The Minnesota Timberwolves have hit on the vast majority of their draft picks in the past five years, early or late. Have we become spoiled to where we have forgotten how rarely the days of drafting busts have been? Not including 2023, let’s look at the past five years of non-lottery picks:
2022 - Wendell Moore (26); Josh Minott (45); Matteo Spagnolo (50)
2021 - None
2020 - Leandro Bolmaro (23); Jaden McDaniels (28)
2019 - Jaylen Nowell (43)
2018 - Josh Okogie (20); Keita Bates-Diop (48)
A bit of a scattershot here, though the majority of them have or are primed for decent NBA careers, with the only obvious miss being Bolmaro (Though I’ll debate it). This is a particularly strong batting average when compared to other NBA front offices. So strong that it may have created a false sense of expectation for late first/second round picks.
With two more second rounders added to the chambers from the 2023 draft, I felt it is important for us to take another ride in the DeLorean time machine to recall what happened to previous prospects drafted at numbers 33 and 53. I used the past five draft classes as a baseline and glanced at their career successes or failures in order to figure out:
What should our expec
tations of a 33rd (Leonard Miller) and 53rd (Jaylen Clark) draft pick be?
Pick #33 (2018-2022)
2018: Jalen Brunson (4 seasons DAL/ 1 season NYK)
26.7 mins | 14.3 pts | 3.1 reb | 4.2 ast | 0.6 stl | 0.1 blk | 1.4 tov | .493/.386/.812
Current role: All-Star-level starter for playoff team
Jalen Brunson was a two-time NCAA champion in just three years playing college ball at Villanova. Despite that success, he still fell to the second round of the 2018 draft. However, he was solid enough during summer league to earn a spot on the Dallas Mavericks final roster. He spent the first three years of his NBA career regulated as the understudy behind top lottery picks Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Dončić until the 2021-2022 season. He slid between a shooting guard and point guard role, starting next to Luka beautifully. Brunson broke out to the tune of 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists and put up even more impressive stats while Luka was injured to start their 2022 playoffs run.
Brunson earned a
illegal big four-year $104 million pay day with the Knicks and has since solidified himself as an All-Star-level talent. He’s the rightful face of a franchise that values his gritty, bulldog style of play.
2019: Carsen Edwards (2 seasons BOS/ 1 season DET)
9.8 mins | 3.7 pts | 1.1 reb | 0.7 ast | 0.3 stl | 0.1 blk | 0.4 tov | .364/.297/.758
Current role: Role player overseas
The odds were stacked against the diminutive Edwards, generously listed at 5’11”. The undersized guard performed decently in Las Vegas Summer League, but was not much more than an volume scorer who didn’t offer much else. Edwards was able to average over 22 points in the G-League for the Celtics and Jazz affiliates, but now finds himself playing in the Turkish league off the bench for Fenerbahçe S.K. alongside our old friend, Nemanja Bjelica.
2020 Daniel Oturu (2 season LAC/TOR)
5.7 mins | 1.9 pts | 1.6 reb | 0.3 ast | 0.1 stl | 0.3 blk | 0.3 tov | .431/.167/.706
Current role: Searching for G-League/training camp deal
The former Golden Gopher standout is a name you might likely recognize. Oturu’s NBA career has consisted of just 188 minutes of garbage time in 33 total games with the Clippers. Instead, he has spent most of his time in the G-League with the Windy City Bulls posting modest, though unimpressive numbers.
2021 Jason Preston (1 season LAC)
8.9 mins | 2.9 pts | 1.6 reb | 1.9 ast | 0.1 stl | 0.0 blk | 0.7 tov | .439/.278/.000
Current role: Unproven project searching for second NBA contract
Preston has an interesting story, earning himself NCAA basketball scholarships by creating his own highlight reels on Twitter. He missed all of his rookie season with a foot injury and only made his debut last year, playing 14 nondescript games. He spent most of the year with the Clippers G-League affiliate team, playing 37 games and averaging 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 7.0 assists on much impressive .492/.383/.786 splits. His rookie contract is nearly up and may be at a crossroads with the Clippers moving forward.
2022: Christian Koloko (1 season TOR)
13.8 mins | 3.1 pts | 2.9 reb | 0.5 ast | 0.4 stl | 1.0 blk | 0.3 tov | .480/.083/.627
Current role: Developmental player at end of rotation
The Cameroonian big man out of Arizona had some flashes during his rookie season last year. Nick Nurse spent most of the season looking for a starting center for the Raptors, eventually turning to the rookie. Koloko impressed with his shot blocking and athleticism, but eventually Jakob Poeltl showed up via trade. This greatly impacted his playing time and as a result, he remains a bit of a mystery box moving forward. The Raptors new coach Darko Rajaković may lean more into the youth movement next season and give Koloko more of a chance next year.
Pick 33 Advanced Numbers
Average 1.2 VORP would be the equivalent to an Kelly Olynyk, Bobby Portis, or Xavier Tillman last season (or even KAT, who had an outlier bad year due to his injury). Clearly a valuable role player that deserves playing time on a playoff team. However, even that 1.2 value is clearly weighted by Brunson’s outlier 7.0 value. If you removed him from the equation, you’re looking at a mix of players like Zach Collins, Luke Kornet, or Jalen Johnson. Still useful in flashes, but certainly a level down.
