Timberwolves in NBA Draft: A look at Nos. 19 and 40, trades, and more

It’s NBA draft week, and the Timberwolves sit outside the lottery with the 19th pick in the first round for the first time in years. They also have three picks in the second round, including a decent No. 40 pick, which gives them a lot of flexibility on Thursday night.

That’s one reason the Wolves are out and making big changes for new president of basketball operations Tim Connery. One of his biggest strengths is in the draft, especially when it comes to picks in the bottom half of the first round. The Wolves know they’ll need to improve their roster if they’re going to take a step forward in the Western Conference next year, along with upcoming draft picks and trades (our Shams Charania reports that the Wolves have partnered with the Hawks over Clint Capet). La discussed it) in and around the draft is a big opportunity to do that.

Given that the key to the Wolves’ success Thursday will be finding talent below the top seven or eight on the draft board, which is where we’re used to seeing them get drafted, there’s no better time to tap into their expertise. sports NBA draft guru Sam Vesenyi. He’s a tireless staffer, proficient at players expected to be No. 19 and above. So instead of guessing the way forward, we went straight to one of the most knowledgeable draft minds on the planet.

There’s a lot to do, so let’s get started.

Jon Kraczynski: Well Sam, Minnesota does have 10,000 lakes, but we’re in uncharted waters in June. Wolves are not in the lottery! Not because they made the wrong pick protection decision in a trade that looks worse by the day, but because they’ve actually been pretty good this season!

Most Wolves fans (and maybe a Wolves writer or two) are used to scrutinizing some of the top prospects in the draft, as well as big names with high hopes. This year, Minnesota was drafted with the 19th overall pick in the first round, so when the Wolves arrive, it’s not just random spending March Madness to identify some prospects to watch.

That’s where you come in.

First, can you tell us about the 15-30 players in this draft? Around these parts, we obviously know Chet Holmgren pretty well. We’ve seen Jaden Ivey and Keegan Murray in the Big Ten. By the time Wolves picked, those guys were long gone. How do you see the depth of this draft?

Sam Vissonney: Yes, that’s a good question, Jon. I have a pretty big tier, from 10 to 21; then I have another bigger player, from 22nd all the way to the 40s. That being said, I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the draft area the Wolves are in, and I don’t hate the idea of ​​them exploring a trade cut or trade out, depending on who’s available and the potential offers look like. Just last season, the Rockets moved two future first-round picks for the No. 16 pick, similar to this one. If a team is obsessed with a player — like the Rockets did with Alperen Singen last year — and offers a deal that gives the Wolves real future value, I’d be more willing to leave this draft area than usual . I’d also be willing to attach this pick to a deal for a suitable rotation veteran.

For what it’s worth, we do have some evidence that teams in the second half of the first round are willing to move around. We’ve already seen changes to the No. 26 and No. 30 picks, and there’s a good chance there will be more changes in the coming days. I’m not a big fan of calling drafts “good” or “poor” because people who evaluate on the team side really just need to find someone they like, make the right decisions, and the draft can be an amazing success for them. But I do think the evaluators on the team side have more questions about this draft than they did last year.

Kraczynski: Your first mock draft sent Notre Dame guard Blake Wesley to the Wolves. Do you still think he’s a viable option? Did you change anything during that assessment?

Venice: Wesley is a little lower on my board. I can definitely see a world where Wolves still see him as an interesting option in how they want to build this unit around Anthony Edwards in the backcourt long term. As a ball handler, Wesley has the perfect blend of athleticism and strength, and he can create his own shot in isolation and off-ball screens. His question is whether he’s shooting enough to be consistently efficient in the NBA. If the Wolves really wanted to buy in and trust their developers, and embrace who I thought was more of a project, Wesley could work at No. 19.

Kraczynski: The Timberwolves clearly need size next to Karl-Anthony Towns in the frontcourt. Brandon Clarke just beat them in the playoffs. Knowing that teams typically struggle when drafting, Connelly has said that if they have several prospects with similar ratings, it could be a tiebreaker. I look at people like EJ Liddell at Ohio State. Loves defense and intensity, but at 6’7″ is he enough to be a factor in the NBA?

