The Minnesota Timberwolves got what they wanted, a high-caliber President of Basketball Operations to look over this young and emerging team. Tim Connelly comes over from the Denver Nuggets after leading them to five consecutive winning seasons, four playoffs appearances, and a conference finals appearance. Most famously, he drafted two-time MVP Nikola Jokic in the second round. It’s an impressive resume, a great addition to a franchise looking to turn its fortunes around.
The Wolves come into the draft under Connelly with four picks after having none this past season. Luckily for the Wolves, Connelly has had plenty of success drafting in the mid-1st and -2nd where the Wolves currently sit, setting them up nicely to see what he is capable of. Not to mention, he’s shown the ability to maneuver around that similar pick range to select the player he wants.
The Nuggets hired Connelly after two short stints with the Washington Wizards and the Charlotte Hornets. He quickly made his presence known in Denver, trading along the margins of a mediocre team led by the likes of Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried for youth. Connelly started the youth movement with excellent trades, such as swapping Doug McDermott, the 11th overall selection, to the Chicago Bulls for 16th pick Gary Harris and 19th pick Jusuf Nurkic on draft day. Harris and Nurkic have had better careers than McDermott and a collective 10 seasons in Denver.
Connelly continued his retooling, acquiring raw, athletic wing Will Barton. Barton quickly became a staple of the rotation and a vital role player. All they had to give up was two aging players, and Connelly also acquired a 1st round pick that later became Malik Beasley. Another savvy move.
The Nuggets were never a lottery team, so they had to find value in the middle of the first round. Therefore, Denver had to be flexible and ensure they drafted the right player. Taking Jokic at 41 was a good start, but they made multiple good selections that set them up to continue the upward trajectory. He didn’t just have an MVP fall in his lap. He continued to make moves that kept the team permanently in playoffs relevancy.
Denver’s selection of Jamal Murray in 2017 truly began to turn things around. They went from a middling squad to five straight playoff appearances. Murray had an immediate impact in his rookie year, averaging 10 points per game. He went on to build upon his average per game over the next four seasons, becoming more of an offensive threat and trustable running mate to Jokic. Murray’s career average of 16.3 ppg puts him third in his draft class.
Connelly also drafted sharpshooter Malik Beasley in that same class, someone every Wolves fan knows. Malik had limited playing time in Denver but still made an impact. In his final full season in Denver, he scored 11.3 points while shooting 40.3% from 3 in a bench role.
More reinforcements came in the form of excellent backup guard Monte Morris. The Nuggets drafted him 51st in the second round after an incredible career at Iowa St. Monte has been a high-impact player off the bench and stepped up tremendously this past season. He averaged his career-high in points at 12.6 while maintaining his efficiency and playmaking ability during Murray’s ACL injury recovery. Finding any value from a 2nd round selection is impressive enough, and Morris has been above and beyond that.
Michael Porter Jr. and Bones Hyland are Connelly’s most recent draft finds. MPJ was one of the most highly regarded prospects. He planned on attending his home college in Washington but elected to follow their coach, who was fired and moved to Missouri. However, back injuries plagued him the whole season. He only saw time in three games where he did not look himself, averaging 10 points per game on 33.3% from the field and 30% shooting from three. The back issues continued to linger and scare teams in pre-draft workouts allowing him to fall to 15, where Denver happily took the risk.
Porter missed his rookie season due to back injuries once again, but he showed his potential as a scorer, averaging 19 points per game in his sophomore season. He earned himself a rookie max extension of 5-years, $145.3 million that can be worth up to $172 million. But Denver may not get value on it because of Porter’s continuing back injuries. Still, he’s an incredibly talented player for the 15th overall pick.
Bones Hyland out of VCU was also a fantastic pick. Michael Malone does incredibly well with his multiple guard lineups, allowing Bones to earn a lot more playing time. He quickly developed into a rotational player who can get you a bucket. Picking up a mid-major player at 26 who has an immediate impact on your team is always a victory. Bones will continue to shine as an offensive spark plug off the bench for Denver with plenty of room to grow.
While Connelly has done well in the draft, he’s also had some miscues. He traded the Utah Jazz, a division rival, their two best players. Denver drafted Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert but flipped them to Utah for little return. He received now-rotational journeyman Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon, who hasn’t played in the league since 2018-19 for Mitchell. He flipped Gobert for Erick Green and cash considerations. Not his greatest move.
These are the glaring woes within the Connelly regime surrounding the draft, but he is more than qualified to take over this Wolves team that has picks 19, 40, 48, and 50. Turning the roster from something average to a consistent playoff team fits Minnesota’s timeline. The Wolves are kinda where the Nuggets were when Connelly took over.
He has shown the ability to be active, savvy, and make the most of the selections in the past. We will see Connelly in his element immediately in the 2022 draft.