Y’all remember 2019? Back when you could go to a bar, to work or even an NBA game? Those were the days. I’m headed back to the 2019 draft to examine how the Wolves draft night trade affected the team.
The Minnesota Timberwolves traded Dario Saric and the No. 11 pick to the Phoenix Suns for the No. 6 pick. At the time, the target was believed to be Darius Garland. The Wolves needed a point guard of the future, and Garland looked to be the best point guard in the class behind Ja Morant. Unfortunately, Garland was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers, which left the Wolves to select Jarrett Culver.
Culver has had a bigger impact on the Timberwolves culinary team than their basketball team so far. The article I linked there is worth the read, but long story short, Culver refused to eat any eggs unless his mom made them, and the team chef went on a journey to recreate mommy’s eggs. Moving forward, I will be referring to Culver as “Eggman.”
Thus far, Eggman’s struggles in his NBA got me thinking about how he compares to other players from the 2019 draft class. I’m going to play a game of “what-if” and look specifically at two players: Cam Johnson and Coby White.
What If the Wolves Selected Cam Johnson?
Johnson was selected with the No. 11 pick that the Wolves traded to Phoenix for No. 6. For those unfamiliar with Johnson, he is a 6’8″, 210-pound forward out of North Carolina. He’s played almost all of his minutes in the NBA as a power forward.
Much has been written about the Timberwolves’ power forward position — or lack thereof. First, I want to assure you that I understand that it’s a bit of an illogical assertion to assume that if the Wolves had kept their pick in last season’s draft, they would have selected Johnson. Every team’s draft board is different, and I don’t think anyone had Johnson as high as the Suns did.
But I’m playing “what-if,” so just try to have some fun, okay?
The Wolves have a sharpshooting power forward in Juancho “El Launcho” Hernangomez, but El Launcho has struggled to find his footing so far. This season, he is shooting 39.7% from the field. If he’s not scoring the basketball, he is a detriment to this team because of his poor defense. He’s got stiffer hips than my white family doing the cha-cha slide at a wedding. All this being said, how does Johnson compare to El Launcho? Here are their numbers since Johnson entered the league:
I am using BPM from the 2019-20 season only because the Wolves have been blown out so often, so the BPM numbers from this year don’t reflect reality.
Johnson has clearly been the better player in this timeframe. Going further back in El Launcho’s career doesn’t help his case. His best season was 2017-18 with the Denver Nuggets. He played 70 games, started 25 and finished the season shooting 36.5%, with a BPM of -1.1.
The idea of Hernangomez next to Towns is to provide shooting 1 through 5. There should be enough shooting gravity from the pair to create lots of space in the middle for ball handlers to operate in theory. Hernangomez has been looking less like El Launcho and more like El Please Don’t Launch, Oh. Imagine if the Wolves had a shooter with some real firepower next to Towns.
What If the Wolves Drafted Coby White?
As I mentioned above, the Wolves were targeting Garland to fill their point-guard-of-the-future role. But, rather than selecting the next best point guard, they trusted their board and picked Eggman. Normally, I am a big advocate for trusting your board. Drafting for fit can result in missing out on the highest level talent, but that’s only true if your board actually reflects reality. In the case of Culver vs. White, I think the Wolves missed out on the better fit and the better player.
I wouldn’t call White a sure thing by any means. Both he and Eggman struggled out of the gate. Let’s take a quick look at their career stats. Again, I’m using BPM from last season only.
Clearly, White is far from perfect. His low field goal percentage is definitely alarming. But much of that is due to his poor shot selection. Last season White took about 27% of his shots from floater to mid-range. That’s not an outrageous number, but he shot a combined 34.9% on those shots. This season, his shot profile looks similar, but he finds himself getting better looks, and his shooting has jumped to 43% from that range.
The most important and impactful piece of this “what-if” is to wonder if the Wolves would’ve traded for D’Angelo Russell if they had a promising young point guard on the roster. I’ve been critical of the DLo trade, not because I’m some Andrew Wiggins stan — trust me, I’m not — but I do believe that the Wolves gave up too much for Russell.
No, I don’t think that Coby White is better than DLo. I don’t even think that White has that good chance to be better than DLo in the future. Really, I just want the Wolves to have their pick in this upcoming draft. There look to be some real studs at the top of this draft class, and Minnesota still lacks the all-star talent they need to compete.
To be clear, neither White nor Culver is that all-star talent. But I’d rather take a shot on White, whoever the Wolves would’ve picked this year, and a young player from the 2021 draft over Culver and Russell. Remember, we are on a different timeline here, and the Wolves probably don’t have the No. 1 pick.
Obviously, it’s hard to go back and predict all the moves that would’ve happened if the Wolves drafted White instead of Culver. I’m sure that Rosas would still have made a series of moves that were as unpredictable as the moves he made in reality. Maybe the Wolves don’t trade for Malik Beasley. Maybe Dario Saric is still on this team. Maybe the Wolves end up with Tyrese Haliburton instead of Anthony Edwards. Maybe that’s a good thing.
That’s a lot of maybes. The bottom line here is that Eggman has been supremely disappointing to this point in his career. For every flash he has shown on defense, every spectacular dunk, every display of athleticism, there has been a clanked three-pointer, a hitched free-throw attempt or a foolish turnover to match. Watching players who were available for the Wolves to draft start to flourish while Culver continues to flounder will have me asking, “What if?” until he turns things around.