It seems every year, the draft lottery brings nothing but disappointment to Minnesota Timberwolves fans. If you don’t know what I mean, this article pretty much sums it up. This year, the Wolves were the league’s worst team, so they have the best chance to win the lottery. But we all know that doesn’t really matter. It’s the Wolves… Sure, it would be nice to get the top pick. But let’s be honest. It’s not going to happen.
Even if we don’t end up with the #1 pick, Wolves fans should have a reason to be excited no matter what happens on May 19th. Because even if everything goes wrong (which it will), the worst that could possibly happen is that we pick #4. And I would be okay with that, because right now I see four players in this draft who would be great picks for the Wolves:
Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell, and Justise Winslow.
The Current Team
I’m a huge believer in Ricky Rubio. I love how he impacts the game, and I believe we can build a championship team with him at point guard. So I would say that right now, the Wolves have 2 “cornerstone” pieces in Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins, and 9 players who seem to be in their future plans. Here’s a list of those 9 players and what I would expect the depth chart to look like heading into the draft:
PG: Rubio SG: Martin LaVine SF: Wiggins Muhammad PF: Garnett Payne C: Pekovic Dieng
In my opinion, the top 4 prospects in the draft are Towns, Okafor, Russell, and Winslow. PG Emmanuel Mudiay and PF Kristaps Porzingis from Latvia are also in the discussion, but neither one has really proven himself against elite competition. At the end of the day, I don’t expect Flip Saunders to take any unnecessary risks. The Wolves will probably end up with either Towns, Okafor, Russell, or Winslow. Here’s how each of them would fit with the Wolves:
I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to have the #1 pick. Towns is most likely going to be the #1 pick, and he’s also an absolutely perfect fit with the Wolves. He’s a 7 foot forward/center hybrid who has a lot of versatility.
The Wolves are built to run, and Towns is fast. The Wolves need a shot blocker, and Towns is a shot blocker. It would be nice for the Wolves to open up the paint for Rubio and Wiggins to attack, and Towns has the potential to be a very good shooter. One of the negatives on Towns is that he might need some time to develop, but the Wolves have time. They also have KG who would be a great mentor for Towns. Rubio, Wiggins, and Towns would make an awesome Big 3.
If Towns were to go to the Wolves, he would probably start at power forward with either Gorgui Dieng or Nikola Pekovic at center. But I would expect him to move around a lot between the 4 and the 5 as a rookie. He could play with any of the Wolves other bigs (Dieng, Pekovic, Garnett, Payne). I would also expect to see him in a lot of different roles within the offense (high post, low post, pick and roll). I would love to see him work the high post, low post game with Kevin Garnett next year… Depending on how they play together, the frontcourt of the future could be either Towns and Dieng, or Towns and Payne. Dieng is going to be a good, balanced center. Payne could be a really solid stretch 4 if his shot developed. Either way, Towns would be the ideal pick for Minnesota.
Even though Okafor isn’t as good a fit as Towns, he would still be a great addition to the Wolves. I really think he’s going to be a star in the NBA. He’s big, strong, highly skilled, and has a lot more athleticism than he’s given credit for. He would give the Wolves a second legitimate go-to scorer along with Wiggins. And even when neither of them is on, Rubio would keep the offense running smoothly. Okafor would give the Wolves one of the most dynamic offenses in the NBA.
If the Wolves drafted Okafor, they would have to make some roster tweaks. First of all, an Okafor-Dieng or an Okafor-Pekovic frontcourt doesn’t make very much sense, forcing both Pekovic and Dieng to the bench. I think the Wolves would end up keeping Pekovic and trading Dieng. This wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world because Dieng is a good, young player with a cheap contract. They might be able to get something like a lottery pick back for him. Secondly, the Wolves would want to make some changes to get better defensively. Okafor might eventually become a solid defender, but he doesn’t look like he’ll ever be much of a shot blocker. Maybe the Wolves could look for a defensive specialist at PF and some “3 and D” wings to help solve their defensive issues.
Even next year, a lineup of Rubio, Martin, Wiggins, Garnett and Okafor looks pretty good. They might even be a surprise team in the West. There would eventually have to be some changes with the players around Rubio, Wiggins and Okafor, but they could definitely make it work. And KG would also be a great mentor for Okafor.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not Rubio and Russell could play together. At first it seems like it wouldn’t work. They’re both ball-dominant point guards. Rubio can’t shoot. They might have some trouble defensively… But then you look at last year’s Suns. They went 48-34 with a similar combination of guards in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. They were arguably the most exciting team in the NBA. Maybe the T-Wolves could make it work.
The other thing you have to consider is that the Wolves still have Zach LaVine and Kevin Martin, which might create a little bit of a logjam at guard. We’d probably have to dump Kevin Martin to free up playing time for LaVine. So I broke down how the rotation would work with Rubio, Russell, and LaVine.
During regulation there’s 96 minutes of playing time in the backcout (PG and SG). If you divide that time evenly between Rubio, Russell and LaVine, each player gets 32 minutes (Rubio averaged 31.5 minutes per game last year). Rubio gets 32 minutes at PG, LaVine gets 32 minutes at SG, and Russell gets 16 at PG and 16 at SG. That gives you 16 minutes of Rubio-Russell, 16 minutes of Rubio-LaVine, and 16 minutes of Russell-LaVine. So ideally, Rubio and Russell only have to play together for 16 minutes a game.
On paper, it looks like it could work. Then it just comes down to chemistry issues. Both Rubio and Russell would have to make sacrifices. So would Zach LaVine.
The good thing is that the Wolves would have flexibility. In the worst case scenario, they might have to trade away Rubio. That would definitely be disappointing, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. If I had to choose a player to replace Rubio, it would be Russell. He’s a baller. Offensively, he might not be as good a passer as Rubio, but he can create his own shot and spot up. He would really be an ideal teammate for Andrew Wiggins. He would not only be able to find Wiggins on cuts to the basket, but he would also be able to draw the defense away from Wiggins with his shooting ability.
If D’Angelo Russell is Andrew Wiggins’ ideal teammate, than Justise Winslow is Rubio’s ideal teammate. He would help create the type of team that Rubio wants to lead… one with swarming perimeter defense, fast breaks, alley-oops, and lots of energy. I could just see Rubio, Wiggins, and Winslow getting after it on defense, getting steals, and getting out on the break all game long.
Winslow is a great athlete at small forward, he can shoot, slash, he’s smart and he’s a good passer, and he’s a great on-ball defender. He’s only 19 years old, and he looks like someone that could also become a good one-on-one scorer. He has all the tools to be an All-Star.
If the Wolves picked Winslow, he would play small forward and Wiggins would slide over to shooting guard, creating a serious matchup nightmare. Wiggins has already shown the ability to post up on smaller guards, and Winslow would also be a tough cover for a 2. They would also be great defensively. And don’t forget about Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad coming off the bench. They’re set at center with Gorgui Dieng and Nikola Pekovic. If they could add a good stretch 4 in free agency, this team could win a championship.
With all that in mind, my draft board goes Towns, Okafor, Winslow, Russell. The fourth pick would be good. Winslow will probably still be there at #4. The third pick would be better. The second pick would be awesome.