2016 NBA Draft: Timberwolves Final Thoughts

Draft day!

It is finally here. Four days after the NBA Finals. It is like the season never ended. It has been stressful to say the least. Not too many moving parts so far and yet we have debated for months.

One thing is for sure, whoever is picked by the Timberwolves tonight will forever be remembered as the 5th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. Most fans remember their feelings towards a player from when the Wolves drafted Ndudi Ebi 26th overall in the 2003 draft to when the Wolves took Karl-Anthony Towns as the 1st Number 1 pick in franchise history.

One thing that I am reminded of at this time in the year is Flip Saunders. I came across this tweet of just Flip enjoying life right before the 2013 draft.

As the Wolves approach the draft, which is hours away, the rumors are swirling. The Wolves have just added Andy Greer to their coaching staff per Woj. There were rumors of the Wolves being interested in Kenneth Faried, which reminds me of how Thad Young fit in with the Wolves last year. I do think Faried would be an ideal energy guy for Thibs, but if the trade includes moving the 5th pick, I don’t think it is worth it.

Thibs has enlightened us by letting us know that the Wolves value shooting in this draft. To many, this eliminated the idea that Kris Dunn could be the pick, while I believe that isn’t the case. The entire league values shooting right now. It is absolutely a valid concern and the Wolves do need shooting, but I don’t think it eliminates Kris Dunn from being the Wolves pick.

There is a decent chance the Wolves trade the pick today. I don’t feel prepared for that scenario since #WolvesNation has been debating between four guys for the last month. Who is better? Why? Just hours before the draft, I feel like the top four is fairly clear, in the form of personal preference. Here it is:

  1. Dragan Bender

If Bender is available, you have to take him. There are rumors he could fall to 7, which is mind blowing. Bender is certainly a project. But he is a project worth taking on. The Wolves are in a position where they can swing for the fences. If Bender doesn’t work out, the Wolves future is not dependent on his development. They don’t lose much. They also have a significant need for someone to play along Towns long-term. The reason Bender is the most intriguing is because of the skill set he holds. Bender has a solid stroke from outside already. Pairing that alongside Towns and Wiggins will spread the floor and allow the Wolves to penetrate & dish. He can defend and protect the rim as well. How terrorizing would it be to have two big men who can defend and shoot? Bender has also shown that he can pass and handle the ball decently for his size.

Bender happens to also be the youngest player in the draft. If Bender is groomed under Thibs and can be given time to grow with the young Wolves, he can be in the perfect setting to develop. It helps that the Wolves have a decent amount of international players who can help mentor Bender. I don’t believe Bender is that far away from being able to contribute. He needs some experience, weight and confidence. But if he can build those three things up until the Wolves make the playoffs, I think they add a prospect who, I believe, becomes more valuable that Zach LaVine for this team.

Often times the youngest player in the draft usually has success in the league. It is something to keep in mind. The last few off the top of my mind are Devin Booker, Aaron Gordon, Giannis, and Andre Drummond.

2. Kris Dunn

After Bender, I don’t think any of the remaining players are absolute future starters for the Wolves. More than likely, they all end up being solid players off the bench and can step in as starters in the future. The reason I prefer Kris Dunn is because I believe he can come in and compliment Rubio from the beginning. Dunn can play behind or next to Rubio for short stints. Dunn also has a skill set in which he could eventually challenge Rubio for his spot a year or two down the road. It is still an unknown as to how Rubio fits in the grand scheme of things. In the event that Rubio gets hurt or wants out of Minnesota, I would feel comfortable with Dunn as the starting point guard of this team after this season.

The reason I also like Dunn is that I believe he is simply better than Murray and Hield. Dunn possesses an all-around skill set that inevitably translates great to the NBA. His ability to score, play-make and defend makes him a net positive player to have on the floor. If he develops a 3-point shot, he could end up being one of the best players in this draft. If you want to read our thoughts more on Dunn, we had an article here about him last month that was well received.

3. Jamal Murray

The Murray and Hield debate is something I run every day in my head and finally feel comfortable sharing it. I take Murray over Hield as someone who, I believe can become a solid scorer in the league. I think the McCollum comparisons are disrespectful to CJ, but if Murray becomes a poor man’s version of him, I will be happy. I worry about his ability to ever defend in the NBA, which is why I like Dunn more. We also talked about why we like him here. I won’t be upset if the Wolves take Jamal Murray.

4. Buddy Hield

#WolvesNation is crazy about Buddy Hield. I am not as convinced still. Buddy also can’t defend and don’t think he can thrive as a bench player, which is inevitably what is role would be with the Wolves. He requires a high usage and I don’t see him getting it with guys like Towns, Wiggins, LaVine and Shabazz who require the ball to be effective. The only positive of taking Hield for me is that my expectations would be much lower than anyone else we could take.


If the Wolves keep their pick, it will be one of those four. Otherwise I will be shocked. I think there is a 40% chance that the Wolves trade the pick on draft night. The Wolves clearly have goals of making the playoffs this coming season. We mentioned earlier in the offseason that the Wolves should just trade the pick and think that it still makes sense. The Wolves could acquire a veteran who could speed up the process as well as maybe a mid-1st round pick. The Jimmy Butler rumors were just a smokescreen that was probably done to raise the value of the pick in a draft where everyone is trying to trade out.

There are four teams to watch on draft night that have three 1st round picks: the Sixers, Suns, Celtics, and Nuggets. The Wolves may be able to work out a deal that allows the Wolves to acquire a veteran and a later pick. If somehow the Wolves end up moving down, I still love Timothe Luwawu and Wade Baldwin. I don’t know if either worked out for the Wolves, but I will dream. The Wolves do happen to love Ben Bentil, which will be something to watch for in the late 1st round and 2nd round.

