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2023 NBA Draft: Exploring the Wolves’ Motivations for Drafting Leonard Miller and Jaylen Clark

Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly continued an impressive drafting resume by selecting Leonard Miller and Jaylen Clark in the 2023 draft. The “why” behind the players might be more than meets the eye

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Salt Lake City Stars v G League Ignite Photo by Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves were active in the 2023 NBA Draft, landing two players in the second round that they had touted as first-round talents. They landed 6-foot-10 big man Leonard Miller of the G-League Ignite with the No. 33 overall pick, acquired via trade with the San Antonio Spurs, and 2023 Naismith and NABC Defensive Player of the Year Jaylen Clark out of UCLA with the 53rd pick.

Both selections have some pretty interesting discourse attached to them because of the value. Being able to get players on the roster that are deemed as first-round talents while acquiring them in the second round is always a positive thing, especially considering how few assets and how little financial flexibility the Timberwolves have at their disposal to upgrade the roster. President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly said after the draft that they had a first-round grade on Clark all year before he suffered a torn Achilles in March.

Another perspective could be related directly to the upcoming free agency period and the futures of the roster, along with fan favorites Naz Reid and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

The Wolves made it a top priority to re-sign Reid and they got it done. Reid signed a new three-year, $42 million dollar deal with a player option in that third year as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. This move now has the Wolves allotting $90.0 million to Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, and Naz Reid during the 2023-2024 season, and that jumps up to $110.2 million in the 2024-2025 season. The new collective bargaining agreement presents the Wolves with two options in the upcoming years: either move one of the three big men, or spend the money in the luxury tax.

Reid is a savvy big man who can put the ball on the floor, run in transition, and get downhill and create. He is also a respectable threat from beyond the arc, which helps open the versatility in his game. The former LSU big man finished the year with his best season to date in Wolves uniform by posting 11.5 points per game on 53/34/67 shooting splits with four rebounds and an assist to boot. Reid was a burst of energy all year when he got plugged into Head Coach Chris Finch’s read-and-react, quick-decision offensive system, in which he is an excellent scheme fit.

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Alexander-Walker was also a surprising positive for the Wolves during their run to the playoffs after he was originally seen as a salary filling throw-in as part of the trade that netted them Mike Conley and three second-round picks (one of which was used in the trade for Miller) while shipping D’Angelo Russell to the Los Angeles Lakers.

NAW is an active disruptor that has intangibles that are not see in a normal box score. He has an endless motor, which was on display when he stepped up as the primary defender on fellow Canadian Jamal Murray in their first round playoff matchup with eventual champion Denver Nuggets. The former Virginia Tech star’s combination of lateral quickness and length can be a nuisance for opposing ball-handlers, and he’s relentless in his pursuit of the basketball. In his short time with the Wolves, Alexander-Walker posted 5.9 points per game while shooting 36% from downtown.

Reid and Walker are seen as young, core guys who the Timberwolves would like to keep, and they have half of it done with re-signing Reid. Connelly has been on record saying that re-signing Reid was a top priority, while Naz himself has also said he would like to return to Minnesota, as evidenced by him living in Minnesota all summer and using the Wolves facility on a near daily basis, and the two sides were able to come to an agreement.

Leonard Miller is a big body that looks NBA ready coming in at 6-foot-10 and 210 pounds. The profile on Miller is a Naz-esque type player. He loves to get out and run in transition, put the ball on the floor, and finish at the rim. His shooting leaves something to be desired, but hopefully that is something that can be developed over time.

The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie had Miller ranked at the No. 13 overall prospect on his big board. He noted that Miller has “elite size for a player who can handle the ball, make plays, and get out on the break.”

With his body frame and ability to move at that size, there is a possibility that Miller could be on a similar development trajectory that Naz has been on. With the new CBA and assuming the Wolves do decide to move on from one of the plethora of the big men they have, Miller could find himself inserted in the lineup. There is a mix of possibilities that could take place, but they all have one common denominator, and that is Miller finding meaningful minutes. If the Wolves move Rudy Gobert ahead of the 2024-25 season, that has Reid and Towns as the two starters, with Miller being the big man with the second unit, or filling minutes if either one of the others finds themselves in foul trouble.

The other combination would be the Wolves moving on from Towns and that solidifies Reid and Gobert as the two starters. The same disposition follows with Miller being the backup big and being the bridge in minutes for either player in foul trouble. The last combination would be the Wolves keeping Towns and Gobert and deciding to move Naz. All roads lead to the same thing, it’s just what the Wolves decide to do, if they even decide to make a move.

The Wolves could also be moving into a full youth movement. Their star Anthony Edwards is 21 years old, Jaden McDaniels is 22 years old, and Reid is 23 years old. Towns will be 33 years old at the end of his current deal and Gobert will be 34. The Wolves have some things to consider, especially the financial ramifications, along with the human element and what happens to bodies as they age, especially with so many miles on them when it comes to playing NBA basketball. Towns suffered a Grade 3 calf strain last season that sidelined him for 51 games. While Towns doesn’t have the most extensive injury sheet, these are things to consider.

Minnesota may also decide to keep all three big men, and if Miller develops into the potential that others see in him, he could be a key trade chip in helping the Wolves fill out pieces for a win now roster.

Jaylen Clark could also play a role presently filled by Alexander-Walker if the incumbent wing stopper were to leave in free agency. Unlike Reid, who is an unrestricted free agent, NAW is a restricted free agent, so the Wolves can retain him by matching any offer sheet he signs on the open market, if they choose to do so.

Clark earned the Naismith and NABC Defensive Player of The Year honors last year for the UCLA Bruins. Connelly saw him as a high upside player who he coined to be the best wing defender in the draft. Pairing him alongside Jaden McDaniels, Anthony Edwards, and Rudy Gobert, could create a lot of chaos for other teams on the offensive end. Due to his Achilles injury I think it is unlikely that he plays any sort of meaningful minutes in the 2023-24 season, but assuming his recovery goes well, he could see himself inserted into the rotation as a backup guard and defensive specialist in 2024-25.

It will be interesting to see what happens both in Minnesota and around the league when the free agency legal negotiating window opens on June 30th, but the Wolves have shown some promise and resolve and are continuing to trend upwards. Enjoying a win-now roster with the luxury of developing prospects they landed at a great value certainly helps. With good health and another offseason of work, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a more serious team that takes advantage of weaker teams and supplants themselves as a top team in a wide open Western Conference.