Is it reasonable to expect Leonard Miller to bring this type of value on the court? Possibly. Maybe eventually. It’s also worth mentioning that Miller is going to be 19 years old going into the season. All of the aforementioned players were at least 21 or 22 years old to start their rookie campaigns and they weren’t expected to contribute right away. Only Brunson and Koloko played more than 400 minutes, let alone non-garbage time minutes. If Miller finds meaningful playing time in his first season, than something has either gone very right (Ahead of the curve) or very wrong (Desperation). However, if you factor in his whole year of experience in the NBA G-League already, it adds another intriguing wrinkle as he is already more familiar with NBA-level rules, game speed, and talent. Summer League will be the first indicator of where his development is. It would be wise to temper expectations from the young Canadian, although the mystery box factor remains in play.
Pick #53 (2018-2022)
2018: Devon Hall (1 season OKC)
7.4 mins | 1.8 pts | 0.5 reb | 1.2 ast | 0.4 stl | 0.1 blk | 0.5 tov | .200/.235/.500
Current role: Role player overseas
Hall didn’t make it to training camp after he played for the Thunder’s summer league team. He ended up in the Australian NBL before making his debut with the Thunder a season later on a two-way contract. His entire NBA career lasted just 81 minutes before he went overseas again, this time in the Italian league for two years. Throughout his international career, he’s played with old Timberwolves friends like Nathan Jawai, Troy Daniels, and Shabazz Napier.
2019: Justin Wright-Foreman (1 season UTA)
11.3 45mins | 4.8 pts | 1.3 reb | 1.8 ast | 0.5 stl | 0.0 blk | 0.8 tov | .350/.200/.750
Current role: Role player overseas
Wright-Foreman earned himself a two-way contract after being drafted in 2019. He primarily played for the Utah Jazz G-League affiliate and managed just 1 game for Utah before the pandemic shut things down. He played the majority of his 45 NBA minutes in the bubble later that season. Since then, he’s spent his the last two to three years bouncing between three G-League teams and six international leagues.
2020: Cassius Winston (2 seasons WAS)
4.7 mins | 1.9 pts | 0.3 reb | 0.7 ast | 0.1 stl | 0.0 blk | 0.3 tov | .409/.435/.900
Current role: Role player overseas
After a long high school and college career in Michigan, Winston spent two seasons mostly playing for in the G-League. He had a decent average of 18.3 points on solid shooting splits, but only earned a total 68 minutes with the Wizards. He most recently played for Bayern München in the German league, finishing the season as the second leading scorer of his team.
2021: Charles Bassey (1 season PHI/1 season SAS)
11.7 mins | 4.6 pts | 4.4 reb | 0.9 ast | 0.4 stl | 0.9 blk | 0.8 tov | .643/.250/.633
Current role: End of bench rotation player
Easily the most successful of the this group, the 6’11” Nigerian center is the only one who has carved out a bench role with an NBA team in his young career. Bassey had an early three-game stretch where he averaged over 16 minutes per game for the 76ers, but for spent most of the year bouncing between the Delaware Blue Coats and the Sixers. It only took 19 games for Bassey to earn G-League All-Defensive, All-Rookie, and 2nd Team honors. Unfortunately, he was cut just before the start of the 2022-2023 season.
The Spurs jumped on the chance to pick up on a two-way contract. Bassey continued to play well for the Spurs main team, as coach Popovich rewarded the big man with a spot in the rotation for the first 18 games of the season. During his assignments with the Austin Spurs, he dominated the competition averaging 23.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. This earned Bassey a four-year $8.2 million contract Unfortunately, he fractured his knee in March which ended his season. That said, the future still looks promising for the 22-year-old.
2022: JD Davison (1 season BOS)
5.5 mins | 1.6 pts | 0.8 reb | 0.9 ast | 0.2 stl | 0.2 blk | 0.3 tov | .421/.286/.900
Current role: Unproven project regulated to G-League
Aside from having a beautiful mane, Davison played in 12 games (66 minutes) for the Boston Celtics, culminating in in their final game of the regular season where he played a career-high 34 minutes. He spent the majority of the year playing for the Maine Red Claws, averaging 13.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists in 44 games. There’s some potential there, as he finished top five in G-League assist categories, along with two triple-double to boot.
Pick 53 Advanced Numbers
88 players posted a 0.0 VORP score last season, but only 19 appeared in at least 40 games. If you filter those down to guards, those that meet the criteria include Seth Curry, Jalen Green, Dyson Daniels, Jaden Hardy, Shake Milton, and a few others. It’s quite the grab bag of potential outcomes, though the common theme is that most of them tend to be one way players that don’t contribute to generating many win shares (Milton is at the top the list of 19 with 2.9 WS). Some of the more intriguing names are unsurprisingly some of the younger prospects who could turn into real rotation players or even starters with some sharpening of skills they’re lacking.
Where does that leave Jaylen Clark, who is going to be recovering from a torn Achilles into the 2024 calendar year? It won’t be likely that the 21-year-old plays real minutes for the Timberwolves this season, especially with a fully fleshed out rotation sans free agency. That said, Clark seems to fit the bill of a defensive menace who will still need to find his place on offense. His path to a successful NBA career will begin by proving himself with the Iowa Wolves, similar to how Naz Reid, Jaylen Nowell, and Josh Minott did. The odds certainly aren’t in his favor, as evidenced by the five players named above, but there’s always a chance that Clark bucks the trend.