For the next few hours, I will be watching for #WojBombs and hoping something crazy happens. As a life-long Wolves fan, especially during the rebuilding phase, the draft is our playoffs. Let’s add another brick to the Rebuild!

The Timber Rebuilder.

PS – I will be at the Wolves draft party. Tweet us if you are going! @timberrebuilder

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Just How Lucky are the Wolves?

By the end of this, there will be a numerical probability of just how lucky the Wolves were to have this roster.

As we approach the NBA Draft Lottery, Wolves fans are enjoying the recent news of Karl-Anthony Towns winning the Rookie of the Year award Unanimously. There has been a lot of chatter about how lucky the Wolves have been over the last couple years to acquire two great young talents in Andrew Wiggins and Karl Towns. This chatter is warranted. The Wolves have had some historic things happen over the last two seasons, things that would attract a top-tier head coach like Tom Thibodeau to want to work in Minnesota. But just how lucky have the Wolves been?

The young core of the Wolves has accomplished some incredible things in the last two years. The Wolves flirted with being the first team in history to have three consecutive Number 1 picks on the same roster, until the Wolves released Anthony Bennett. Andrew Wiggins and Karl Towns are the first duo to win back-to-back Rookie of the Year awards on the same team since the Buffalo Braves in 1974. LaVine, Wiggins and Towns also set a record against the Cavs being the first trio of scorers under 21-years old to all score 20 points or more in a single game. The things the Wolves are accomplishing over time make you believe that it’s either fate or some serious luck.

The Wolves haven’t always been lucky. And when you’re constantly unlucky, the luck has to eventually turn into your favor. The Wolves have the longest active streak of not making the playoffs, which is up to 12 seasons. That is a lot of opportunities to get lucky and a lot of times ending up not lucky. The Wolves had never won the lottery in its 26-year history prior to last summer, which having the best odds twice. In those years the Wolves ended up with Christian Laettner and Derrick Williams instead of Shaquille O’Neal or Kyrie Irving. There is also the time in the 2009 draft where the Wolves drafted back-to-back point guards at the 5 and 6 spots just to have Stephen Curry be drafted 7th.

All that rebuilding talk aside, the 2016 Minnesota Timberwolves are in a lucky position. But just how lucky? Lets see…

Probabilities to factor in:

lebron

First, it all begins with Lebron James. Lebron going to the Cavaliers in the summer of 2014 is what caused a domino effect of moves for the Wolves. If Lebron stayed in Miami, the Kevin Love trade may have never happened. If Love was not traded to the Cavs, chances are he would’ve been traded to the Warriors for a horrible deal around David Lee or left for nothing in free agency. According to fivethirtyeight.com the probability Lebron James kept his talents in Miami were 49.7%. After that, the Cavs had the best chances of bringing back the hometown hero with 15.8% chances. So the entire Wolves core doesn’t happen theoretically unless that 15.8% chance happens.

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– The next thing that has to occur is that the Cavaliers have to win the draft lottery in order to have something to offer the Wolves for Kevin Love. The element of conspiracy theory occurs with the NBA draft here because the Cavs had a 1.7% chance to win the number 1 pick in the 2014 draft. Those chances are tiny! But it happened. And they took Andrew Wiggins with that trade.

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– Next thing to factor in is Wiggins winning the Rookie of the Year award. The Wolves were lucky to get a talent like Andrew Wiggins to rebuild around. The truth is, he could’ve been a bust like Anthony Bennett the year before, so measuring just how significant of a talent Wiggins could be, the odds of him winning Rookie of the Year should be factored into the Wolves luck. Wiggins had odds of +600 to win the 2015 Rookie of the Year in July behind Jabari Parker, which converts to a probability of about 14.29% according to Sportsinsights.com

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– The Wolves need their own luck with the Wolves winning the lottery. The Wolves were coming off of a serious rebuild in 2014-15 and came away with the worst record in the NBA. This gave the Wolves the best odds of winning the draft lottery in 2015 with a 25% chance. Compared to all of the other things that were factored into this probability, this was the most likely thing to happen. Like I stated earlier, the Wolves had never won the lottery up until this point. So to finally win it was huge.

APTOPIX Rookie Of The Year Basketball

Towns winning the Rookie of the Year award. Unanimously too. Towns had a monumental season posting 18ppg, 10rpg and 54.2FG%. He was a joy to watch on both ends of the court. The Wolves got a franchise changing talent, which is highly unlikely. But in order to measure the Wolves luck, we simply looked at his odds of winning it in the preseason. He was not the favorite out of the gate. Towns ROY odds in August were +650, which is about 12.82% also according to sportsinsights.com. KAT was behind Jahlil Okafor at the beginning of the season as the favorite to win it.

Probabilities that were not factored in:

– The trade for Andrew Wiggins. While it would be nice to calculate what the probability was that the Love-Wiggins trade happened, its hard to put a numerical value on that. The Wolves swapping for talent isn’t really luck either. The Cavs just had to have the necessary talent to get Kevin Love.

– Getting Zach LaVine. Zach has been an integral part of the Wolves young core and getting him at the 13th pick over Adreian Payne was absolutely lucky. Unfortunately, the luck evened out by trading a future first-round pick for Payne.

– Picking other guys. There are the other draft picks the Wolves made like picking Towns over Okafor. Also there is the trading of Trey Burke for Shabazz and Gorgui, which was very lucky. These things were not factored in. The Wolves dodged bullets by making those selections, at this point in time at least. Things also evened out by not taking Giannis or Rudy Gobert with those picks in 2013. Thus, we just called it a draw.

– Landing Tom Thibodeau. The Wolves fortunes took a great turn for the better after the hiring of Thibs, at least on paper. Chances are, getting Thibodeau to coach here a year ago seemed like a long shot. But things fell into place and timing was everything. The Wolves were first-movers in the coaching carousel and landed the big fish. Money also talks in this game, so excluding those odds.

