Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves Draft Prospects: Playmakers

Photo Credit: Shanna Lockwood (USA Today Sports)

This is the third in a series of pre-draft articles about the Minnesota Timberwolves biggest needs heading into the 2019 season. Check out the first two, which focused on prospects who excel as shooters and defenders.

Just days before the 2019 NBA draft, it’s safe to assume that Gersson Rosas and the rest of the Minnesota Timberwolves reconstructed front office have a lot on their plates. Not only are they evaluating and attempting to project the capabilities of college prospects, but they’re also perusing the league for potential trade partners.

“We have to examine every opportunity — moving forward, moving back, moving out [of the draft]” Rosas explained at Tuesday’s pre-draft press conference, “we’ve reached out to every team in this league to see what our options are, and we’ll be prepared on Thursday to make the right decisions for the organization.”

With that in mind, imagining how the Wolves’ boss may approach his first draft is a precarious proposition. One thing is certain, though: Rosas is doing what he can to improve this team’s ability to playmake, connect on three-pointers and defend with a consistency that’s been lacking for some time.

So let’s discuss some players that Rosas may target in a bid to bolster these areas of need, be it with the 11th pick or elsewhere in the draft. After imagining the fit of shooters and defenders over the last two weeks, today’s column will focus on four prospects with playmaking potential.

Jarrett Culver

Measurables: Age (20), height (6’6.75”), weight (194), wingspan (6’9.5”)
Prior Season Stats: Games played (38), assists per-100 possessions (6.8), assist-to-turnover rate (1.4), TS% (.542)
Sam Vecenie’s Big Board Ranking: 5

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn (USA Today Sports)

Culver creates and takes difficult shots; while he did average 3.7 assists per game last season, his prowess as a playmaker is derived through field goals more often than dimes. He hits shots off of side-steps and step-backs, he pulls up in traffic, he’s shown flashes shooting off of the dribble. He’ll constantly make his defender work.

A sophomore guard from Texas Tech, Culver is projected to be gone by the time the 11th pick is on the clock. His size, versatility and scoring chops illuminate discernible upside that will intrigue executives who are hunting for a scorer. Should Culver add three-point range to his repertoire, he could one day become a primo bucket-getter.

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Culver doesn’t playmake by managing possessions and finding the right teammate ala Tyus Jones. He does so by fashioning unlikely shots in Derrick Rose-fashion.

To that extent, he’d be a fascinating fit with the 2019-20 Wolves. He could theoretically play alongside Jeff Teague or any of the point guards that were featured last season. And if Rose’s free agency leads the veteran to sign his next contract elsewhere, Culver could — in theory — assume the sixth-man role that Rose adopted last season. If Jones, a restricted free agent, receives an offer sheet that’s too rich for Rosas to match, Culver could become a pseudo-second-unit facilitator and garner a bounty of ball-handling reps.

And while a true point-guard may be more of a need for the Wolves today, the intrigue of trading up for a highly-coveted player would obviously extend far into the future.

“You don’t know what your needs are going to be in three or four years,” Rosas remarked on Tuesday, “so for us, our ability to acquire the best talent is our focus, and that’s what we’re looking to execute on.”

If he reaches his peak, Culver has an outside shot of becoming the kind of perimeter star that compliments Karl-Anthony Towns. But even if he doesn’t get all the way there, his playmaking could prove beneficial for a Wolves team that’s struggled to create since Jimmy Butler was traded last season.

In some ways, Culver is Josh Okogie’s antithesis as a guard prospect — which, given the importance of offense in today’s game, provides the Texas Tech product a higher ceiling in the league. Culver could certainly make for an intriguing complement to the Wolves’ crop of young players if Rosas falls in love with his talent.

How does he project in the other areas where the Wolves need help?

  • Culver takes threes with confidence and poise, but he didn’t convert them with efficiency last season (30%). It will be imperative that he improves that mark moving forward and there are reasons to believe that he can.
  • Culver is solid and smart on the defensive end, while his size (6’6.75”) gives him a level of versatility.

Coby White

Measurables: Age (19), height (6’4.75”), weight (191), wingspan (6’5”)
Prior Season Stats: Games played (35), assists per-100 possessions (7.5), assist-to-turnover rate (1.54), TS% (.556)
Sam Vecenie’s Big Board Ranking: 7

Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj (USA Today Sports)

Though White is usually described as a competent facilitator, scouts differ when discussing whether he’ll eventually be able to organize a successful NBA offense. But what he lacks as a passer at this point in time, he makes up for with speed, burst and shot creation.

The freshman’s first step was almost uncontainable at the NCAA level; he capitalized on that fact by showing an ability to blow by opponents, stop on a dime and create plenty of space all over the floor. His shot is quick, effective and rangy, though the height of its release may need to be raised. He lunges in transition, where defenders can have a hard time slowing him down. White is fast, agile and it looks like he can shoot — if the rest of his game rounds out over time, he could fit the modern NBA very well.

