Saturday, April 10, 2010

T-Wolves Draft Taking Shape, Sort Of

Last December I wrote about the Timberwolves' 2010 draft. As of today they've got the #16, 26, 32, 43 and 47 picks. Oh, yes, and their own 1st round lottery pick. If the lottery goes true to form, the Wolves would have the #2 pick, and it's also true that they'd have the 2nd best chance to land the #1 pick. But of course the Wolves have never failed to drop in the lottery.

In a Nutshell

So the odds are the Wolves won't get #1 or #2 (John Wall or Evan Turner) but take small forward Wesley Johnson with #3, #4 or #5. He won't turn out to be the best player available at #3, but he lacks the downsides that the other top prospects bring. He's the safe choice. Then they go with post Hassan Whiteside at #16 if he's available, and if he's not Gordon Hayward of Butler would be an intriguing choice if he decides to enter the draft. If neither of them is available, see what you can get in trade. At #26, it looks like combo guard Elliot Williams, and then at #32, #43 and #47 there will be some big big projects, in both senses of the phrase, such as Jerome Jordan, Dexter Pittman and Miroslav Radjuljica.

And Now Back to the Analysis

So, assuming the Wolves' historic luck holds true, they'll have a #3, #4 or #5 pick in the upcoming draft. And, wouldn't you know it. It looks right now like there are 2 obvious #1 and #2 picks and then a huge gap down to #3. I haven't seen a mock draft yet that doesn't have John Wall at #1, and better than 9 out of 10 have Evan Turner at #2.

So if the Wolves get #1 or #2--and if I'm David Kahn and I want to show the world what a genius I am--I don't pick Wall at #1 and I don't pick Turner at #2. Of course, if I guess wrong I'll be a laughingstock and I'll be out of a job about a decade faster than Kevin McHale. Wall, in other words, is the safe choice, but on the other hand, I'm not sure he'd be wrong to grab Turner even at #1. And if Turner's available at #2, he'd be a dad blamed fool to pass him by. As mediocre as Jonny Flynn has been as an NBA point guard, the fact is the team needs a go-to guy who can put the ball in the freakin' hole more than it needs an upgrade over Flynn, and Turner is that upgrade. He may not be Kevin Durant, but he's the closest thing in 2010.

But if the Wolves slip below #2, it gets to be a crap shoot. And that's just what it's been for the Wolves of the years. They go out shooting for big game, and come home with crap. So let's see what kind of crap is available below #2. Of course, there's always a chance that some moron will go ahead and take somebody besides Turner at #2, and he'll be available at #3, but he won't slip any more than that. So the consensus at #3, 4 and 5:

The Envelope Please

#3. DeMarcus Cousins, 6-11, freshman, power forward and center, Kentucky. Wall and five of his teammates, having accomplished an appearance in the Elite Eight, figured they'd done enough for Kentucky Wildcat basketball and all announced their entry into the NBA draft on the same day. My heart bleeds for John Calipari. But anyway, they say that Cousins' greatest attributes are his size, strength and length, and he has a scorer's mentality. (He scored 16 ppg in his only year as a Wildcat on .558 shooting. And he gets to the FT line 7 times a game.) Some say he's got nice skills, others say he's raw. His weaknesses include playing out of control from time to time, losing his composure and losing interest in the proceedings, and that he's not receptive to coaching. And, then, on top of everything else, they say, "Think Eddy Curry." What is this man doing at #3? Still, if your time frame is 3-5 years, maybe he's your guy, but the Wolves need help right away. Pass.

#4. Derrick Favors, 6-9, freshman, power forward, Georgia Tech. In this case they say, "Think Antonio McDyess in his prime, or Al Horford," which is much more intriguing than the second coming of Eddy Curry. Favors does it all--inside. He's got power and quickness, and leaping ability and a wide wingspan. He runs the floor and has soft hands. (He scored 12 ppg on .610 shooting. Not bad.) On the other hand, his ball-handling isn't very good, he can't put the ball on the floor, and therefore he turns it over (2.5 times per game for Tech.) So I dunno. Let's see who else is available.

#5. Al-Farouq Aminu, 6-8, sophomore, small forward, Wake Forest. "They" say that Aminu is strong, a very good ball-handler, and versatile. He can put the ball on the floor and he is at his best in transition. They say, "Think Marvin Williams or Josh Smith." But, his shot selection is not so good, and he turns the ball over. And on top of that, he's kind of a 'tweener, and he's got no J, no mid-range game. Ouch. (Then how did he score 16 ppg?) Bottom line: A 'tweener who can put the ball on the floor but not in the hole. Might as well keep looking.

#6. Ed Davis, 6-9, sophomore, power forward, North Carolina. Once again, "Think Al Horford." Well, here's a thought. Package up your #3, if that's what you get, and Jonny Flynn, and move 'em for the real Al Horford. No? OK. Then here's a guy who is 2 to 3 years away from being Al Horford, because he's got "glaring offensive weaknesses," who had a "disappointing sophomore year" for a team that "underachieved." This guy has T-Wolves written all over him. But, hey, he scored 13 ppg on .578 FG shooting and blocked 3 shots a game. Still, it sounds like Favors is the real deal among faux Al Horfords. Pass.

