The Minnesota Timberwolves stole the show at last year’s draft when they traded for Jimmy Butler. This year it was Adrian Wojnarowski, ESPN’s well-connected insider, who dug deep into the thesaurus to work around a pact between reporters at ESPN, Yahoo! and Turner Sports that embargoed tipping picks until they were announced on ESPN’s broadcast.
The Phoenix Suns were “determined” to select Zhaire Smith at No. 16. The San Antonio Spurs were “fixated” on Lonnie Walker at No. 18. The Atlanta Hawks, who selected ahead of Minnesota at No. 19 as a result of the ill-fated Adreian Payne trade in 2015, were had “zeroed in” on Kevin Huerter. Twitter was saturated with Woj memes and suggestions for his next loophole phrase. Media outlets power ranked his tweets the next day.
It was a side act that nearly stole the show on a night that has helped the NBA become an 11-month sport.
But it was Shams Charania, sans wit, who broke the Wolves pick.
We may never know if the Wolves “had a laser on,” “were enamored with” or “tantalized” by Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie in the moment. But an hour later, after they had also landed Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop, Tom Thibodeau and his right-hand man, Scott Layden, seemed happy with their haul.
“We’re very excited to add Josh and Keita. We thought we really addressed some of our needs: the versatility of both guys is important for a team,” said Thibodeau.
“Josh, of course, his ability to play multiple positions, the length, the wingspan is critical. He plays both sides of the ball. With Keita, we were really surprised he was still there. But we liked him a lot.”
The Wolves considered Bates-Diop at No. 20, and many projections had him going in the first round. Okogie was perhaps a bit of a stretch at No. 20, but given the string of wings selected ahead of him, Thibodeau and Layden were concerned he may not have been there if they had traded down to acquire multiple picks late in the first round.
“We had a lot of action,” said Layden. “We felt it it was hard to move up — we looked at that thoroughly. We felt the asking price was a lot, and we felt better off staying where we were.
“And then there were a couple of options, and good options, to move back. We just felt that we really felt that Josh would be a good player for us for a long time, so to go back and potentially maybe not get him — we didn’t think Josh would be there for one, and then with some of the other players we didn’t know if they’d be there or not.”
Last year, Thibodeau and Layden focused on adding age to the roster in order to provide mentorship for Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, as well as instant scoring to the offense. In Butler’s case, Thibodeau added a defensive stalwart who he trusted late in games and brought an intensity he wanted the rest of his team to adapt. Taj Gibson, another former Bull, was a defensive-minded player that had a good season playing alongside Towns. And the ageless Jamal Crawford created instant offense, while playing the friendly ying to Butler’s gruff yang in the locker room.
Perhaps the most controversial move was adding Jeff Teague, who would take over for Ricky Rubio as the team’s point guard. Rubio polarized the Wolves fanbase, leaving seemingly half of the team’s supporters in anguish over the departed passing wizardry and boyish charm he took with him to Utah, and the other half happy to see his poor shooting and slight frame shipped out the door.
Teague never played for Thibodeau before coming to Minnesota, but beat his Bulls in the playoffs with the Atlanta Hawks and, like Butler, Teague and Crawford, had a lot of playoff experience with Atlanta and the Indiana Pacers.
But experience brought a hefty price tag.
Crawford opted out this year, but Butler was signed under the old max, Teague got $19 million per year and Gibson got $14 million. The Wolves had to add wing depth this year without running up against the cap.
“Regardless of where you draft, it’s always good to have a draft pick,” said Layden. “And the franchise traded away a draft pick years ago, and I think we’re fortunate that we were able to recover back one this year.”
“Having a pick this year was critical for us, just to continue to grow. You always want to add young players,” echoed Thibodeau. “We have to have a blend of young players, and players that are in the middle, and obviously the older veterans.”
Okogie fits the mold of the coveted “3-and-D player,” a wing that can both defend and hit the three. He shot 38 percent from beyond the arc at Georgia Tech, and can guard multiple positions given his length, muscular frame and agility. He needs to learn to finish at the rim, if he’s going to get the benefit of calls in the NBA, and has a low shooting release.
Bates-Diop has open questions as to which position he will play, is a rigid dribbler and had questions about his motor. But he’s also projected to space the floor with his NBA range, score in close with floaters and layups and defend multiple positions.
Both are prototypes of wings that fit the mold of modern NBA offenses.
“That’s the way the league right now,” said Thibodeau. “You’re seeing a lot of different combinations of point guard and three wings and a big. And I think also you’re seeing two point guards together with two wings, and one big.”
Thibodeau and Layden both seemed satisfied with their choice to keep both the No. 20 and 48 picks, and feel that they essentially got two first-rounders in this year’s draft.
“Scott felt this way all along,” said Thibodeau, “that the draft, where we were picking from, the 15th [pick] through into the second round, there wasn’t a big difference amongst a lot of different players.”
They appear to have gotten players that both fit a team need, and also possess skill sets that should translate to the modern NBA. As to whether Okogie, 19, who spent two years at Georgia Tech, and Bates-Diop, 22, who spent four years at Ohio State, will make an impact right away Thibodeau says we’ll just have to wait and see.
“A lot will depend on how quickly they can adjust to the pro game,” he said. “Both guys have experience, and have been through multiple college seasons, but they’re still young, very young.”
Young and versatile. Thibodeau and Layden had a laser on them all along, appear enamored with them and some might even say they’re a bit tantalizing.