Every year around April or May, NBA fans begin to look forward to the draft. It’s fun to speculate about which players would be the best fit for your team, and who has the most raw talent at the spot they draft. Naturally, everyone debates if their team should take a swing on a player with a ton of upside or a role player who is ready to step in and play Year 1 but may have less high of a ceiling. It’s also a way for fans whose favorite team is no longer in the playoffs to look towards the future and fantasize about the glory of what could come soon, rather than wallowing in the regret of what could have been.
Unfortunately for Timberwolves fans, there won’t be as many opportunities for this as we’re used to. The Wolves have no first round pick this year or any odd year through 2029 as a result of the Rudy Gobert trade. The Wolves have a second round pick this year. However it’s not until pick 53, and it’s not their own pick because they swapped picks with the Charlotte Hornets. While that does mean we have something small to look forward to in this year’s draft, it’s unlikely we would see the results this season.
Often, late second round picks are extremely inconsistent or have major flaws in their game, which is why they are lower in the draft. Many of them do not become long-term NBA players. Many players who could be late second round picks decide to avoid the draft so they can choose where they want to play, similar to how Naz Reid came to Minnesota. Even when teams find a diamond in the rough, those players often don’t get a chance to play real minutes in the NBA until their second or third season — no matter how good they play in the G League, as we’ve seen with Josh Minott.
However, just because the Wolves don’t currently have a first round draft pick doesn’t mean they won’t have one come draft night. Last week, scoop master on SKOR North’s Mackey & Judd, Darren Wolfson noted that the Timberwolves put in an interview request with Arkansas’ Anthony Black at the NBA combine. Black is a 6’7” point guard who’s a good passer and defender. Experts project him to be a lottery pick, ranging anywhere from 5 to about 12 depending on what mock drafts you look at. Of course, just because the Wolves interviewed Black does not mean that they are planning to trade into the draft to pick him, or trade into the draft at all. They could simply just be doing their due diligence in case of the unlikely scenario that someone comes to them with a godfather offer for one of their two big men on draft day.
Still, it means that the Wolves are at least considering trading into the lottery, and that they like Black’s game. And as we know, in the NBA almost anything can happen no matter how unexpected. If the Timberwolves front office decides the best plan is to get younger while building around Anthony Edwards, they could consider trading into the lottery. This draft is considered to potentially be one of the best drafts in a long time because of Victor Wembanyama and the depth of talent throughout.
Additionally, there are several teams in the lottery that seem to be considering moving their pick for players that would help them get better in the short-term. The Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, and the Washington Wizards have maintained that they want to build around their established superstars and may be open to trading their picks. There are also some weirder teams that could look to trade out. The Houston Rockets who are in hot pursuit of James Harden and seem to have a mandate from ownership to speed up their rebuild, and the Orlando Magic who have two lottery picks this year and are running out of roster spots for young prospects. If there were any draft worth trading into the lottery, it would probably be this one.
The Wolves don’t have a ton of assets to trade that would get them into the top 3. Outside of an unlikely nuclear option of trading Gobert or Karl-Anthony Towns, it may be more possible for them to trade into the mid- to late-lottery with role players, once the Big 3 of Wemby, Scoot Henderson, and Brandon Miller are off the board. Although it is difficult to tell how serious the Wolves are about entering this year’s draft, we know for sure that they are considering it.
Anthony Black makes sense as a target for the Timberwolves. Most importantly, he profiles as a player who could one day be a starting point guard with the proper development. However, he also profiles as a good fit next to Anthony Edwards.
Black made his mark on college basketball as a defender and a distributor. His long arms and instincts make him great at knocking balls out of passing lanes and providing transition opportunities for his team. Black averaged an impressive 2.1 steals per game in his lone season at Arkansas, and he also showed an ability to use his height to help rim protection averaging 0.6 blocks per game. He has the speed to stay in front of most 1s and the size to defend up positions with NBA 2s and 3s in switching actions.
Black has great instincts for finding cutters. He can throw accurate hit-ahead and lob passes on fast breaks, and is unselfish about making the extra pass if he sees a teammate who has a better shot than him. Black averaged 3.9 assists per game, and would likely see that number increase significantly if he is surrounded by NBA-level shooters. He’s also very strong, and was often able to score through contact in the paint, draw fouls, and complete and-1 opportunities. Black shot a very solid 51.3% from inside the arc, and averaged 5.3 free throw attempts per game while shooting 70.5% from the line.
Black also has some incredible athleticism, and that shines in his highlight reel. He is able to outrun defenders on fast breaks, and an impressive bounce that allows him to sky over smaller defenders on dunk attempts. The dunks themselves are explosive, and occasionally come as a surprise because he starts his leap from way farther back in the paint than is normal for most college athletes, even at his height.
Black’s inability to shoot from outside is the main weakness in his game. He only shot 30.1% from beyond the arc last season. I know how that sounds, and I know what you’re thinking. The Wolves have had pretty bad luck with guys whose biggest flaws are shooting. Ricky Rubio could never make the leap from star to All-Star because he couldn’t shoot consistently, especially from beyond the arc. And Jarrett Culver is now out of the league, mostly because he couldn’t shoot.
However, because Black is such a good passer and defender, his career arc is likely to look much more like Lonzo Ball’s than either of those former Wolves. If he never develops enough as a scorer to have the ball in his hands as a lead guard all the time, he can also play off the ball as a defense-focused wing. Additionally, Black’s shot looks pretty smooth, and many of his three-point misses were on target even if they rimmed out. I’m no shot doctor, but he doesn’t have the type of hitch in his motion or broken enough mechanics that would prevent him from improving as a shooter with an NBA coaching staff and more time to practice.
Black has other things he can do off ball on offense, too. He has good instincts for cutting to get open, and his size helps him pay off the passes he gets in the lane. He got easy dunks many times during the season when he recognized his defender was sleeping. He would also provide an outlet pass for teammates who were being trapped on-ball and needed an escape pass. Black is effective at crashing the glass on offense and a great rebounder for his position, something the Wolves always need. Black averaged 5.1 total rebounds a game, with an average of 1.3 on offense, and regularly showed a willingness to get physical and fight for boards.
Whether or not the Timberwolves decide to trade into this year’s lottery, their request to interview Anthony Black shows that the front office is working hard to analyze all their options going forward this offseason. They are interviewing the players they are interested in regardless of if they are likely to draft them. This thorough evaluation process is encouraging considering that Tim Connelly is known for his scouting acumen. There is also a strong argument to be made that the Wolves should focus on getting younger to better fit Anthony Edwards’ timeline. Additionally, drafting a defense- and distribution-oriented point guard to pair with Edwards and learn from Mike Conley while he’s still on the team seems wise long term. Finally, if it did work out, it would be very entertaining to have a double Ant backcourt, if nothing else but for the jokes.