Analyzing Minnesota Timberwolves' Biggest Draft Needs

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Analyzing Minnesota Timberwolves' Biggest Draft Needs
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Uncertainty is rarely a positive thing within an NBA organization, but one exception to that rule is the case of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin Love and the 2014 NBA draft.

The layers to the T-Wolves' current situation are numerous but relatively easy to peel away. On the surface, you have an average basketball team trapped in a conference that rejects average teams. The Wolves went 40-42 this season, missing the playoffs by nine games.

Dig a little deeper, and you'll see that the team is not all that average. Its Pythagorean record (projected record based on scoring differential, per Basketball-Reference.com) was 48-34. That is a better number than what the Memphis Grizzlies posted (46-36) and is tied with that of the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns.

The problem is that an eight-win Pythagorean disparity is too large to attribute to bad luck.

The only other teams that came close were the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks (each team was five wins worse than it "should" have been), and comparing itself to the Bucks and Kings will not do Minnesota any favors, especially considering that the cities of Milwaukee and Sacramento each barely avoided losing its team to Seattle recently.

This connects back to the uncertainty of Minnesota's position. Everything from the cold climate, small market and borderline-incompetent front office to the injury-prone roster, inability to execute in close games and hopelessly difficult conference in which it plays contributes to that uncertainty.

Those factors and others are causing Love, the team's best player, to express a desire to play elsewhere. It's not that Love is demanding a trade, but he is privately making it clear that he wants one, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. This, along with his looming 2015 free agency and his obvious urge to win after six years of losing, has made him the hottest commodity on the trade market.

David Sherman/Getty Images

This is where you stop me and ask, "How is this even close to a positive situation?" The answer is that the situation is not positive, but the uncertainty is.

The best way to deal with uncertainty is to change the conversation from "how bad is this going to get?" to "how good is this going to be?"

Usually, this is a difficult change to make. But when you combine a 25-year-old megastar who probably has more trade value than actual value with what might be the best draft class in over a decade, the Wolves have a chance to make this switch very quickly.

 

Minnesota's Actual and Potential Draft Picks

The one good thing that came out of that terrible Pythagorean win-loss disparity is that the Timberwolves ended up with the No. 13 pick. This not only improves their chances of landing an impact player, but also gives them a better trade chip to potentially move up with.

They also have the No. 40, No. 44 and No. 53 picks, and nothing adds superficial value to a trade package better than a second-round pick or two.

If the team trades Love, it could get to No. 7 (where the Los Angeles Lakers are currently picking), No. 6 (Boston Celtics) or No. 1 (Cleveland Cavaliers). It could theoretically do any of these things while retaining its No. 13 pick.

If the team holds on to Love and trades someone else—Nikola Pekovic, Corey Brewer, Ricky Rubio and Gorgui Dieng are the four other Wolves with good trade value—it could throw in the No. 13 pick and any or all of its second-rounders in order to penetrate the top 10.

 

Minnesota's Actual and Potential Draft Needs

While uncertainty runs wild with regard to Love, trades and draft positioning, one thing remains constant: The Wolves need to draft the best player or players who are available to them.

A look at Minnesota's roster reveals no glaring holes, but there are also no areas of great strength. Center is the only position where a need is minimal, and there is not a center prospect worth drafting in the lottery outside of Joel Embiid.

What this means is that the T-Wolves can focus on identifying the best players. If Love is traded, power forward instantly becomes the team's biggest need, as does point guard if Rubio goes, shooting guard if Martin goes and small forward if Brewer goes.

 

At No. 13

If the Wolves keep Love and the No. 13 pick, they can afford to sit back and snag the best player available. It is impossible to know who that player will be, but there is almost always a high-lottery talent who falls to the teens.

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Gary Harris

An educated guess would include Gary Harris, an excellent two-way player at the shooting guard position and an undeniable top-10 talent. However, his poor combine measurements (he stood just 6'2.5" in socks) could have teams passing on him for bigger, longer wing players such as James Young or Nik Stauskas. Harris' shooting, playmaking and defensive abilities would all fit perfectly into Minnesota's backcourt.

Another top-10 prospect who could fall to Minnesota is Zach LaVine. Any athletic combo guard out of UCLA is going to draw Russell Westbrook comparisons, but LaVine will not go as high as Westbrook (No. 4 in 2007) in this draft class.

A combination of tough competition (Dante Exum and Marcus Smart are also ultra-athletic point guards) and questions about LaVine's demeanor (something Westbrook never lacked) could have him falling all the way to the T-Wolves, who should jump all over a guy with top-five potential.

Stauskas and Young would also be great selections if one of them slides instead of Harris.

If Minnesota moves Love and does not get a pick for him, it has a much clearer need at No. 13: power forward.

Julius Randle is a lock to be off the board at No. 13, as is Noah Vonleh. Some would argue that Aaron Gordon is also destined for the top 10, but do not be shocked if he falls to Minnesota.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Aaron Gordon

No one will ever agree on the order, but almost everyone concurs that there are seven elite prospects in this draft: Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Exum, Randle, Vonleh and Smart.

After those seven, there is a second tier that consists of eight or nine players. While most project Gordon to be near the top of that group, four of the five teams picking No. 8 through No. 12 do not need power forwards. The one that does is Philadelphia, but the 76ers have holes all over the court and may also take Randle or Vonleh with their No. 3 pick.

Gordon falling to the Wolves is a best-case scenario. Even if they do not trade Love beforehand, landing a power forward who would have gone in the top three last year would make moving their superstar so much easier.

If Gordon does not fall, Dario Saric would be the best power forward available.

 

If They Move Up

The possibilities for moving up are even more open-ended than those for staying at No. 13. Without getting into every scenario, here's a rundown of Minnesota's realistic options.

If Love is sent to Cleveland for the No. 1 pick (other things would be included on both sides), the Wolves would be best served drafting Wiggins. A freak athlete and potential All-NBA defensive talent who may also be a go-to scorer one day would help everyone forget about Love.

If Pekovic and the No. 13 pick or Love is moved to get into the top seven, Vonleh would be the best fit.

USA TODAY Sports
Noah Vonleh (right)

If Love is the one traded, Vonleh may actually be a better fit next to Pekovic. He can also stretch the floor and rebound, but he should become a much better defender and rim-protector than Love, which would help the offensively inclined Pekovic.

If Pekovic and the No. 13 pick go, Vonleh becomes the power forward and Love becomes the center. This frontcourt would still terrorize the league offensively and eventually be better defensively than before. Plus, with Dieng on the roster, a more traditional lineup is always a substitution away.

The Wolves could also ship out Rubio and the No. 13 pick to move into the top 10, but only if they can trade to a spot where they can land Exum or Smart.

Martin and Brewer could also be thrown into deals to move up, in which case Young, Stauskas, Harris and Rodney Hood are on the table.

 

Uncertainty Equals Options

The Timberwolves do not really know how good they can be be next year, whether or not they'll have Love and if they'll be able to convince him to re-sign next summer.

But leading up to a draft that is overflowing with talent, this uncertainty will enable Minnesota—as long as it is proactive.

Uncertainty means the entire roster is malleable. Uncertainty means almost every prospect is on Minnesota's draft board. Uncertainty means an opportunity to be aggressive, move up, move around and redirect the course of the franchise on June 26.

Whatever Minnesota does, the possibility will exist that it has made the team worse. But let's face it—calling the current situation "uncertainty" is really a euphemism for "disaster waiting to happen."

I'll take uncertainty over disaster any day of the year, and twice on draft day.

 

Stats, contracts and prospect information courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, HoopsHype.com, NBADraft.net and DraftExpress.com.

 

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