NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING: Someday we won't care about the NBA draft lottery so much. But for now, it is still a big deal for the Timberwolves. Here is what a dozen 2011 mock drafts suggest for the Wolves lottery draft pick which would be the #3 pick right now.
It is early and 2011 looks like a somewhat weak draft at the top, and so the consensus for any one pick is fairly low. Still, here is the consensus for the top 2 picks. The draft order is based on the standings as of 1-8-11 though there are 3 months and 1 lottery to go before we know what the order will really be and what pick the Wolves will really have.
#1. Cleveland: Perry Jones, 6-11, Fr., SF, Baylor
#2. Sacramento: Harrison Barnes, 6-8, Fr., SF, North Carolina
Despite his size, P. Jones is projected as a 3 with Tracy McGrady as his most comparable NBA player. "His perimeter skills--most notably ball-handling, lateral foot speed and athleticism--are phenomenal.... He can shoot the 3, or pull up off the dribble, but he is much better when attacking the basket."
Barnes was rated #1 among the freshman last fall but has struggled thus far, hitting under 40 percent of his shots. He is more highly rated among older mock drafts and as low as #8 in more recent ones. Still, scouts love his "attitude, work ethic and willingness to improve.... (He) has only been playing...on the wing for the past 18 months...so he's been on a steep development curve learning how to play the wing.... (He) can pull up off the dribble and hit shots (and) does a good job of attacking the basket."
Still, the #2 is uncertain. After Barnes, the consensus points to Kyrie Irving, Duke's freshman point guard, but he has out with a foot injury for over a month with no projected date yet as to when he will return. Then come three more freshmen, 2 of them--C-PF Enes Kanter and SF Terry Jones--from Kentucky, plus Ohio State PF Jared Sullinger. Of the 2 Wildcats, T. Jones is rated as high as #1 but as low as #14, while Kanter is more consistently rated around #4-5. Sullinger is, of course, better known locally and rates as high as #3 but his most frequent slot is below both Jones and Kanter at #6.
Having said all of that, Kanter would seem to be the safest pick at #2, but only 1 mock draft out of 12 had him that high, while 7 had Barnes either #1 or #2. So right now I'm projecting Barnes as the #2 pick. And we can probably agree that the Kings, one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA, need a 2-3 type to slot between Mr. Inside (DeMarcus Cousins) and Mr. Outside (Tyreke Evans).
#3. Minnesota, Enes Kanter, 6-11, Fr., PF-C, Kentucky
All of which is just prelude to figuring out what the Timberwolves can expect to get out of the 2011 draft with what would currently be the #3 pick. The current consensus at #3 is Duke point guard Kyrie Irving but not only has Irving now missed more of his freshman season than he has played, the Wolves already have Luke Ridnour, Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio at the position. And so, those mock drafts that pick by way of reference to the needs of the specific team projected to make each pick, a plurality of those mock drafts pick Kanter including with the #2 pick and P. Jones still on the table.
So who is Enes Kanter? Well, he is from Turkey, though he played 1 year at Stoneridge Prep school in California and had a "somewhat inconsistent" performance there. But he is a "big man with excellent size, strength and polish." He has "long arms and solid athleticism (and is) a tremendous rebounder... (He) has a strong frame...a high basketball IQ (and) a scorer's mentality." He was MVP of the 2009 18 & Under European championship with 18 ppg and 16 rebounds, "dominating the competition like not even Ricky Rubio could...."
The question is whether this is what the Wolves need, what with Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic at the position. One could say that the greatest need is for a 2 but, guess what, there aren't any 2s rated this highly, and that leaves Kanter is the best athlete available. His comp is Al Horford.
#4: Washington: Terence Jones, 6-8, Fr., SF, Kentucky
#5: New Jersey: Jared Sullinger, 6-9, Fr., PF, Ohio State
But if not Kanter, these are the next best athletes available, though they meet the Timberwolves' needs even less than Kanter. The 3rd option at this point is Duke point guard Kyrie Irving but, as noted, he has been out for more than a month now, so I am projecting him to stay in school another year. Jones is 30 pounds heavier than Harrison Barnes, and so a different kind of SF. But surprisingly, he's even more perimeter-oriented than Barnes. He's a lefty who "handles the ball like a guard." His comp is Lamar Odom.