The Calculation:

We now apply probability rules. Being that these happened in sequence, conditional probabilities can be applied. Since these are independent events, the conditional probability, the probability of event A occurring given event B occurs, is equal to the probability of event A. Thus, using the Multiplication rule for N independent events, we can simply multiply all of the probabilities together. This answers the question of ‘What were the chances of all of these events happening together?’ Statisticians might take a different approach to the calculation. So here it is:

P(Lebron to Cleveland) x P(Cavs win Lottery 2014) x P(Wiggins wins ROY) x P(Wolves win Lottery 2015) x P(Towns wins ROY) = Wolves chances of being in current state

Wolves Luck = 0.00123017% Chance of being in its current state

That means, there was a 0.00123017% chance that the Lebron would sign with Cleveland AND they would win the draft lottery in order to draft Wiggins AND that Wiggins would win the Rookie of the Year AND the Wolves would win the draft lottery the following year to draft Karl-Anthony Towns AND that Towns would win the Rookie of the Year the very next season. So basically, what has happened thus far is highly unlikely.

Compare these chances with one person being struck by lightning once in their lifetime. The chance of that happening is a 0.033333%. That means, it is over 27 times more likely that any one person is struck by lightning in their lifetime than how this Wolves team has been composed over the last two seasons.

Boom. Call it luck. Call it fate. Call it the alignment of the stars. Whatever you call it, it is absolutely exciting.

Side Note: if the Wolves win the draft lottery tonight, the odds of 0.00123017% will be multiplied by 8.8%, which is a really small number. Just something to think about.

The Timber Rebuilder

Timber Rebuilder 2016 Draft Big Board v1.0 (Pre-Draft Lottery)

With the draft lottery around the corner, it seems necessary to simply rank the prospects as the Wolves could land anywhere between pick 1 and 6. I have mentioned that I believe the Wolves should trade the pick, but in the event that they do keep it or even trade down, I will rank the prospects from the Wolves perspective.

For the Wolves, young talent is not an issue. If the Wolves do keep the pick, it will be important that whoever that is drafted fit into the long-term plan. The Wolves have some serious deficiencies currently that prevent them from being competitive. There is no one player that can fix them for the Wolves, but it is important to at least understand what the deficiencies are.

First, the Wolves need three point shooting. It’s been an issue for a while now. There isn’t going to be a rookie that solves this issue by himself but they could at least help. There needs to be guys who can help stretch the floor for KAT and Wiggins through the game. There are a few guys in this draft that can help in this category.

Next, the Wolves are very weak at power forward. Conveniently, this draft is as well. It seems like Payne may be a better option than many of the power forwards immediately next season. But it doesn’t mean that we can search. A long-term starter at power forward could mean a small forward who plays stretch four or someone who can move Towns to the 4. The Wolves will need to get creative.

Lastly, the Wolves need scoring and defense off of the bench. The Wolves bench was great early on in the season when Zach LaVine and Kevin Martin were coming off of it, but fell off tremendously when Shabazz Muhammad was the only real threat that started the game wearing warm-ups.

The criterion used was through four areas. Star potential. Can they develop into a starter or more? Are they a high reward? Bust potential. Are they a high-risk prospect? Then I looked at the trends of the game and what the team needs. Shooting. Can they shoot the three and/ or how is their field goal percentage? I ran a regression model at one point to see which college statistics have the most statistical significance on a player’s NBA-career and field goal % was the most important. Next, I will also focus on defense. Not only is defense important to coach Thibodeau but its a growing trend in the league that for a player to be a net-positive player, they have to be able to defend.

Without further ado, here is the Timber Rebuilder pre-lottery/ mid-combine Draft Big Board. I will adjust the rankings as we get closer to the draft. For now, will set at a top 15.

 

1-Ben Simmons

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Star Potential: Very High

Bust Potential: Low

Shooting: Low

Defense: Medium

With ESPN Insider declaring that if the Wolves get the top pick Ingram should be the choice, it should make one more comfortable with taking Ben Simmons first. Ben Simmons’ skill set is very unique and hard to pass up. Simmons is a match up nightmare. He is physically and athletically already at an NBA-level. He can absolutely get to the rim at will and finish around the basket. What makes him unique is that he can get others involved. Before criticizing his shot, its important to note that you don’t have to be able to shoot in order to be good in the NBA. There is a mantra that the only way to beat the Warriors is to play like them and it is not true. I am sure Simmons’ shot and defense will be worked on greatly over his career. If he can become average at either, he will be a scary talent. I love Ingram, but Simmons is just too good of a talent to pass up. As a freshmen Simmons averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals a game. That is just absurd. Of all the players in this draft, Simmons absolutely has the highest ceiling.

2-Brandon Ingram

Star Potential: High

Bust Potential: Low

Shooting: High

Defense: Medium

Ingram is going to be great. The kid is a 6-10 small forward that can shoot, dribble, and play some decent defense. He also has a 7-3 wing span. I do believe he isn’t going to be able to see his potential immediately due to his weight and finding a position in the NBA. That discovery will be the make or break of Ingram reaching his potential. You have to be able to stay on the court defensively enough. He is not, and may never be, strong enough to guard a power forward. So as great of a shooter and ball handler as he is, this was the differentiating factor for me with Simmons and Ingram. I have no doubt in my mind that Ingram will be great offensively and be a mismatch for teams. He can shoot amazingly and could be the next Durant. But having height isn’t enough. It will be interesting to see how he develops.

