It's that time of year again when the Timberwolves have nothing left to play for, and so Minnesota basketball fans' thoughts turn to the NBA draft and dreams that maybe the Wolves can find an answer to their torpor thereby.
Well, good luck with that. It's probably the weakest draft class in a decade, among both the U.S. and international pools. Of course 1st comes the lottery in which teams better than Charlotte, Washington and Orlando will swoop in and grab the top 3 picks. But that's a crapshoot. Can't forecast that unless you're willing to be tried as a witch and very likely burned at the stake. So, just pretending that the draft actually goes in reverse order of W-L, excepting of course for those picks stupidly traded away by lousy teams for lousy veterans....
1. Charlotte (currently .220). Well, the Bobcats held on to their pick and their reward is Shabazz Muhammad, 6-6, small forward, UCLA? That's right, I am not kidding. A smallish front-court guy with Tourette's Syndrome. Well, let me just say that the Tourette's didn't kill him. He's scoring 19 ppg as a true freshman at UCLA and he is said to remind people of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, meaning among other things great work ethic in practice and on game day. But equally, Charlotte actually has some players for such an awful team. Kemba Walker, for one. Ramon Sessions for 2. So what's needed is some help in the front court. I'll grant that Muhammad might not be the most likely suspect based on size alone. But he will play the forward spot and he will score. In a weak draft, that's enough, for the Bobcats, at least.
2. Washington (.286). Washington needs everything, even a point guard, despite having picked one with the overall #1 pick a couple years ago. Still, I had 'em going for Nerlens Noel, 6-11, power forward, Kentucky, until he tore his ACL and went out for the season. I'm thinking he stays in school another year, but either way he either drops down or out of the draft. So, another 6-11 power forward gets the call. Cody Zeller, 6-11, power forward, Indiana. A sophomore Zeller is just slightly more ready. He reminds people of LaMarcus Aldridge with his 17 points, 8 boards and a block line, and he also runs the floor.
3. Orlando (.294). Another outfit that needs everything but a shooting guard, and so Ben McLemore sits some more. Here, that means Alex Len, 7-1, center, Maryland, the 2nd sophomore to be picked in the top 3. He reminds people of Zydrunas Ilgauskus, and I mention that only to remind you of what I've now said twice (and, now, 3 times), this ain't much of a draft. Len's line so far this year is 13 points, 8 boards and 2 blocks.
4. Cleveland (.314). OK, we're now starting to get to teams that have something to build on. In Cleveland's case it's Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao, a couple of tent-poles, no less, though Varjao will be coming back from an injury. And they used their #1 pick last year on shooting guard Dion Waiters, but they still need scoring, so again McLemore waits while Anthony Bennett, 6-7 small forward, UNLV, who oddly enough reminds people of Larry Johnson, gets the call. He's scoring 19 points with 9 boards as a true freshman. In a perfect world, of course, Bennett would go to Golden State, where he would be known as Tony, and everyone would live happily ever after. Ain't gonna happen, Tony, er, Anthony. Hey, does anybody know any songs about Cleveland? I didn't think so.
5. Pheonix (.327). When the lottery is announced and we know who's really gonna pick 1st, 2nd and 3rd (and my guess is L.A., New York and Miami but, hey, what do I know), the picks above will change. As noted, this is a weak-ass draft. Ask 30 teams who's #1 and nobody gets more than 10 votes. So teams will be picking to need. But the guy who would get the most votes (about 9, to be exact) would probably be Ben McLemore, 6-5, shooting guard, Kansas. It's just that the teams listed above are far worse off elsewhere than at shooting guard. So, Phoenix, in this particular scenario, gets lucky and gets probably the freshman with the least downside, the least likelihood of blowing up in your face. He's averaging 16 points and 6 boards as a true freshman, and reminds people of Ray Allen. (By the time Pheonix picks McLemore, in this particular universe, Charlotte will probably already be having buyer's remorse and will be calling to offer Muhammad straight up for McLemore, to which Pheonix will say, No thanks, then WTF, these people are crazy.
6. New Orleans (.333). The Pelican Briefs need a small forward and 6-8 sophomore Otto Porter, small forward, Georgetown, beckons. Porter reminds people of Stacy Augmon with a line of 13 points, 8 boards and 3 assists. But his claim to fame initially is as a lock-down defender. Who doesn't need some of that?
7. Sacramento (.365). The soon-to-be Seattle SuperSonics will pick a point guard. But which one? The candidates are Marcus Smart, 6-4, point guard, Oklahoma State, a freshman, and Michael Carter-Williams, 6-6, point guard, Syracuse, a sophomore. Smart is the smart pick, Carter-Williams the daring pick, and who can't be a little bit daring when you've got a 6-6 point guard out there. He's averaging 12 points, 5 boards and 10 assists, and reminds people of the young Shaun Livingston, before the knee. (This pick breaks the Timberwolves collective hearts, by the way.)
8. Oklahoma City from Toronto (.373). What could the Thunder possibly need? Well, aside from replacing James Harden? And I know just the man for the job. That would be Alex Poythress, 6-8, small forward, Kentucky. I mean, no, he's no James Harden. Nobody in this draft is James Harden. But Poythress, with his 14 points, 6 boards line as a true freshman, at least reminds people of Thaddeus Young, and that will have to do.
9. Minnesota (.375). So, finally, the Timberwolves. Detroit is on their heels (at .385, but it's gonna take a real winning streak to catch Dallas at .440, so hopefully the pick will be no worse than #10. But we'll say #9 for the moment. What do the Wolves need? Don't answer that. But obviously you build around Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio. And yet, and yet, not only is the best athlete remaining in the draft a point guard, the guy who fills the Wolves' needs the best is a point guard, Marcus Smart, 6-4, point guard, Oklahoma State. With all due respect to Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea, the little fellows with the big hearts, well, enough with the little fellows already. Here's a guy who can back up Ricky Rubio and play, well, defense, anyway, like Ricky Rubio, and maintain some continuity in terms of your game plan when the Great One is on the bench. One of the other guys can still be Mr. Instant Offense in the 4th quarter but one of them becomes trade bait, Barea probably having more value than Ridnour. Maybe Barea and Derrick Williams, together, can bring in another shooter.
And after that--after the Timberwolves make their pick--who really cares, right? We'll finish the lottery and maybe the whole first round some day, probably after the high school state tournaments.
But for now we will just note that the Wolves have a 2nd 1st round pick that figures to come in somewhere between #18 and #26.
Then there's this. Most of the mock drafts that go the full 2 rounds have 4, count 'em, 4 Minnesotans listed:
• Nate Wolters, from St. Cloud Tech and South Dakota State, is generally the highest rated
• Rodney Williams, Cooper and Minnesota is next
• Then Trevor Mbakwe of Minnesota
• And finally Mike Muscala of Roseville and Bucknell. He is probably the 4th among this group by consensus, but he is the only 1 I've seen in the 1st round, though only 1 time.