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Most mock drafts have White being selected sixth by the Suns or seventh by the Bulls, but that didn’t stop the Wolves from bringing him to Minneapolis for a one-on-one workout, nor did it stop White’s agent from accepting the invitation.

As was discussed in regard to shooting prospects, drafting a player like White or Darius Garland may significantly alter the Wolves’ short and long-term plans. In such a situation, last season’s mediocrity could be poised to persist for at least one more campaign given the struggles that rookie ball-handlers often endure. That being said, the Wolves’ most glaring hole is at the point-guard position — both White and Garland have the upside to nab that role for the foreseeable future.

How does he project in the other areas where the Wolves need help?

  • White shoots with confidence and range from beyond the arc, but he may need to work on his shot to get it off consistently at the NBA level.
  • Though his slender frame means he should only be asked to contain opposing point guards, scout’s praise White’s willingness to utilize his speed as a help defender.

Ty Jerome

Measurables: Age (21.5), height (6’5.5”), weight (194), wingspan (6’4”)
Prior Season Stats: Games played (37), assists per-100 possessions (10.6), assist-to-turnover rate (3.3), TS% (.555)
Sam Vecenie’s Big Board Ranking: 31

Photo Credit: Shanna Lockwood (USA Today Sports)

Jerome — a 22-year-old junior who played his college ball at the University of Virginia — is among the older perimeter prospects to have garnered any first-round buzz. And though his age may negatively impact how NBA front offices perceive his draft stock, it also provides him a more NBA-ready skill set than a number of his peers.

Over 105 games played in the ACC, Jerome posted 384 assists to just 145 turnovers; last year, specifically, the point guard (3.31 assist/turnover rate) was remarkably savvy.

His relatively middling athleticism will hinder his ability to get up shots at the NBA level, but he’s proven to be an organizer, a leader and a winner; at the very least, that should make Jerome worth a post-lottery look.

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When imagining Jerome’s fit with the Wolves, Jones is the factor that immediately comes to mind. They certainly aren’t identical prospects; Jerome is taller and a more established off-ball threat, though he hasn’t proven to be a game manager at Jones’ level. But both players project to have similar upsides: competent rotational guards who excel with the ball in their hands and can be counted on to start in a pinch.

If the Wolves were to move down and draft a player like Jerome, would that foreshadow a hesitance toward re-signing Jones once free agency begins?

How does he project in the other areas where the Wolves need help?

  • Jerome’s three-point shot appears to be effective (39% last season) and repeatable. At Virginia, he was praised for hitting catch-and-shoot threes off of movement.
  • Jerome used his height and energy to lock down opponents in the NCAA, but his suboptimal physical tools may make it difficult for him to keep up with NBA guards.

Grant Williams

Measurables: Age (20.5), height (6’7.75”), weight (240), wingspan (6’9.75”)
Prior Season Stats: Games played (37), assists per-100 possessions (5.7), assist-to-turnover rate (1.4), TS% (.646)
Sam Vecenie’s Big Board Ranking: 15

Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj (USA Today Sports)

Williams isn’t a perimeter player, but he was one of the NCAA’s best playmakers last season. As the fulcrum of Tennessee’s offense, the big man averaged nearly six assists per-100 possessions, a sizeable portion of them generated through passes out of and into the post.

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And that’s not the only glue-guy trait that this 22-year-old exhibits: experts praise the sturdy screens that he sets, his improved shooting stroke and his intelligence as a team-first defender. It’s easy to imagine those attributes aiding the Wolves in a vacuum; any concern around drafting Williams would revolve around positional fit.

In 2019-20, Dario Saric is slated to start next to Towns, Robert Covington will situationally fill in at the four, and Gorgui Dieng can be sprinkled into two-center lineups. This roster, at present, has good front court depth and loads of resources devoted its way. Unless his talents prove too potent to overlook, could Williams find a meaningful spot in that rotation?

Maybe the new front office isn’t intent on re-signing Dario Saric and would thus like to identify a successor at power forward. In such a scenario, Williams — like Brandon Clarke — could be sensibly drafted and developed. But unless he’s labeled the unabashed best player available, it’s difficult to rationalize investing in Williams given the Wolves’ limited resources.

How does he project in the other areas where the Wolves need help?

  • Williams wasn’t asked to shoot many three-pointers at Tennessee, but his improvements from the mid-range, free-throw and three-point lines suggest he could someday extend to NBA range.
  • Williams is a tough defender who’s especially touted for his instincts on that end, but he may need to get faster to stick with wings at the next level.
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Photo Credit: Shanna Lockwood (USA Today Sports)

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