#7. Wesley Johnson, 6-7, freshman, small forward, Syracuse. A poor man's Evan Turner, as best as I can tell, though, no, they don't say, "Think Evan Turner," they say, "Think Eddie Johnson or Shawn Marion." Well, OK, I'll think about Eddie Johnson or Shawn Marion. He's quick, he's a leaper, he has that wide wingspan. On the other hand, he relies too much on the J instead of taking the ball to the hoop. He shot just 4 FT per game for the 'Cuse. Still, if I can't get Evan Turner or John Wall, and I kinda want a guy who can fill it up, maybe this is the guy. He's only #7 by way of consensus, but and both had him at #3. And, get this, Hoop Doctors had him #2. They're the only mock draft out of a baker's dozen that I looked at that didn't have Turner at #2. So if you can't get Turner, maybe this is your guy.

One of the nice things about Johnson is he doesn't have to displace one of your two best players--Al Jefferson and Kevin Love--whereas that's where Cousins or Favors or Davis has got to go. Rather, Johnson slots in at the 3 behind, well, behind somebody initially but by year 2 he ought to be doing what, well, Eddie Johnson and Shawn Marion did, which is to make the guy who picked you in the draft look damn smart.

If the Wolves don't get that #1 or #2 pick, there are lots of ways to not look smart and probably only 1 or 2 ways to save the day. I think Wesley Johnson is one of those ways.

The Rest of the Rest

The Wolves have 5 additional draft picks. I haven't checked the latest permutations, but recently they would have been #16, 26, 32, 43 and 47. Now, none of those is worth a damn unless you're, er, smart. So what would be a smart play for the Wolves with those other 5 picks?

Well, 1) if somebody is dumb enough to give you a proven NBA talent for any of them, grab it.

If not, 2) go big. There seem to be a bunch of big guys who are slated to go anywhere from 16 to 26. They do not include Cole Aldrich, who is projected at #8. In no way shape or form is he a #3 and he's not gonna last to #16, sorry.

1. Hassan Whiteside, 7-foot, freshman, center, Marshall. Whiteside may not last to #16 either. I've seen him projected anywhere from #3 to #15. He is one of these miracles of science. Not at all widely recruited a year ago, now he's suddenly a potential lottery pick. But, hey, he became the #1 shot blocker in the country this year, and scored 13 points on 52 percent shooting (47 percent from the so-called charity stripe or, more to the point in this case, the torture chamber). But he's an athlete. His daddy, Hassan Arbubakkr (hey, my spell checker crashed!), is a former Minnesota Viking. A project, as they say.

2. Solomon Alabi, 7-1, sophomore, center, Florida State. Another project, to say the least, Alabi has that big wingspan, he's mobile and has great leaping ability, all of which serve him well on the defensive end of the floor. On offense, he is raw, lacking polish, inconsistent,"he does not have much confidence with the ball in his hands," and his team "will need to be extremely patient with the post repertoire." Another project.

3. Jerome Jordan, 7-foot, senior, center, Tulsa. "Jordan's physical profile makes him a prospect...outstanding size, a huge wingspan...adequate athleticism." He is way ahead of even Whiteside on the offensive end with "an array of drop-step(s)...hooks...and turnaround jump-shots." He gets to the FT line more than almost anybody. Wow, he's your guy. But no, "Jordan is often slow to react on the defensive end, even when defending the ball." So, sorry, the T-Wolves need more D, even at the expense of some O down low. Pass.

4. Dexter Pittman, 6-10, senior, center, Texas. "A mammoth of a man," he has dropped 70 pounds from 360 to 290. "His quickness, agility and feel for the game continue to improve year after year." But stamina remains a major issue, leading to fatigue, foul trouble and difficulty getting up and down the court. They say, "Think Stanley Roberts," though they go on to say that his work ethic is excellent. Still, ouch.

5. Miroslav Raduljica, 6-11, center, Serbia. "Has the physical attributes to be an NBA player...a skilled and mobile player with effective moves on the low post and a high basketball IQ." Sign 'im! On the other hand, he "lack(s) aggressiveness" and "appears to be afraid of contact." Then don't contact him.

The bottom line: If Whiteside is available, grab him, project or no. If not, package up some of these picks for a proven NBA journeyman talent, if you can.

And Another Thing

There is one other player who sneaks into more than one of the Wolves' mock drafts at the #26 spot. He is Memphis shooting guard, 6-4 sophomore Elliott Williams. The Duke transfer became the go-to guy in Memphis' offense this year and put himself "firmly on the radar for the 2010 draft." He impacts the game "with his speed in transition (and by) turn(ing) the corner off the bounce." He is, however, one-handed and he struggled late in the year when defenders overplayed his left hand. But, he also drew a lot of double-teams and showed the ability to get the ball to open teammates with almost 4 assists per game, and some even project him as a 1. Don't be surprised if Williams is one of those next 5 picks.

And, finally, one of the more intriguing possibilities is Gordon Hayward, Butler's 6-10 sophomore power forward and star of the NCAA tournament, whom projects as the Wolves #16 pick. Hayward is a great pure shooter, with a "high, quick release with range out to the NBA 3-point line." And he moves well without the ball, understands spacing and gets out in transition, all plusses for a 6-10 guy. Most people don't project Hayward that highly, however, and the fact is he doesn't match up anywhere on the defensive end. Still, as a 6-10 3, maybe the match-up problems will be the other guy's. But he also hasn't decided to enter the draft. Most people project him around 20 to 25 and, who knows, another year of college could be worth millions of additional dollars to him. Or not. But, if he's in and if he's available, he'd be a very intriguing choice for the Wolves.

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