3-Dragan Bender

Star Potential: High

Bust Potential: High

Shooting: Medium

Defense: Medium

The problem with Dragan Bender is he is still relatively unknown. There is video footage of him but he plays against weak competition and didn’t get a ton of playing time. I would find him more attractive if he was willing to spend another year overseas but what it seems like is that he is ready to come over the NBA immediately. That said, I believe he and Jaylen Brown are the biggest risks in this draft. Bender has the highest ceiling of all the players outside of the top two. If he can continue to develop his outside shot, inside game, and defense, he will be something special. He is already a great passer and can handle the ball a little bit. He fits the trend of where the game is headed. He would be a tremendous compliment to Towns at the 4 or 5.

4-Timothe Luwawu

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Star Potential: Medium

Bust Potential: Low

Shooting: Medium

Defense: Very High

What is attractive to me about Luwawu is he seems polished and athletic for a rookie. For anyone outside of the top three picks, he feels like the least likely to not be out of the NBA in five years. The reason being is that there is always a job for a 3-and-D guy, especially at the molding of Coach Thibodeau. His shot has improved to where there is hope he can be an above average shooter in the league, making him probably one of the better shooters on the team. Defensively, he is long, athletic and can guard anywhere from a point guard to small forward. Luwawu seems like the perfect combination of being able to contribute right away and still having a good amount of potential. If the Wolves get the 5th pick and the top three guys are off the board, Luwawu is whom I go with. There is still a month from the draft and I am sure this is the highest Luwawu will be until then.

5-Jamal Murray

Star Potential: Very Medium

Bust Potential: Medium

Shooting: High

Defense: Low

Jamal Murray can shoot and can score. He is also pretty versatile in that he can play the point guard and shooting guard. Adding to that, he is young and could potentially be one of the better shooters in the league with time. That is why I am such a fan. He isn’t the most gifted athletic and struggles defensively for sure. But he has enough size in which he can disrupt an offense or stay with two-guards, even if they are a second point guard. That said, I also don’t believe grabbing him at 5 would be what would happen in a normal draft. Also, scoring in college doesn’t always translate to scoring in the NBA.  That said, he seems like the type of prospect who would potentially be considered one of the better players in this draft five years from now. His offensive game already looks like a seasoned veteran’s.

6-Kris Dunn

Star Potential: High

Bust Potential: Medium

Shooting: Low

Defense: Medium

I am not crazy about Kris Dunn. I do believe he has the same ceiling as Bender nonetheless with less risk. My problem with Dunn is that I feel he used his size to his advantage in college to get to where he is. There is nothing wrong with that but it is not something that translates well at the NBA level.

7-Jacob Poeltl

Star Potential: Medium

Bust Potential: High

Shooting: Low

Defense: Medium

I am a fan of Poeltl, as of late at least. He is growing on me. He is a solid scoring with his back to the basket and within 15-feet. He can be a terror on the offensive boards and a sound defender. He is a prototypical center and reminds me of Vucevic without a jump shot. I think he could be a solid starting center in the NBA. I don’t believe he fits in with the Wolves entirely well nonetheless. The Wolves have Dieng already.

8-Buddy Hield

Star Potential: Medium

Bust Potential: Medium

Shooting: Very High

Defense: Low

Buddy is Buddy. I would not be upset if the Wolves grabbed Buddy at 5. He can shoot the lights out. He can provide an immediate impact on the offensive side of the floor. My concern is everywhere else. How will he react when he isn’t the focal point of an offense? Can he improve his shot selection? Will he be able to defend so he can stay on the court? While I love Buddy, I am more in the camp of ‘Meh’ when it comes to the idea of him playing for the Wolves. I would rather grab Jamal Murray.

9-Jaylen Brown

Star Potential: Very medium

Bust Potential: High

Shooting: Medium

Defense: Medium

I’ll be honest Jaylen Brown scares me. He is a prototypical small forward who is gifted physically. He is quick and athletic. He is also a solid slasher. But he has been so inconsistent in his one year that its hard to justify taking him in the top 5. I am certain as the draft approaches, he will not be someone that moves up. I have him rated fairly low but it is where I think it is worth taking the risk at. I was a much bigger fan of Ivan Rabb but he went back for another year, which will likely benefit him. Brown has some star potential, but his risk is scary to me. Nothing stands out about him. It will be interesting what happens with him the next few weeks.

10 – Wade Baldwin

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Star Potential: Slightly Medium

Bust Potential: Low

Shooting: High

Defense: High

If the Wolves trade down, Wade Baldwin is a player I believe needs to be taken into serious consideration. The 6-3 point guard has a 6-11 wingspan and can do a lot on the court. That is the biggest differential in this year’s draft. He is another 3-and-D guy and reminds me of Avery Bradley, another player I love. Baldwin is capable of guarding both guard positions and has a good shooting stroke. What makes me really excited about Baldwin is that these skills are there. I don’t believe he will be a star in the league, but I do believe he has the least amount of bust potential if looking for a role player. He is slated to go mid-first round, but to me is worth looking at if the Wolves drop to 6. It sounds crazy but I value his skill set. He is going to have to learn to create offense for himself but depending on how he is used, that may not be necessary. Dunn is above him for the fact that Dunn can create for him and others and is more of a true point guard. Baldwin has a lower ceiling but I think his value as a glue-guy on the Wolves would be more valuable than another star. Again, if I am drafting 6th or find a way to trade down, this is who I hope the Wolves are targeting.

11-Skal Libassiere

Star Potential: Medium

Bust Potential: High

Shooting: Low

Defense: High

I instinctively am intrigued by Skal and what he could be. I personally will be very interested to see how he ends up in whatever situation it is he ends up in. He has ‘project’ and probably ‘D-league’ written all over him. But as a team that can take risks at this point, I don’t mind seeing if he can be turned into something that meets the potential many believed he had prior to this one season at Kentucky. A lot will come out about Skal over the next few weeks.

