Flip Saunders will face his first major test as the President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves when he chooses which player to draft this year. He will likely have a late lottery selection and the No. 26 pick in the first round as well as two late second round picks at No. 52 and No. 59.
His focus should be landing either a shooting guard or small forward in the first round. The team needs a player that can either shoot the ball well from outside or develop into a scorer that can play starter’s minutes, especially at the 2.
As it stands, the team’s two stars are at point guard and power forward.
Ricky Rubio has proven that he is a productive point guard in the NBA whose passing ability helps the players around him. He needs to improve his shooting from the field, but for right now his role as a starter is secure.
Kevin Love’s future may be in doubt with the team, but with a new GM and hopefully a culture of winning, he will be in Minnesota for the long run. Right now, Saunders cannot worry about replacing him and must address immediate team needs.
Finally, Nikola Pekovic is a restricted free agent and could leave the Twin Cities in the offseason. He has expressed his desire to stay with the Timberwolves, however, and Saunders would be wise to lock him up long-term instead of finding a center in the draft.
The Wolves should address the shooting guard position with their highest pick, as it is the team’s biggest need. Minnesota should focus on re-signing Andrei Kirilenko so he can start and allow Derrick Williams to come off the bench. Williams started to look like the player he was at Arizona and it is unwise for the team to take away his minutes by taking an NBA-read small forward with their highest pick.
Therefore, Minnesota may aim for a two-guard that shot well from outside in college.
It would be wonderful if Victor Oladipo fell into their lap late in the first round. The University of Indiana star is known for his work ethic, appears to have a high ceiling and shot 44.1 percent from three last year. He is likely to be chosen with the first five picks, however, and Minnesota is unlikely to be selecting there.
C.J. McCollum is kind of a poor man’s Oladipo and could be an option for Minnesota. He shot 51.6 percent from three as a senior.
Unfortunately, there is some question as to how productive he would be as a member of the Timberwolves. McCollum is a natural point guard and played for Lehigh against non-NBA talent in the Patriot League. The combination of changing positions, shooting from farther away and playing against better players may be too much for him to handle.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is also an option for Minnesota. The sophomore shot 37.3 percent from three in his final season at the University of Georgia and is rapidly climbing up people’s draft boards after declaring that he was leaving school. While he may not be one of the best pure shooters available in the draft, he appears to have a lot of upside and may be worth taking.
Jamaal Franklin is also an interesting player that should be available to Minnesota. While the junior out of San Diego State is projected to go in the middle of the first round, he is a player the Wolves should feel comfortable taking a gamble on.
Franklin did not receive many minutes during his freshman year, but steadily improved the last two seasons and is known for his incredible work ethic. If Minnesota drafted a player like Franklin, they would be wise to fill the starting shooting guard role via free agency and allow him to develop. It may be the wisest decision for a team that is unlikely to be drafting as high as they have in the past.
With their late first round pick the Wolves would be wise to add depth at the 2 or 3, unless Jeff Withey drops to them at No. 26. The former University of Kansas star is known for his interior defense and would be a nice option to have when Pekovic is on the bench.
Withey is unlikely to drop that far, however, and Minnesota may have the option to take Allen Crabbe out of Cal. The junior has proven that he can shoot the long ball, although his three-point percentage dropped from around 40.0 percent to 34.8 percent in his final season in Berkeley.
Going the international route may be the best option here for the Wolves. Giannis Antetokoumpo is an 18-year-old shooting forward out of Greece that has good size (6’9”, 215 lbs.) and a lot of raw talent. At this point, he is a project, but as long as they keep Kirilenko in town and Williams continues to develop, Minnesota can afford to wait.
Alex Abrines is also an option. The Spanish guard has played well with some of the better teams in Europe and would have a backcourt mate that understands what it takes to assimilate into American culture and NBA level of play.
With the late second-round picks, Minnesota would be wise to add depth at small forward and center. They should chose a player that either shoots well or is large, but may not have developed the physical tools at this point.
A player drafted that late is always a project, and the best approach is to find someone that could fill a spot with the team if they develop into a more complete player down the line.
In the end, Minnesota needs to focus on finding a shooter or a player that will become a proven scorer at either the 2 or 3. By re-signing Pekovic, they have a strong presence at center and Kirilenko gives them a plug at the small forward position until Williams is ready to be an everyday NBA player.
Best-case scenario, Minnesota finds either a perimeter shooter or proven scorer in this draft. Worse-case scenario, well, we all know what that looks like…