How Aggressive Should the Timberwolves Be On Draft Night?

More often than not, teams just stay put on draft night and select a player at their original draft slot. More often than not, though, teams aren’t armed with four selections in one draft. Coming off of a playoff appearance, the Wolves are extremely unlikely to use all of those picks and bring four rookies into training camp.

Teams generally want as many bites at the apple as they can get, but this is still slightly less true in the NBA than in a sport like the NFL, where singular talents change the trajectory of franchises more significantly. It’s simple math — an average playoff rotation in the NBA consists of eight or nine guys. Each one is crucial to the success of a franchise, and each one can alter history, quite literally.

Just ask the Milwaukee Bucks, who were sent home in a Game 7 that saw Grant Williams of all people explode for 27 points. The Athletic’s John Hollinger writes an annual column predicting which 20 players in any given draft will “matter”, and while I somewhat disagree with the phrasing, the gist is that roughly 1/3 of the selections in any given draft ever become legitimate rotation players. Getting one of them, regardless of positioning, is paramount.

For that reason, if the Wolves fall in love with a prospect or two that are projected to go ahead of the 19th pick, it’s up to Tim Connelly, Sachin Gupta, and friends to weigh the asset cost of moving up.

To get an idea of what types of moves would even be feasible, I took a look at each of the last five drafts, and took note of trades up from a similar range to where the Wolves are selecting. There aren’t many good examples from teams making meaningful moves up the board from that general area recently, but here’s what I came up with.

2019: Philadelphia sends #24 and #33 to Boston in exchange for #20

2018: Phoenix sends #16 + Miami’s 2021 1st to Philadelphia in exchange for #10

2017: Portland sends #15 + #20 to Sacramento in exchange for #10

Now, every circumstance is different, but what this shows is that 1) it’s really difficult — and pricey — to trade into the lottery, and 2) these moves don’t materialize very often. Teams picking in the lottery are generally dying to add young talent, so it makes sense that they’d be hesitant to trade that asset.

The other thing that sticks out to me is that there is a ceiling as to how far a team without a prime asset can really expect to move up. It’s not a coincidence that teams are basically unable to get past the top-ten. For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume the highest the Wolves could reasonably get is up to 10, where they’d likely have to trade 19, a 2nd, and a protected future 1st to get to.

This begs the question, who’s worth moving up that far for, if anyone is? Who’s projected to be drafted around the back-end of the lottery? I took a gander over at the odds from our dear friends at DraftKings, and picked out three guys who seemingly make some sense.

Full disclosure, if the Wolves are going to consolidate assets to move up, this is who I’d want them to do it for. Duren is a beast, and I am really surprised that his number at the books is 10.5. Duren is one of the youngest players in the draft, not turning 19 years old until November, and just dominated the AAC when he was on the floor. He only played about 25 minutes per game in his lone season at Memphis under Penny Hardaway, but he averaged 12.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, and nearly 3 stocks per game in those limited minutes. He’s light on his feet with a truly relentless motor.

Aside from being a vicious rebounder and lob-threat, he’s shown some flashes as a passer as well. There are better scouting reports than mine out there, though, like this guide from our own Tyler Metcalf and his crew over at No Ceilings.

To get up to the 10-12 range, the Wolves would have to be aggressive. They would need to weigh the massive upside of selecting a player as young and talented as Duren, with the rather obvious issue being that he plays center, where the Wolves figure to have Karl-Anthony Towns playing 35ish minutes a night for the foreseeable future.

It’s possible the Wolves figure that Towns’ presence would allow Duren to come along slowly in a reserve role. Maybe (or likely) both players are skilled enough that they could play together in a jumbo lineup. Plus, if Duren becomes so good that he needs to start, that’s not exactly a bad problem to have, either.

Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of cost. If it takes an additional 1st along with, say 40 and 48? That hurts. Perhaps a team would be more intrigued by Naz Reid than an additional pick? I don’t know, making fake trades is difficult, but I tend to lean against giving up future assets to draft a center when you already employ an All-NBA one. If Duren slips a bit, though, I would be interested in Minnesota seeing what it would take to trade with Charlotte at 15, assuming they take either Duren or the next player on our list at 13. The potential is sky high, so even if it hurt a bit, I’d probably be okay with whatever it took to get in range.

Williams has many similar qualities to Duren as a potential lob threat and monster on the glass, but he’s a bit older than Duren is. Williams isn’t old by any means, but he is nearly two years older than Duren, which surely factors into why Duren is projected to go ahead of Williams. Duren simply has more room to grow, even if Williams was one of the best players in all of college basketball this year.

The presumed floor for Williams is Charlotte at 15, and it’s not hard to see why. Williams dominated college basketball as a lob threat, monster on the glass, and rim protector. That’s exactly what Charlotte needs around LaMelo Ball, and like Duren, Williams showed enough flashes will the ball in his hands to make you think he might be able to make a nice read out of the short-roll.

My expectation is that Charlotte takes one of these two Bigs at 13, so maybe the Wolves would look to either 14 or 15 to get the remaining of the two? As much as I like Williams, I’m far less enamored with him than I am with Jalen Duren. If he somehow slid to 19, or the cost wasn’t an additional 1st, I’d be in favor of moving up slightly for Williams. I just don’t believe the Wolves should pay a premium for a rim-running center (even a really good one!), when reasonable facsimiles are available in free agency or trade almost every year.

Admittedly, I have not seen much of Tari Eason. I did not watch as much college basketball this year as I normally would, so I am not as familiar with some of these prospects. With that being said, his statistical profile is incredibly impressive, and his potential versatility is something that intrigues me as a power wing.

The case for throwing in a sweetener to move up for Eason is honestly pretty simple for me. He seems to be “the guy” for Draft Twitter folks this year, and while everyone has their fair share of misses, it feels like they tend to get *the guy* who is being undervalued correct each year. He’s a classic “if he shoots” prospect, which is worrisome, but in the mid-to-late teens, that’s definitely a bet I’d be willing to make on a guy with this type of motor.

Eason makes sense as a power wing for both Atlanta and Houston at 16 and 17, so he could be another option worth pursuing a trade with Charlotte for to get to 15. Again, it comes down to cost here, but if it doesn’t take a significant asset, I believe Eason is a risk worth taking.

To make a long story short, I’m probably against adding real future assets to make a significant move up the board. If a player like Duren or Eason starts to fall within striking distance, sure, make the move, but I don’t think the Wolves necessarily need to force a move up the board just because they have additional assets this year.

I’m excited to see which direction the Wolves go, cause I can nearly guarantee they don’t carry four rookies on the roster into the season. That provides opportunity. Let’s get crazy, folks.

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