12- Henry Ellenson

Star Potential: Medium

Bust Potential: High

Shooting: Low

Defense: Low

Offensively, Ellenson can stretch the floor and score in a multitude of ways. He is also a very good rebounder. The reason I have him so low is because he can’t defend the 4 or 5 and definitely won’t be able to be on the floor if teams go small, as trends are moving towards in the league. I also am not convinced he is more than a role player in the league. I can’t justify taking a player with that ceiling on the top 10. I don’t think he will be a starter on a winning team in the NBA and so currently, I am fairly low on him. Sorry Minnesota faithful, I hope the hometown kid doesn’t play for the Wolves. Plus, can you seriously trust a Minnesotan who played in Wisconsin? That was a joke…

13- Devonta Davis

Star Potential: Medium

Bust Potential: High

Shooting: Low

Defense: High

Davis is the prototypical project big that comes out of the draft. He has Myles Turner/ Bobby Portis type of potential. He could very well surprise people when he gets to the league. Could be a serviceable big man.

14 – Furkan Korkmaz

Star Potential: Medium

Bust Potential: Medium

Shooting: Medium

Defense: Low

18 years old and from Turkey. Has a solid offensive game and could be a draft and stash option. I like the very limited amount I have seen from him. He is a late lottery candidate.

 

15 – Demetrius Jackson

Star Potential: Medium

Bust Potential: High

Shooting: Medium

Defense: Medium

He is a typical point guard and actually pretty good. The reason I have him so low is because he isn’t a combo guard and right now for the Wolves, that puts him behind Rubio and Jones. He is an athletic freak, which is exciting. I would love to see him as a Spur.

16 – Marquese Chriss

Bonus here. He is moving up draft boards mainly because there aren’t many power forward prospects.

 

Thank is all for now. Again, this will be adjusted after the lottery and through workouts. These boards change so quickly up through the draft and will look even crazier a few years from now. So sometimes it’s not about how right these rankings are, it is about how wrong they will look years from now.

Who the Wolves take will be an entirely different question. A lot depends on where the Wolves end up. The Wolves could trade down and they could somehow win the draft lottery again. Tell me, how crazy would that be??

Until next time.

The Timber Rebuilder.

Wolves 2015-16 Season Preview, Keys to Success, and Bold Predictions

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Roster Review

Depth Chart

PG – Rubio/ Miller/ Jones

SG- Martin/ LaVine/ Wiggins

SF- Wiggins/ Muhammed/ Prince/ Rudez

PF- Garnett/ Bjelica/ Payne

C- Towns/ Dieng/ Pekovic

The offseason is finally over! Those of us with terrible fantasy football starts can re-shift our focuses back to basketball again. With training camp underway and the season starting in less than a month, its time to look at the roster and try to make some predictions. Wolves fans are well aware of the young assets this team has on it. The thing the Wolves as an organization have been renown of doing is bringing in young, valuable assets through the draft or other avenues and turning them into a little older-young, non-valuable roster-fillers. The Wolves have a long history of this and they added another to the wall of shame in Anthony Bennett. Bennett went back home to Toronto after the Wolves could not trade the bust of a number 1 pick. The Timberwolves need to move forward and change the culture immediately, since Anthony Bennett wasn’t entirely their fault.

The Wolves greatest responsibility is turning their young guys into guys who can contribute to a winning roster. Whether it be here or trading them for more assets, the Timberwolves can’t afford to let guys Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad become NBA Journeymen like previous young pups (refer to all players on the Wolves roster between 2004-2013 below the age of 25 with the exception of Kevin Love and Al Jefferson).

To make this year competitive, things need to happen. Things need to change. It needs to be a year where a transition happens. To do that, the Wolves need to do multiple things in order to ensure they make the most of this season. Along with these things I believe the T-Wolves need to emphasize, I will provide some bold predictions.

Shameless plug, if you don’t already, follow us on twitter and instagram @timberrebuilder 

Get the Young Pups Minutes, together. (See Portland, San Antonio, Warriors)

Bad teams usually have a lack of chemistry and/ or don’t have a core group of players. Team chemistry may be one of the most overlooked aspects of a good team in modern day sports. Most teams look to build with the best players they can find and expect a quick plug-n-play to win them a championship. Rarely do teams win championships by simply bringing in the best players, their first year. Look at the many times LeBron has jumped around and not won a championship his first year with a new team. Look at the many Laker teams that were assembled by attracting the best players that don’t translate into a championship right away.

The best team the Wolves can model themselves around is the Golden State Warriors, being that they are young and won a championship around a core they drafted. Using Basketball-Reference’s Lineup Finder, the most commonly used 3-man or 4 man combos are all playoff teams within the top 20, lead by the Clippers, Hawks, Spurs, and of course Golden State. This model of playing guys with each other is an age-old model used by the Spurs, literally, that has kept them competitive for decades. Its helps teams like the Blazers and Wizards steadily become playoff contenders.

But if you track the Warriors from the 2012-2013 season with the combination of Curry/ Thompson/ Lee, they were the 51st best combination in terms of Net Points, at +203, winning 47 games. Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green were rookies. In 2013-2014, Igoudala with Curry and Thompson became their best trio netting +506, ranking 1st in the league. They actually held the top 4 spots mixing David Lee in there. They would win 51 games. The 2014-15 season, without any major roster changes, they would go on to win an amazing 67 games and the trio of Curry/ Thompson/ Green would lead the league again with a historical +729 Net Points. These three guys played a total of three seasons together, Green played every NBA game with those two (Curry and Thompson).

Moral of the story? If you want to be good, your best players need to have a chemistry and have to be on the floor together. And if you want to be really good, let them be young guys that can grow together. The Wolves have the young pieces. I believe the Wolves don’t need to make any major roster changes beyond this point. They just need Wiggins, Towns, and LaVine/ Rubio/ Shabazz to build a chemistry on the court by logging minutes together. They need to learn together, win together, and lose together. Seeing Duncan/ Parker/ Ginobili all these years together shows that chemistry usually trumps talent.

