Oh, the speculation! The excitement of who, when and where players will be drafted; the thrill of a potential game-changing blockbuster trade! As we draw nearer to the 2016 NBA Draft, let the crap-shoot begin —because the Minnesota Timberwolves are in prime position to benefit whether they draft someone or trade their pick.
With the two top picks already slated as either Ben Simmons from LSU and Brandon Ingram out of Duke, picks three and four, owned by the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns respectively, will certainly be something to watch for.
Depending on who Boston or Phoenix takes, the Timberwolves may find themselves in a position to either nab themselves a power forward to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns, a point guard to eventually take the reigns from the incumbent Ricky Rubio, or a wing player to add much needed three-point shooting to a team that only really gets that from one player (Zach LaVine).
The fifth position is highly coveted by teams looking to trade up and grab someone such as Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, or Dragan Bender. The Wolves are not in dire need of another young player, so as we get closer to the draft, expect trade discussions for the fifth pick to really heat up.
The following aren't necessarily in any particular order, but these are the scenarios I believe the Wolves can find themselves in when they are on the clock.
There is a lot of speculation about Dunn and the Wolves flirting. There are rumors that Dunn will not even do a private workout with the Celtics or the Suns. He is believed to prefer the Wolves because of his defensive strengths that would mesh well with the new coach and President of Basketball Operations, Tom Thibodeau. And because Boston and Phoenix both have starting point guards that Dunn would unlikely be able to compete with for the starting role on their teams.
There is also speculation that Thibodeau is not in love with Rubio as his point guard. That he is open to trading him for the right price, and draft Dunn if he is available at the fifth pick. The rumor is that Thibodeau prefers a PG, who would play more in the style of Derrick Rose, whom Thibodeau coached back in Chicago.
The Timberwolves know what they have in Rubio— a very good, pass-first PG, who makes the team better when on the floor and is one of the most elite defensive PGs in the NBA. However, he has been a porous shooter so far in his career and with the league obtaining a high-abundance of scoring first point guards, many view Rubio as more as a liability on the team rather than as an asset.
Dunn, the 2016 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, is considered to have a higher ceiling than Rubio even though they compare very similar in the way they both play the game. Like Rubio, Dunn plays lockdown defense ranking as one of the best defensive prospects in the Draft. He is also a great play-maker in the way he can drive to the rim, create his own shot (Rubio cannot), or pass the ball to the open guy— Like Rubio, Dunn also has excellent court awareness.
With that being said, Dunn isn't the strongest finisher at the rim at the moment (like Rubio). His college career at Providence featured a two-point shooting percentage of 47.6 percent, which isn't that great— and his career three-point shooting percentage was at about 35 percent.
However, during his senior season, he made about 37 percent of his attempted three-pointers. This brings optimism that he is capable of improving his offensive game to compliment his defensive strengths.
If Dunn is selected and Rubio is not traded, look for this to be a great problem for Minnesota to have. Dunn will create serious competition with Rubio by always pushing him hard in practice and on the court during games.
If Dunn is constantly breathing down Rubio's neck for the starting PG position, it might give Rubio a sense of urgency to finally develop a shot that will make a defender have to respect him as an active shooter while on the floor. This would help the Wolves out as a team because then the extra defender can't help clog the lane or help double team a pass to the low post.
Playoff teams usually have good backup PGs, who can come off the bench and continue to lead a well-tuned offense while the starter rests. For example, the Golden State Warriors have Shaun Livingston, the Charlotte Hornets have Jeremy Lin, the Atlanta Hawks with Dennis Schroder, and the Cleveland Cavaliers have Matthew Dellavedova. If Dunn can hit the ground running, the Wolves may find themselves with a very good problem on their hands.
Another potential draft pick the Wolves could target at number five could be Dragan Bender, an 18-year-old who played for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel.
Bender would fit in well at the power forward position next to Karl-Anthony Towns to pair as a very formidable duo. Gorgui Dieng could then slide back to the bench to become the third big. He could then substitute in for either Bender or Towns, and play very well with the other who is left out on the court.
Since Bender is so young and very developmental, it might make more sense for Nemanja Bjelica to start at the PF spot and let Bender grow and learn for a few years. Bjelica had an up and down rookie season (mostly down), but the former Euroleague MVP (2015) should improve immensely with Thibodeau as the coach, filling in as a Nikola Mirotic type role. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for Bender to come into the league with zero pressure to start and contribute at a high level.
