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2023 NBA Draft: Timberwolves Select Jaylen Clark With No. 53 Pick

The Minnesota Timberwolves are taking a big chance on former NABC Defensive Player Of The Year, Jaylen Clark, who brings incredible upside on both ends of the ball.

Gonzaga v UCLA Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office capped off what was a very successful 2023 NBA Draft late Friday night with their selection of 6-foot-4 guard Jaylen Clark out of UCLA.

When watching the draft live via ESPN’s broadcast, you may get the feeling that teams are drafting a prospect who can help them win immediately. However, that’s rarely the case. Sure, guys like Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson will be starting for their respective teams come opening day — trying their best to become star players as soon as possible. When you get out of the lottery, however, teams shift their focus and draft players who they believe can grow into winning players in the long term.

During his pre-draft media availability, President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly raved about Clark and the upside he brings to the Wolves. Connelly and his staff are taking a gamble on the 21-year-old guard. As Tim pointed out, many had Clark slated as a first-round pick prior to tearing his Achilles in early March of 2023.

Having a severe injury like that occur in your Junior year of college right before you plan to commit to the draft is sickening. However, this isn’t the first time that’s happened to a prospect, and history shows players can indeed return stronger than before from those horribly timed injuries.

Connelly said the Timberwolves will be “extremely patient” going through Clark’s lengthy rehab process as they didn’t “draft him for the short-term.”

Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s now dive into why Clark was a projected first-round pick prior to injury and what makes him an incredible long-term fit in Minnesota.

Stanford v UCLA Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Defensive Versatility

It’s very rare that an NBA team is able to draft one of if not the best defenders in the entire class in the bottom ten picks. However, that’s exactly what Connelly and his team were able to do with their selection of Clark at No. 53. compared Clark to Minkah Fitzpatrick, a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers. At first, I was wondering what that meant. However, after further inspection, it’s obvious that Kevin O'Connor made this comparison due to Clark’s incredible abilities on the defensive end and getting into passing lanes, just like an NFL safety.

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So you’re telling me the Timberwolves were able to select a player in the late second round with defensive chops good enough to be compared to a three-time Pro Bowl honoree and three-time All-Pro NFL player? Well then sign me up!

It doesn't take a long look into the numbers and film to see just how sound Clark’s defensive talents are. Not only is he incredible at reading passing lanes, but he also has the ability to legitimately defend one through four on nightly bases — think of what Jaden McDaniels is currently doing for the Timberwolves.

His Offense Will Need Some Work

On the other side of the ball, Clark showed some obvious holes in his game. He shot 30.2% from three and 66.1% from the free throw line in three years at UCLA. The shooting splits are raw. However, that’s to be expected with pretty much any late second-round prospect.

Sure, the NBA is a make-or-miss league, and being on a team with both Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert makes it essential that a player can knock down open triples. While that is still Clark’s biggest area of improvement, he isn’t a complete liability on the end of the floor.

Clark isn't your prototypical 6-foot-4 point guard. I know The Ringer compared him to an NFL Safety, but after watching some more film, I’d look at Denver Nuggets guard Bruce Brown as a player who brings a similar impact that Clark does on the offensive side of the ball.

Making the right, simple read is something Clark was great at — that just being a will and testament to his high basketball IQ. Of course, the refining of his overall game will come with time as he gets healthy and begins to work out with Timberwolves Player Development coaches. However, until then, Clark’s defensive upside should be enough to make Wolves fans giddy at what he can bring to the team long-term.