The key will be a couple things. Rubio will need to understand Wiggins, Towns, and LaVine very well. They all are effective in very different ways. It is the job of Rubio to tailor his leadership to each of them. Rubio will need to get Wiggins set up to score in the half court offense. He will need to master the pick and roll with KAT. And he will need to learn to ignite the fastbreak and toss alley-oops to get LaVine easy buckets. Also, developing a Wiggins/ LaVine and Towns pick and roll will be essential for the development of the needed chemistry. The other extremely important piece, is health. Rubio and the gang need to stay healthy. The addition of Kander is huge as the Wolves have struggled with injuries for the last several years. There is nothing that replaces minutes logged together in real NBA games. And as a wise man once said in regards to a lack of chemistry,”You wasn’t with me shooting in the gym!” (Joke).

You have Veterans, Use them. (Unofficial mentors, change Martin’s role, Pek rough up guys)

Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller. This sounds like a championship team 10 years ago. But its not 10 years ago. The Wolves were very intentional about bringing in veterans with playoff and championship experience to mentor their young guys. KG makes sense. He is fully invested. Its hard to tell yet whether Prince and Miller will embrace their roles as mentors or just another check to round-out their careers. But the front office needs to take full advantage of these talented guys on the roster.

Assign these guys as official mentors to these guys. Garnett is a direct influence to the entire team and culture, but he needs to take Towns, Dieng, and Payne under his wing. Prince will work directly with Wiggins and Bazz. It is quite interesting to see that Prince shares a similar personality to Wiggins and Shabazz and quieter guys. Andre Miller will get to mentor LaVine, Rubio, and the young Tyus Jones. My hope is that the young guys are sponges to the experiences of the veterans.

But don’t forget there are other veterans on the team. Kevin Martin and Pekovic should not be forgotten. Martin can be an incredible resource to the young-scoring wings on the team. Martin has always found ways to score even though he doesn’t dominate athletically. Martin should share this knowledge as well as be a good test to the wings to try and defend him in practice. Pekovic will be useful (if healthy) to bang around the young guys in the post. There aren’t many scarier guys in the league outside of big Pek.

Maybe I am the only one, but I hope the coaches run a 5-on-5 scrimmage with Miller-Martin-Prince-KG-Pekovic vs LaVine-Shabazz-Wiggins-Dieng-Towns. That would be extremely entertaining.

Compete!

There is no replacement for winning games. A steady increase will give the Wolves something to build on. And while having the worst record in the league last year, there is no where to go but up. But a culture change needs to be established. The Timberwolves own the longest active streak of not making the playoffs. Everyone in the organization is used to coming out and not competing. The hope is, KG changes that.

Reasons I love Rubio and Towns is that they are fierce competitors. They love to win. I think both of these guys with KG healthy will be the ignition to changing that culture. The Wolves played significantly better with Rubio on the floor. Towns only lost one game last year. Wiggins, LaVine, and Shabazz need to buy into that mentality as well. Dieng is also a competitor, people forget he won a championship at Louisville.

The first step to competing is defense. And what we saw in the training camp was an emphasis on just that. The Wolves were easily the worst defensive team last season and that needs to change. Defensive not only wins championships but it does win games. The Wolves found themselves blown out early in games in which they had a solid offensive outing but defensively, did nothing. The Wolves have good pieces defensively in Rubio, Wiggins, Towns, Dieng, and of course the veterans KG and Prince. The key difference will be getting guys like LaVine and Shabazz to buy-in defensively.

Culture will play the next part in competing. The point of winning games isn’t necessarily to win a championship this year, because that is not happening. But to change the mentality that it is okay to lose in Minnesota. Minnesota will NEED to win 30 or more games this season. I am predicting the wolves go 39-43 this season, and I am being optimistic. That doesn’t get us a good draft pick or get us in the playoffs. But it does push for a more experienced team to sneak in by 2016-17. A team that doesn’t give up in the clutch or against teams with more talent.

Last, the Wolves have to do a few things better on the offensive end to compete. They HAVE to shoot the 3 better. And they have to improve their ball movement. Flip has gotten offended when people criticize his lack of use of the 3-pointer, but numbers and history don’t lie. His teams don’t shoot the three and shoot the mid-range shot, the worst shot in basketball, more than normal. The team didn’t bring in any 3-point specialists, and lost guys like Gary Neal, Robbie Hummel, and Chase Budinger, who were reliable 3-point threats. Word is Karl Towns has a nice stroke but chances are we won’t see that come into fruition for a few years. So the Wolves are left to depend on the development of Wiggins, Shabazz, and LaVine as well as Kevin Martin becoming healthy. Ricky Rubio will be heavily depended on for both portions. As he is healthy, he helps move the ball around. He, again, has worked on his three-point shot all summer. It is important that he can hit the occasional open tray. Towns will be an X-factor as well in that he can shoot and pass the ball.

Develop Roles Now

Clearly distinguishing roles will be crucial for the Wolves, especially for the Pups. Wiggins and Towns will need to be formed into the faces of the Franchise. Who is Batman and who is Robin? When Garnett and Marbury were in town, the problem with two Batmans was partially because roles were not defined. What my concern is with Wiggins and Towns is, they are two Robins. So what happens then? Garnett will need to help these two find their identities and then find comfort in those. There is nothing greater to this organization than developing the last two number 1 picks together. There aren’t enough words to say to emphasize that point.