Venice: Actually, I especially like Liddell with Towns and Jaden McDaniels. McDaniels is very good at sliding through a variety of moves and frustrating opposing teams on defense while using his length to cause some damage to the ball. But he can sometimes get overwhelmed by stronger wings who can build up their desired positions by bringing him into the low post. Liddell has the strength to match those guys better. He’s also an absolutely terrific weakside rim protector. He’s an underrated vertical athlete who has blocked more than two shots per game this season, most of which are assisting the rotation. When looking for someone to partner with Towns in the playoffs, a guy like Liddell can work, as long as his jumper can be converted – he’s improved a lot over the past year, but I have some small Problem, because his shot is flat in terms of the trajectory he moves beyond the NBA 3-point line.

Kraczynski: The guy I’ve been following all year who got me interested in the Wolves is Duke big man Mark Williams. Do you agree that he is a good fit? It seems like a small miracle for him to finish at No. 19, right?

Venice: I’m definitely a huge Mark Williams fan and I’d be surprised if he was at number 19. I really don’t like the idea of ​​drafting a big man in the first round who can’t be traded to the perimeter when you already have town. I really don’t believe Williams and Towns will be able to play together on the court in the playoffs because such a lineup would be severely lacking in mobility. To me, if you’re drafted at No. 19, the guy you draft should at least have a chance to be in the crunch lineup in those crunch moments. It’s not the worst thing in the world if the guy you pick ends up being the backup at the position; I just think it’s a little too easy to find a backup center on the open market that can eat a few minutes. If I were Wolves, I’d probably drop Williams, even if he’s on the board I really like his value.

Kraczynski: The Wolves also have three second-round picks. Connery told me they were optimistic about the options they might have at No. 40. Is there a name or two that Wolves fans should read?

Venice: I agree with Connery for what it’s worth. I’m expecting some breakout second-round picks this year, simply because I think there are a lot of interesting, well-paid young guys who might not have had the best year among college freshmen last season, but they also had good ancestry and may be affected by the pandemic in terms of development. If Peyton Watson and Josh Minot make it to No. 40, they’ll be interesting potential athletes. I also don’t think people we didn’t expect would fall that far — like Minnesota native Kendall Brown, Duke guard Trevor Keels or prolific Marquette sophomore Justin Lewis – who ended up on the board in that position. The draft actually has some depth in terms of home runs, with upside volatility in Round 2.

Kraczynski: I mean, Nikola Jović has to be the first choice, right? He’s either going to Minnesota on the 19th or Denver on the 21st, right?

Venice: Haha, well, Connelly did manage to get Nikola Jo-ić out of Serbia, who plays for Mega and is represented by European agent Miško Ražnatović, right? There are definitely some teams that rate Jovic so highly and think he has a lot of upside due to his ability to handle the ball at 6-foot-11 and do high-level pass reading and shooting. I rate him a bit low because I don’t know who he’ll be successful guarding at the next level, and he wouldn’t be on my board if I had a choice on this pick. But enough evaluators like his size and skill level that it wouldn’t be surprising if Connery pulled the trigger there.

Tim Connery (left), the new Timberwolves president of basketball operations, is known for picking two-time MVP Nikola Jokic (center) deep in the second round while in Denver. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY)

Kraczynski: Finally, what is your overall impression of the Connelly staff? The Timberwolves brought him in to help build the team around Edwards and Towns, and he seems to be doing well in Denver’s draft, especially in the lottery and second-round picks. Everyone has their own hits and misses, but what do you think makes him good at finding players who can contribute from those positions?

Venice: I’m a huge Tim Connery fan. From an organizational standpoint, he’s about the right things. Talk to anyone who has worked for him in Denver and you’ll find that he respects others and treats them like real people — everyone from players to coaches, front office staff to scouts. He cares about allowing the team to grow and develop together organically, while embracing and building a family atmosphere that is critical to winning in a smaller market like Minnesota. I was stunned that Denver was willing to do whatever it took to let him walk.

What made him successful in the draft? When I talked to Connery about this Nikola Jokic story last year, a few things struck me. First of all, Connery is very fond of drafting good guys. He specifically mentioned that the archetype they really liked in Denver was “intelligence, skill, and people who don’t have a lot of egos.”

Second, this comes not just from the conversations on the record, but also from other conversations with the Denver man, and I love how much he trusts and trusts the people who work for him. Ultimately, he is the one who makes the decision. But I think his humility and willingness to listen to every point of view is definitely the key to making the right decision. He wants all the smart people he hires to dig into the details and lay out all the information, and then as a team, the front office will synthesize that information and make a decision. He is a collaborative decision maker. It’s not about him. Every question he answers, he answers as “we”. I think establishing robust processes in this way is critical to being a good draft decision maker.

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(Top photo by EJ Liddell: Geoff Burke/USA Today)


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