At 7'1 and 225 lbs, Bender, has the intangibles to become a great player in the league. However, there are some wary about him because he only played around 14 minutes a game, struggling to get playing time against older competition in the Premier League.
He averaged 2.1 points, 1.4 rebounds, and .4 blocks per game. Teams are ready to ignore those stats because he is only 18 and his raw, physical tools have too much potential to pass up. We will see if Bender has the will to be able to transition into the NBA like Dirk Nowitzki, or Pau and Marc Gasol— all who are great players who have been in the league for a while now. Or we will see if he ends up the way of Darko Milic, considered one of the biggest busts in NBA history, only time will tell.
What people do love about Bender's game though is how he encompasses on what the future big man should look like. He could potentially join the ranks of Towns, Anthony Davis, and Kristaps Porzingis. Bigs who can play both in the low post, or spread it out and shoot the three-pointer. And similarly to Towns, Bender has the potential to be able to guard multiple positions.
Bender can defend guards and wings, and can switch defensive assignments smoothly on pick and rolls. He is quick for his size and can sprint down the court in transition with ease, finishing very well around the basket. He can also spread the floor and shoots very well from outside.
Bender is a boom-or-bust talent, and many teams will be looking to draft him in the lottery. We'll see if Thibodeau will have the patience to develop him if the Timberwolves decide to take Bender with the fifth pick.
If the Timberwolves had to narrow down their biggest need besides defense (Thibodeau has it covered), it would come down to three-point shooting. They were 29th in the league in three-pointers attempted and made. This comes down to multiple different factors: Sam Mitchell's archaic offensive philosophy, and the team in general not having any established shooting threats.
LaVine, Bjelica, and Towns are the Timberwolves' better shooters, but they still have to prove themselves by playing another season or two, shooting the basketball well enough to be considered specialists. Andrew Wiggins also has the potential to be able to knock down threes, but right now, he shoots more long two-pointers and drives towards the basket, creating many free throw attempts per game.
This is where Buddy Hield comes in. The 22-year-old former Oklahoma Sooner shot phenomenally throughout his senior season. He averaged almost nine three-point attempts a game, hitting 45% of them. While averaging 25 points a game this season, Hield led the Sooners to the final four.
Hield would instantly make the Timberwolves a better three-point shooting team. It's not a given that LaVine will be the other starting wing opposite of Wiggins, so it would give an opportunity for Hield to come in and compete right off the bat. Granted, I believe LaVine showcased a lot of great play during the second half of the season when he was finally inserted into the starting lineup, but he has a lot to prove to Thibodeau if he wants to retain his position as the lead shooting guard.
Hield is a strong slasher and catch-and-shoot player; he loves to pull up for threes in the transition game as well. He is very good at creating space for himself to get good looks at the basket. He's not the most physically gifted athlete, but he makes up for that by playing tough and constantly puts in the effort.
If Hield is designated off the bench, expect him to still get a lot of minutes throughout the game, and he could even be out on the court during crunch time if the Wolves need a big three-point shot.
A Trade in the Works?
As I mentioned earlier, the Timberwolves are in a very good position. They should be able to draft a good player to help the overall development of the team as a whole, or they could ultimately end up trading their pick, looking for an established veteran to help accelerate the probability of the Wolves making the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
There are rumors heating up (again) that the Timberwolves are very, very interested in obtaining the services of Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls. I have my reservations on what the cost could be to get Jimmy Butler (Thank you, but no thank you), but if the Wolves are able to get him without giving up any of the trio of Towns, Wiggins, or LaVine— I say go for it.
There could be a three-team-trade in the works, or the Bulls just might flat out refuse to trade him to the Timberwolves due to the fact of the bad breakup that they and Thibodeau had a few seasons ago.
Overall though, the NBA draft is a wonderful event that is full of surprises. Players, fans, and the media alike all love to speculate on who is getting drafted when and where, and what blockbuster trade is most likely to happen.
The whole NBA spectrum could be changed, channeled by #Wojbombs— or it could just end up being a nice, quiet night. A night where everything goes as planned and there aren't too many surprises.
I for one, like a little drama, and will most definitely be at the Target Center to watch it all unfold. Happy drafting, basketball junkies.
*All statistics used within this article have been pulled from NBA.com/stats, basketball-reference.com, and draftexpress.com