The most interesting roles will be for Shabazz and LaVine. My bold prediction is that LaVine ends up as the starter and Martin moves to the bench. LaVine has to show that he will put up more effort than Martin on the defensive end, and it will be hard to deny him that spot. A consistent jumper would be great as well. Also, I believe it will be essential the Wolves develop Shabazz as a 6th man and knowing what that means. Muhammad showed a lot of promise last year before falling to injury. He ate up other teams backup small forwards. He lost a lot of weight again this season so it will be interesting to see if he can maintain that. Shabazz provides the energy and scoring to be an elite 6th man. These two will need to be built into their roles as they have the most trade value to lose or gain this season. Most other guys’ value will not change as much as these two. Either they develop into assets this season or just young guys who may be worth taking a chance on. The Wolves will need to have them play into their roles to increase or maintain their value around the league since one of them may be the odd man out in a few years.

Rubio has to become the captain of the ship. He has done a wonderful job embracing it thus far. He understands that he needs to lead by example and I have no question that Rubio will succeed here. The Wolves have put some pressure by adding Tyus Jones, but it will be a year for Rubio to prove he can stay healthy and can compete.

Find a Diamond in the Rough

The rest of the roster has some very interesting pieces that need to be discussed. To me, value is huge. And getting a return on your value is what makes a franchise successful. There are two guys on the roster the Wolves felt were worth a 1st-Round pick. Tyus Jones and Adreian Payne. The Wolves drafted Jones with a late first-rounder (via two early 2nd-rounders) this offseason and acquired Payne last season for a future 1st-Round pick. At this point, measuring their present value, they would be difficult to trade for a first round pick, meaning they aren’t really meeting their value. They both have a lot of players ahead in the depth chart and should see time in the D-League pending any injuries. I believe both were not great moves, but both being on the roster means they need to be taken care of. Finding ways to develop both will make a huge difference in the future as to whether they can be moved for more valuable pieces or will just become expiring contracts. The hope is both can become competent reserves, but they can’t be left on the back burner.

The Wolves also quietly added Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica can score inside and outside. He is a former second round pick of the Wolves that finally came over. At 27, its hard to tell where he fits in to the Wolves long term plans. His present value is pretty unknown. He had a great summer playing for Serbia while leading them far and even hitting a buzzer beater over Germany. If he can find minutes and develop a role for himself, he has the potential to surprise a lot of people. My biggest concern is his defense and being a 3-point shooter in a bad season for shooters. We have seen a lot of 3-point shooters arrive in Minnesota and freeze. If he can prove to have some value and then develop into a decent role player, this signing could be a great win for the Wolves.

One of the more underrated players in the league is Gorgui Dieng. I am a huge fan. Gorgui quietly led the team in rebounds and blocks last season. He also led the team in offensive win shares, defensive win shares, win shares, defensive box plus/ minus, and box plus/ minus. He is essentially the most efficient and effective player to be playing on the team. He didn’t show great progression offensively last season but I believe will come back much better this season. Dieng is also only 25 and usually left out of the young nucleus conversations, guilty of that myself. Dieng is a proven winner and if he can find a bigger role, he seems to be the one Timberwolves with the least value to lose, and if he can prove to improve his offense this season, I believe a contender will be after him. Dieng is a piece every good team has and I would advise holding on to him for as long as possible.

Bold Predictions:

  • Wolves don’t make the playoffs. End season 39-43. Will probably laugh at this in April.
  • Zach LaVine becomes starting SG by the end of the year
  • Dieng becomes a starter by the end of the year
  • Muhammed get consideration for 6th Man of the Year
  • Wiggins is an All-Star (More so due to All-Star game being in Toronto)
  • Sam Mitchell will last this season
  • Karl Towns will be a top three consideration for ROY

Overall, it will be an exciting season for the Wolves. They still need 3 point shooting but have a good group of defenders. Team defense should improve and a lot of the young guys will assume bigger roles to help the Wolves improve and more than double their win total from last year.

Here is to season 12 to not making the playoffs!

The Wolves Summer Scrimmage 2015 Recap

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The Wolves just got done hosting another open scrimmage with their (star-studded) summer league roster. Wolves fans had the opportunity to see Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones for the first time play in a Timberwolves Uniform while also watching some of their favorite young pup veterans and guys they’ve never heard of. While my expectations were pretty low, it was a ton of fun. Not to mention it was free, the Target Center attracted a crowd of over 15,000 on a Wednesday night. It seemed louder than most games in there and it was interesting to see the upper levels get people sitting there. All in all, it is easily the most excitement around the Wolves that they have seen in a while.

Disclaimer: This was a scrimmage. If anything said here is exaggerated, please take with a grain of salt. Not much should be made of this game. Just some bold statements to stir some conversation until basketball season starts back up.

Wolves fans got to the team warm up while doing stretches and a poor attempt at the three-man weave which turned into a dunk contest. As expected we saw LaVine make dunks look effortless and Wiggins do his Rookie Game 360 dunk. What was surprising was seeing Towns do two different variations of the between-the-legs slam. The crowd was also pleased to see Brady Heslip slam.

Impressions from the actual scrimmage. I am a huge LaVine fan. My expectations for him are huge. He will either have to learn to play as a two-guard that doesn’t need the ball to be effective or being a 6th man for the rest of his life. His jump shot is fluid and smooth. His ability in transition is art in motion. And his ability to use his athleticism to score around the rim will get him minutes and touches eventually. A consistent three ball paired with his ability to get to the rim is a scary combination.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I don’t believe Tyus Jones will be great. Or even good. He did impress me today. He showed off his IQ on the floor. He was able to shoot but most importantly he looked like the only real point guard out there. He runs an offense pretty well for a 19 year old. He seemed to disrupt LaVine quite a bit when he was running point guard, which most people should be able to do. But there is promise in the hometown hero. If he never becomes great, I am sure the Wolves got a good amount of jersey sales out of him.