The Bullets are building around point guard John Wall and need the best available athlete who can put the ball in the hole. T. Jones sorta fits the bill, Sullinger does not. Anybody else is a reach at #4.
Sullinger, meanwhile, is only an inch taller than the projected 3s, Barnes and Jones, but carries 70 (count 'em) more pounds on that frame than Barnes, 40 more than T. Jones. So he's an inside guy. The wild card with Sullinger is the Cleveland Cavaliers' interest in him as a hometown guy with great appeal to the local fan base. If Cleveland picks #1, there's better talent available, but anywhere below #1 Sullinger becomes a strong possibility to go earlier than this.
His comp, by the way, is Al Jefferson, so even if the Wolves fall down to #4 or #5, you'd have to think Sullinger is not their kind of guy. "He is a bruising throwback post player that uses his...body.... Very physical" but he "does not possess elite athleticism."
The Nets, on the other hand, hope to have Carmelo Anthony by the time the draft rolls around, and a lunch-paid guy like Sullinger will be needed to watch Anthony's back. Otherwise a 2 is needed but, again, there's nobody that's not a reach at #5.
#6. Detroit: Brandon Knight, 6-3, Fr., combo G, Kentucky. Comp = Jason Terry.
#7. L.A. Clippers: Jan Vesely, 6-11, PF/SF, Czech Republic. Comp = Yi Jianlian.
#8. Toronto: Kemba Walker, 6-0, Jr., PG, Connecticut. Comp = Tim Hardaway.
#9. Charlotte: Donatas Motiejunas, 7-0, PF, Lithuania. Comp = Andrea Barnagni.
#10. Milwaukee: Derrick Williams, 6-9, Soph., PF, Arizona. Comp = David West.
#11. Phoenix: Josh Henson, 6-10, Soph., combo F, North Carolina
#12. Golden State: Jonas Valanciunas, 6-11, C, Lithuania. Comp = Nenad Krstic.
#13. Houston: Josh Selby, 6-3, Fr., combo G, Kansas. Comp = Jerryd Bayless.
#14. Memphis: Alec Burks, 6-6, Soph., combo G, Colorado. Comp = Eddie Jones.
After the top 5, the consensus gets even weaker. Some of these guys are slotted in the 2nd round in some of the mock drafts. Motiejunas, on the other hand, might be too low. He was slotted as a lottery pick a year ago, but withdrew. Walker might be too high, what with his lack of size and the fact that nobody was clamoring for him to come out prior to his junior year. If Burks, with pretty good size for a 2, could be too low. And nobody has a clue what will happen with Josh Selby--I've seen him projected as high as #1 and I've seen others who say nobody is gonna want the attitude that comes with.
But let's just say for the sake of example that the Wolves end up with the following draft picks and inherit a board that goes in the order presented above. Who do the Wolves take in each instance?
#1. Perry Jones
#2. Enes Kanter
#3. Enes Kanter
#4. Trade down
#5. Trade down
#7. Vesely or Motiejunas
#10. Valanciunas, and keep him in Europe for a couple years
#11. Valanciunas, and keep him in Europe for a couple years
#12. Valanciunas, and keep him in Europe for a couple years
Of course, this is not meant to imply that the Wolves have a snowball's chance in hell of breaking out of the bottom 10. They would have to play about .500 ball the rest of the way to do that, and there's no way that's going to happen. They're improving but, as Kevin McHale predicted, they've only improved enough to lose closer games. I think they'll end up about #6 in W-L percentage compared to #3 today. Then the lottery could move them all the way up to #1 or down as far as #8.
So if I had to guess, I'd say the draft pick they're most likely to get is probably not #3 but #5 or #6, and down there a trade down or Vesely or Motiejunas seems the most likely course of action. #3 and Enes Kanter are likely to be off the table by the time our turn comes up.