Timberwolves

The Wolves Might Have To Look Deep On Their Big Board

Photo Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

With the final ping pong ball being graced by the logo of the Orlando Magic last week, the NBA has officially set the order for the 2022 NBA draft. Pundits have made their mock drafts, headlined by Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr., Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, and Duke’s Paolo Banchero. But after the first few selections, it’s an open question where the rest of the prospects will land.

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ new-look front office will need to do their diligence to find players who will help them build upon last season’s success. But with the 19th overall selection, the Wolves will likely have to scratch off several names from the top of their big board.

It’s been apparent for some time now that the Wolves need an upgrade at power forward. Everyone loves Jarred Vanderbilt. With his constant motor and willingness to do the dirty work, he’s the sort of player every team would love to have on its roster. He also proved to be a viable option for defending some of the best perimeter players in the league this season. The biggest downside to Vanderbilt’s game is his lack of shooting, which was on full display during Minnesota’s opening-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies. And for a team that’s offense is centered around spacing, the Timberwolves are in desperate need of a 4 who can keep the opposing defense honest on the perimeter.

I recently wrote that Ohio State’s EJ Liddell is the perfect prospect for the Wolves. A 6’7″, 240 lbs. power forward with the ability to knock down threes, alter shots at the rim, and guard multiple positions, Liddell could quickly earn himself a role as Minnesota’s starting PF. But with such a versatile player projected to go in the mid-to-late first round, several teams with higher picks than the Timberwolves could snag the former Buckeye.

The Chicago Bulls appear most likely to take Liddell before 19. The Bulls looked to contend at the beginning of the season, but they quickly showcased their lack of defense on the low block. Night after night, any opposing player with a competent post game was making light work of a Chicago team with Nikola Vucevic anchoring its defense. Recently, the Bulls have also shown that they prefer to draft versatile forwards, having taken Patrick Williams with the fourth overall pick in 2020. For a team that shares the same division with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, it makes sense for Chicago to add depth at power forward.

Aside from an all-around wing, Minnesota’s current roster could use an additional 7-footer. Anyone who watched the Wolves’ opening-round series against Memphis could see it. The Grizzlies virtually played backup center Naz Reid, a player not known for his ability to defend the cup, off of the floor. Therefore, it’s clear that the Timberwolves’ front office needs to make a move this summer for a shot-blocking big. With the University of Memphis’ Jalen Duren likely coming off the board within the first 10-12 picks, Duke’s Mark Williams is the next best option. Standing at 7’0″ with a 7’7″ wingspan, the ACC Defensive Player Of the Year could immediately contribute to a Timberwolves team who struggled with rim protection.

Mock draft after mock draft, I have to read about how unlikely it is for Williams to slide past the Charlotte Hornets, who have the 13th- and 15th-overall selections. Charlotte finished the regular season with a defensive rating of 113.1, 22nd in the league. Seriously, what did they expect to happen with Mason Plumlee in their starting five?! But the Hornets didn’t just struggle defensively. They also failed to make it past the play-in tournament for the second consecutive season. For a young team with an All-Star point guard in LaMelo Ball, NBA fans should expect to see Charlotte’s President of Basketball Operations Mitch Kupchak make a win-now move this summer to help with his team’s defensive lapses. And with two mid-round picks, it shouldn’t be a shock to see the former Blue Devil don a teal and purple hat come draft night.

With the news that the Wolves hired Tim Connelly as their next POBO, fans of the franchise quickly did their research on the former Denver Nuggets executive. He’s an NBA draft genius who struggles in some other areas of basketball operations. Yes, he drafted two-time MVP Nikola Jokic in the second round. But he also offered a max contract to Michael Porter Jr., who’s had back surgery three times. However, with a new team and trade-expert Sachin Gupta, Connelly could look to validate his ability to make impactful trades. Ironically, Malik Beasley is Minnesota’s most likely trade candidate.

With his team-friendly contract and the ability to knock down both open and contested threes, Beasley’s name is constantly circulating the trade rumor mill. If a deal centered around Malik helps the Wolves take the next step, I see no reason why he couldn’t be moved. How could Connelly replace what the sixth-year shooter provides for the team that led the NBA in 3’s this season? Drafting Ochai Agbaji.

A senior wing from Kansas, Agbaji, 22, would fit perfectly in Beasley’s void left if the Wolves trade him. Having helped Kansas to a National Championship by knocking down 41% on over six threes per contest, Agbaji is one of the best shooters from deep in the draft. And with a 6’5″ frame, Agbaji possesses both the NBA size and potential to be a capable 3-and-D player at the next level.

Recency bias is the only problem Minnesota could have with landing Ochai at 19. NBA teams love college players who have a college title on their résumé. And I see no reason why Sam Hink-I mean Sam Presti wouldn’t mind taking Ochai at 12. The Oklahoma City Thunder attempted the 7th-most threes, but shot them at a league-worst 32.3%. OKC also finished the regular season in the bottom half of teams’ defensive ratings. And with OKC’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander already nearly 24, Presti could look at finding SGA a more NBA-ready running mate.

With less than a month away from the 2022 NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves have plenty of options for upgrading their roster. Besides the 19th pick, they also have three chances at landing a useful player in the second round. But again, other teams share some of the same off-season needs as the Wolves. And whether or not any of the prospects above dawn the blue and green next season, Minnesota’s newly-constructed front office will only have one chance at making a lasting impression on the team’s loyal fanbase.

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Photo Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

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