are multiple teams that own more picks than available roster spots. Teams like the Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, and Orlando Magic all have numerous picks in the top-40. Depending on how the draft falls, this could create an opportunity for the Timberwolves to move up into the early second round or even the late first.

The trouble becomes what the price will be. In the past, depending on who is available, a couple of future second round picks has been plenty to move up into the 30s. It just so happens that the Timberwolves have six future second round picks including #53 this year that they could use to make such a move.

If the Timberwolves wanted to move up into the first round, it would take a little more. While they don’t really have any future first round picks to move, they do have an experienced wing on an expiring contract who has proven to be a knock down shooter and versatile defender. Taurean Prince has been really good for this team, but he is one of the most moveable contracts on the books. I won’t dive into specific trade details, but Prince is a player that a lot of teams in the late first round would be willing and able to roster.

So, if the Timberwolves do make a move up the board using their future second rounders and/or a player like Prince, who makes sense for them to target?

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Midwest Regional Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Marcus Sasser | 6-2, 193 pounds | PG | Houston | Senior

Small guards are a dying breed, but Marcus Sasser isn’t like any other small guard. He plays with a toughness and physicality that few his size can. He was a major reason why the Houston Cougars were one of the best teams in the country all season, and his two-way versatility is ideal for a backup point guard.

This year, according to Synergy, Sasser was one of the most efficient players in the country. He scored 1.079 points per possession (PPP) overall (92nd percentile) and 1.322 PPP plus assists (94th percentile). In the pick-and-roll, Sasser scored 0.974 PPP (89th percentile) and generated 0.983 PPP (81st percentile) when you include his passes. Unlike many undersized college guards, though, Sasser doesn’t need the ball to make an impact. In fact, he’s even deadlier when he doesn’t have it.

Sasser played most of his minutes this year with another point guard, so playing away from the ball isn’t new to him. This season, he scored 1.293 PPP (97th percentile) spotting up and 1.35 PPP (95th percentile) when shooting off the catch. On his 126 catch-and-shoot attempts, Sasser had an effective field goal rate of 67.5% and shot 45.9% from three.

The big concern with Sasser will be what he gives up on defense. His size is a hurdle that can’t be fixed, but he makes up for it in other ways. For starters, he is incredibly strong for his size. While he will get pushed around by larger opponents, he’ll still put up a fight. More importantly, though, the Dallas native is a very smart and opportunistic defender. His steal rate of 3.2 ranked second in the AAC this season. Sasser has quick hands, tremendous footwork, and makes measured gambles when he jumps passing lanes.

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Julian Strawther | 6-7, 210 pounds | SF | Gonzaga | Junior

At 6-foot-7, Julian Strawther is one of the best shooters in this class. Overall, the Las Vegas native scored 1.090 PPP (93rd percentile). While Strawther will mostly be used as an off-ball shooter, he grew tremendously on-ball this year.

Strawther scored 1.282 PPP (97th percentile) spotting up, 0.892 PPP (77th percentile) operating the pick-and-roll, 1.264 PPP (84th percentile) in transition, 1.100 PPP (77th percentile) running off screens, 1.478 PPP (90th percentile) on cuts, 1.31 PPP (93rd percentile) shooting off the catch, 0.90 PPP (71st percentile) shooting off the dribble, and 1.12 PPP (94th percentile) on floaters. That was an obnoxious word vomit of numbers, but the crux of it is that Strawther is a bucket.

The former Gonzaga star has logo range that he’s comfortable implementing off the catch or bounce. His growth as an on-ball operator this season significantly improved his outlook and versatility. The shot alone makes him viable playing in any lineup, but he can now be more of a creator with second units.

The biggest concern with Strawther is the defense. He’s a mediocre athlete and inconsistent defender, so, like most rookies, he’ll likely get targeted early and often in his career. One saving grace is that Strawther is an exceptional rebounder. He has great instincts, timing, and is one of the best overall wing rebounders in this class. While the defensive issues are a concern, there should be more than enough offense to make up for it.

For a deeper look at Strawther, click here.

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Julian Phillips | 6-8, 195 pounds | SF | Tennessee | Freshman

Julian Phillips is a bit of a wild card in this draft. His range has been anywhere from 20 to 40, but it would be surprising if there weren’t some teams that are in love with him. While Sasser and Strawther are more plug-and-play type guys, Phillips will be more of a project. He also has one of the most exciting upsides in this draft.

The calling card for Phillips is the defense. At 6’6.75” without shoes and a 6’11.5” wingspan, Phillips has the size and athleticism to cover nearly any position on the floor. His defensive prowess dates back to high school, so it’s safe to say that his defensive impact wasn’t just a system thing at Tennessee. When Phillips was on the floor, Tennessee had the best defense in the country with a defensive rating of 79.4. When he was off the floor, this number jumped to 97.8, which ranked 45th in the country.

The big question with Phillips is what he provides on offense. Going off the numbers from his freshman year, there isn’t a ton to love. In his three most frequent possessions, spotting up, cutting, and running off screens, Phillips ranked in the 20th, 27th, and 32nd percentile respectively. He also only shot 23.9% on 46 attempts from three. Not ideal stuff.

However, it is important to note that Phillips was in a Rick Barnes system, which is notorious for allowing freshmen the shortest leash imaginable. Essentially, Phillips wasn’t allowed to do much of anything on offense, making the high school numbers even more important.

In the 2021 Adidas circuit, Phillips scored 1.121 PPP (82nd percentile) in transition, 0.867 PPP (62nd percentile) spotting up, 1.452 PPP (92nd percentile) running off screens, 0.7 PPP (57th percentile) running the pick-and-roll, and 1.414 PPP (91st percentile) cutting. Phillips also shot 38.9% from three on 54 attempts.

Phillips likely won’t develop into an offensive dynamo, but he has way more offensive tools in his arsenal than he was allowed to exhibit at Tennessee. Watching Phillips play engenders some OG Anunoby similarities. That’s a lofty goal for a late first round pick, and Anunoby was afforded the opportunity to prove more offensive capabilities, but it shouldn’t be a completely unrealistic goal for Phillips to that mark.

A further in depth breakdown of Phillips can be found here.