If Only the Minnesota Timberwolves Had Drafted Jamal Murray

Photo credit: Isaiah J. Downing (USA TODAY Sports)

Happy Tuesday, good friends.

What has happened since the last time we talked?

  • The Minnesota Timberwolves still have the first pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. This is good news!
  • Glen Taylor is reportedly in talks with a Grizzlies minority owner to sell the team. This is a deal that would not include Kevin Garnett, which certainly won’t help Garnett’s already-rocky relationship with the franchise.
  • The NBA playoffs continued on after a brief, and necessary, boycott last week stemming from Jacob Blake being shot seven times by the Kenosha Police Department.

Topics for today’s column? I put together my first mailbag for Zone Coverage last week, but there were a few topics that I wasn’t able to hit on.

Let’s party.

Jamal Murray Is Giving Timberwolves’ Fans Nightmares

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray has been absolutely tearing up the NBA playoffs so far. He forced a Game 7 after putting up 50 points on Sunday night. Murray has averaged a ridiculous 34 points, 6.7 assists and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting 58.5% from the field and 57.4% from the 3-point line.

It had Wolves Twitter all like, “Ummm. . . remember when we drafted Kris Dunn instead of Murray? That was fun.”

It was indeed not fun. The Wolves drafted Dunn fifth overall while Murray went seventh.

So, what happened and how did the Wolves screw it up so badly?

Let’s pump the brakes on the finger pointing here.

Murray was very much in the conversation to go to the Wolves, but the fear was that his offensive-first approach wouldn’t mesh with coach Tom Thibodeau. I’ve always struggled with the logic of this thinking. If a player can do something really, really well, don’t you just try to figure the rest out later? Especially when it’s someone with so much obvious offensive talent like Murray?

Then again, this was Thibodeau we were talking about. Instead of letting a younger player with upside play, Thibodeau was more likely to play someone who was past his prime but knew “the spots” he needed to get to. That’s why very few players have actually developed under Thibodeau.

For what it’s worth, most thought of the Dunn pick as a win at the time. The NBA rookies even voted for Dunn as the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Obviously that didn’t happen. Dunn was limited offensively and didn’t exactly have the best attitude as a young player. After one nice Summer League game, Dunn hurt his wrist. After that, the season was a complete nightmare for Dunn on the court. Off the court, he was often grumpy and didn’t partake in team events.

Looking back at draft misses isn’t fun for any team, but it’s especially been the case for the Timberwolves over the last 30 years. The next two picks after Dunn were Buddy Hield and Murray. The knock on Hield was that he was older (he was 24 when he entered the draft).

Hield is a 41.1% 3-point shooter.

Before his second season, the Wolves sent Dunn to the Bulls as part of the Jimmy Butler trade, so it might not have mattered either way. Had the Wolves drafted Murray or Hield, maybe they would have been traded to Chicago, too. But Dunn was considered a throw-in piece after averaging 3.8 points per game while shooting 37.7% from the field as a rookie. Both Murray and Hield had much stronger rookie seasons. Murray averaged 9.9 points while playing in all 82 game at 19 years old while Hield shot 39.1% from the 3-point line while starting 55 games. I’d like to think those two had more value than Dunn at the time of the deal and wouldn’t have been dealt.

Then again, maybe they both end up in Thibodeau’s rookie doghouse and never get a fair shake to begin with.

I’m not one to toot my own horn (just kidding, I love giving it a toot!), but here’s what I wrote about Murray prior to the 2016 draft:

Murray is a solid shooter and showed that last year, hitting more than 40 percent of his 3-point shots. That’s something that should translate to the next level. He can hit shots as a spot-up shooter, but is most impressive coming off screens.

He’s not the most athletic player, but he has great touch when he’s driving and a great feel for scoring the ball. … For me, Murray is an intriguing player because he’s very, very gifted offensively. When it comes to being a natural scorer, not many players are as developed as Murray.

I’m not a genius (my girlfriend will confirm this in less than a second), and I didn’t have a crystal ball. This was all stuff we knew about Murray. Most predicted he’d, at the very least, be very good offensively.

Whatever, though. The Wolves don’t have Murray or Hield, and looking back, it was a huge miss. It’s hard not to think of what a core of Murray/LaVine/Towns would have been. Not much defense, but that’s kind of where the team is at now regardless.

If you’re redrafting the top 10 picks of the 2016 NBA Draft, it probably looks something like this:

  1. 76ers: Ben Simmons
  2. Lakers: Pascal Siakam
  3. Celtics: Jaylen Brown
  4. Suns: Jamal Murray
  5. Timberwolves: Brandon Ingram
  6. Pelicans: Buddy Hield
  7. Nuggets: Domantas Sabonis
  8. Kings: Malcolm Brogdon
  9. Raptors: Caris LeVert
  10. Bucks: Jakob Poeltl

What could have been…

Why So Down On Edwards?

In last week’s column, I was probably a little too down on Georgia guard Anthony Edwards. While I do like LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman more, you can’t ignore the fact that really smart basketball people like Edwards. That means something.

I don’t love Edwards’ shot selection and the motor issues bug me, but he was on a Georgia team where he didn’t get much help at all. Friend and WCCO host Henry Lake and I discussed that last week and how if everything goes right, Edwards could remind us a bit of Bradley Beal in a few years.

Obviously, that’s best-case scenario and the hope for at No. 1 pick would be that you know what you’re getting beforehand, but like we’ve talked about, this draft is different. There will be stars and Hall of Famers, but it’s not quite so obvious who those players will be yet. Generally, you at least have an inkling of a player or two that will be really good.

Lake makes some really smart points about why Edwards should be the No. 1 pick. I don’t necessarily agree with everything, but it was a fun conversation. I can’t find the link to the audio now, but I’m sure all be on with Lake soon. I’ll be sure to share that link.

One More Mailbag Question

A question from a reader that I wanted to hit on but wasn’t able to last week:

In your opinion, is it more important to trade the #1 pick and win now to keep DLO and KAT happy and all in the long term? (not try to force a trade before their contracts are up). Or, do you think we can take time to develop our draft picks and legit compete towards the end of those contracts and still keep them in a Wolves Jersey? – Nick C.

This is a tricky decision all teams face. It’s all about matching up with timelines while at the same time trying to stay competitive. The Wolves rushed their timeline in 2017 when they traded for Jimmy Butler, and while they got to the playoffs (and lost in five games), they are paying for that trade now.

The same can be said for franchises like the New Orleans Pelicans when they tried to put a bunch of average veterans around Anthony Davis instead of building through the draft. The fear was if New Orleans wasn’t competitive, Davis would walk. While that ended up being true, it was because there was no potential for the Pelicans outside of Davis. Had there been a Robin to Davis’ Batman, maybe he wouldn’t have been so disgruntled. The 76ers are the latest victims, going all in for trades for Butler and Tobias Harris. They punted on the Butler experiment, only to then sign 34-year-old Al Horford to a huge deal. None of those players fit the same timeline as Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons and they just got swept by the Celtics and fired their coach.

The Wolves are in a good spot right now with their core. Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley are on the same timeline. Is that enough to win in the West? Probably not, but it’s a good start. If you can get someone like Devin Booker (which is unlikely), sure, trading the No. 1 pick makes sense. But if you’re trading it for someone older, let’s say someone like C.J. McCollum strictly for an example, that wouldn’t make much sense to me.

You need to show Towns and Russell that you want to build around them to build a sustainable winner. It’s about them buying in and Gersson Rosas sticking to his plan on not trying to rush it. As we’ve seen, that’s much easier said than done.

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