Timberwolves

The Timberwolves Had A Strong Draft

Photo Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

At long last, the wait is over! The time of coping with the Minnesota Timberwolves playoff defeat by deep-diving into game tape to speculate on which draft prospects will fit best is done. We can finally begin looking towards the 2022-23 season because the NBA draft is over, and we have answers.

Tim Connelly and the rest of the Timberwolves front office made several trades in every direction: down, up, in, out, and generally around. There were so many moves that it became hard to track whether any of the moves were better than what they would have had if they had changed nothing. Regardless, the process of how the Wolves choose their draft picks seemed strong. In his pre-draft interview, Connelly emphasized that he likes to draft players who don’t have to be convinced to get in the gym. Beyond that, the focus for the Wolves front office seemed to be primarily on defensive-oriented players who could be a part of the Wolves’ core long-term.

Walker Kessler

At pick 22, the Timberwolves selected Walker Kessler, a center from Auburn University. Kessler is huge, measuring in at  7’1”, 256 lbs. with a 7’4.25” wingspan, and he uses that size to be a dominant defensive force in the paint. Kessler tallied 4.6 blocks and 1.1 steals per game on an average of 25.6 minutes this season. He also had two ridiculous games with over 10 blocks, both of which were triple-doubles with points and rebounds. Kessler’s outstanding play earned him both the SEC and the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award and was selected for the All-SEC First Team.

 

Kessler has surprising athleticism for his size and can move fluidly in drop coverage and makeup ground quickly to contest shots in help defense. There are some concerns about Kessler’s ability to stay with wings in a switch-heavy defensive scheme. However, there is reason to believe this won’t be a huge issue long-term. He will likely play backup minutes in his first year, and the Wolves won’t need him on the court against small-ball lineups, which have traditionally given centers problems. In addition, we’ve seen how impactful a great rim protector like Rudy Gobert can be for a team’s defense, even if they’re not especially mobile or switchable.

Given that the Wolves were recently rumored to be interested in Gobert and Clint Capela, two players that Kessler projects to be similar to, this draft pick makes a lot of sense. The Timberwolves front office has been vocal about wanting to get Karl-Anthony Towns rebounding and rim protection help, and Kessler covers both bases. It also allows the Wolves to experiment and see if playing a big beefy center next to KAT works in this iteration of the roster without having to trade valuable players and draft assets in a trade for a big-name player to find out.

Wendell Moore Jr.

At pick No. 26, the Timberwolves selected Wendell Moore Jr., a wing from Duke. Moore has solid size for a 2/3 hybrid at 6’5.5” and 215 lbs. He’s a strong perimeter defender and can use his long 7’0.5” wingspan to poke away steals from defenders with ease, averaging 1.4 per game. Moore can read passing lanes well and often comes away with clean free-safety style interceptions. Stylistically, he should fit the Wolves’ defense perfectly, as players like Anthony Edwards and Jarred Vanderbilt’s interception skills were part of what made Minnesota’s scramble defense so dynamic.

Moore should also fit in well with the Wolves on offense. He got used to playing on an offense where Mike Krzyzewski did not feature him at Duke. Moore played with three other first-round draft picks this year, including the 1st overall pick Paolo Banchero, the 15th pick Mark Williams, and the 16th pick AJ Griffin. Moore knows how to find his teammates when they’re open, is willing to make the extra pass when someone else has a better shot available, and has an impressive drive-and-kick game where he can make clean cross-court passes.

Even with his unselfish play, he averaged the second-most points per game last season at Duke with 13.4. He also led the team in assists at 4.4 and grabbed 5.3 rebounds per game, which is impressive for his position. Moore also shot 41.3% from three-point range and above 80% from the free-throw line. That’s usually a good sign that a player’s shot is mechanically sound and will continue to develop.

Moore seems like a tremendous late first-round pick for the Timberwolves, given that he has both a solid floor and decently high ceiling. He will be 21 years old going into next season. Therefore, Moore should have a more polished, NBA-ready game coming into the league than many younger players have. In the short term, he should be able to fit into Minnesota’s rotation as a 3-and-D wing. He can play the fast-paced, pass-first system offense that the bench mob, led by tempo conductor Jordan McLaughlin, already plays so well.

In the long term, he could be an essential secondary creator for the Wolves offense with a much more well-rounded game than many of the Wolves wings like Malik Beasley or Jaylen Nowell. Again, given that Beasley has been in trade rumors for over a year, it seems natural to draft a potential successor who projects to be the type of defender that the Wolves need to take the next step.

Second-Round Fliers

The second round of the NBA draft has many more boom or bust prospects. The Timberwolves’ front office decided to take a swing on Josh Minott and Matteo Spagnolo.

Minott is a strange prospect because he primarily came off the bench in his one season at Memphis and averaged only 14.6 minutes per game. Due to the small sample size, it’s hard to determine how effective he will be in the NBA. However, there were a lot of flashes of incredible athleticism, transition offense, and ability to finish around the rim in those 14.6 minutes. Minott averaged 18 points, 2.2 steals, 1.8 blocks, and 10.3 rebounds per 40 minutes, a decent but flawed way to estimate a player’s production if the Wolves give him more playing time.

It’s unlikely he’ll play a lot this season. However, if he’s able to develop long-term, he could be a switchable defensive threat like Jarred Vanderbilt while having a more dynamic game from the dunker’s spot like Miles Bridges. The main concern is that Minott, like Vando, struggles from beyond the arc. If he never develops his three-point shot, he may struggle to become a rotation player — unless the defensive skills he provides are elite.

 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Spagnolo has the potential to be an elite three-point shooter. His shot is incredibly smooth, and he doesn’t need much space to get it off either. Spagnolo played for Vanoli Cremona in Italy, where he scored 12.2 points per game on 44.1% shooting from three. In his highlight reel, he seems to have a good sense of how to create space for his shot in pick-and-roll actions and can hit some very smooth-looking shots from far beyond the arc.

Spagnolo plays like a Steph Curry disciple. He can compensate for his lack of burst speed with smart cuts and off-ball movement. Tim Connelly said in his post-draft interview that Spagnolo would play at least one more year in Italy before coming over. Once he gets a little more experience under his belt, we can hope he will come to Minnesota and be a lethal three-point shooter when the Wolves need extra scoring power.

Of course, we won’t know much about how these players will actually affect the Wolves’ ceiling as a team until we’ve seen each player get a decent amount of playing time in the regular season. However, our first chance to see the Timberwolves’ draft prospects dip their toes into the deep waters of NBA basketball will arrive sooner than you might think. The 2022 NBA Summer League will begin just two weeks after the draft on July 7th.

The young Wolves who play in summer league will have their first game on July 8th, where they will face off against blooming rivals, the Denver Nuggets. While none of the players drafted this year will have anything to do with that rivalry, it will be fun to see Trader Tim (or Traitor Tim, if you ask Kroenke Sports & Entertainment)’s crop of draft prospects match up against new Nuggets POBO Calvin Booth’s prospects. Official bragging rights over POBO and prospect status won’t be fully established until many years from now. Still, Summer League will at least give us a few more details about what this Timberwolves team will look like going into 2023.

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