Towns was pretty impressive. He had dunks I didn’t expect he could make. He hesitated on a few threes but he was able to knock one down. He over powered Dieng in the post. He showed us the jump hook that brings you flashbacks of Hakeem the Dream. And he was very active on the glass. He made some really nice passes as well. He seems like a kid who will fill in the holes in his game fairly quickly. Most importantly, he didn’t seem to need the ball to have an impact on the game. It will be interesting to see who emerges as the leader of this team over the next few years, will it be Towns or Wiggins? I believe Towns has the intangibles to be that leader.

Speaking of Wiggins, he seemed to vanish in this one like he vanished early in his rookie year. His shot was off. He seemed like he wasn’t trying entirely. He won’t play for the Summer League team but he will practice with them. The Wolves are depending on his improvement this season and will need him to notice vanish like he did today.

Gorgei Dieng played average. Payne was his regular self. Lorenzo Brown was impressive knowing he is fighting for a roster spot and on the verge of being cut soon. That said, it would make sense if he remained on the team as a third string or even back up point guard. There was also a Pekovic and Shabazz siting. Wolves really hope both get healthy soon.

The Wolves will enter the Summer League with one of the most impressive rosters with tons of young talent. LaVine, Towns, Jones, and Payne will try to lead the Wolves to a Summer League championship. The title equates to nothing since the Kings won last summer.

Wolves Take Towns and Tyus. Draft Grade

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Nights like last night is when people earn titles like ‘The Great’ after their name, and that man is Flip. Now known as Flip The Great. The Timberwolves officially welcomed Karl-Anthony Towns as the number 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the first number 1 pick in franchise history. And while it was highly expected, the Wolves came out as winners by acquiring the 24th pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to draft the hometown hero and reigning Final Four MVP Tyus Jones.

Towns landed in the lap of the Timberwolves on Thursday and avoided all the drama that occurred in the 2-4 range.  Towns fills many voids the Wolves currently have such as defensive rebounding, rim protection, pick & roll defense, shooting, and someone in the post that isn’t Pekovic. To add to that, Towns can pass the ball for a big man and will have a ton of targets on an athletic Wolves squad now. To add to that, Towns brings a much needed winning mentality that the Wolves culture desperately needs as they have the longest drought of any NBA team of not making the playoffs. It is crazy to think that KAT has only lost one game in the last year. The Timberwolves lost 65 more games than that.

And while most fans tuned out the rest of the first round, Flip Saunders moved the two second round picks to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 24th pick to keep Tyus Jones home. Flip gets a pat on the back for this one. While I am not convinced Tyus will ever be a good NBA player, it is absolutely the best situation for him. The Wolves desperately need a consistent back up point guard that can step in immediately if Rubio gets hurt again. While I don’t think Jones fills that void completely, he will get his opportunity and think the LaVine experiment at point guard could couple into that. But Jones is a hero in Minnesota and it seems like Kevin Garnett loves the kid. He will be able to learn from one of the better true point guards in the league in Rubio. All this said, the situation is there for Tyus to grow. He has the ability to shoot and run an offense well. He is a very talented passer and takes care of the basketball. I don’t think he will ever be able to defend in the NBA, which will definitely be a problem. He is a solid addition to the Wolves, but I am not completely convinced he will make too much of an impact, at least not immediately.

Jones will have a chip on his shoulder to prove the other teams wrong that passed on him though. Jones was expected to go number 18 in the draft to the Rockets and play for Kevin McHale as they desperately need a point guard. Instead Jones fell to number 24 and watched guys like Terry Rozier (16), Jerian Grant (19), and Delon Wright (20) get picked before him, all point guards who were expected to go later in the first round/ early second round and after Jones would get picked. The Rockets passed on Jones much to the delight of Flip Saunders who was trying to trade up to the 18 spot to take Jones. Flip passed on the deal and the bluff that the Rockets wanted Tyus at 18 when the Rockets wanted Flip’s ‘first born’ in the trade. Many believe the Rockets were trying to trade for Ricky Rubio for the 18th pick, and thankfully that didn’t happen.

With many of the pieces set in place, you can feel the tables turning. You can feel the excitement again. You can watch the culture change in the organization from the laughing stock in the league to one of the brightest futures. The Wolves literally have the pieces in place to build a dynasty, and I am saying that with all my favoritism aside. Towns is going to be a very exciting player to watch and the hope is he can absorb everything he can from the likes of Kevin Garnett. The key will be his development now and logging minutes with Wiggins, LaVine, and Rubio. Having Towns alone gives the Wolves an A- grade at the minimum since almost any team that would’ve picked number one would’ve taken him. Adding Tyus Jones for the price that they got him at makes the grade an A. The Wolves did not have enough roster spots for the 31 and 36 picks and they didn’t just sell the picks off. They maximized the price of their picks and minimized the salary due to Tyus Jones. Here is to Flip the Great on what looks like his third straight good draft!

– the Timber (re)Builder

The Wolves Land the Top Pick!

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Well, the luck of the draw finally fell the Wolves’ way. The Wolves ended up with the Number 1 pick for the first time in franchise history after having the worst record and owning the best odds at winning the draft lottery for the third time. The times the Wolves have missed out on the top pick they missed out of Shaquille O’Neal (1994) and Kyrie Irving (2011). The hope is the pick ends up with the type of caliber of either of those guys. Some observations from the Draft Lottery.

The Wolves have the opportunity to add to an already great young core. With many questions in the front court with  the injury-prone Pekovic, the underdevelopment of Anthony Bennett, and aging Kevin Garnett, Okafor or Towns fill a huge need for the Timberwolves. There will be further analysis on the Wolves’ front court in a future post as there will likely be a lot of changes to come. Understanding how the number 1 pick fits along with the Wolves’ current roster and assets needs to happen for the Wolves.

The Wolves have the opportunity to be the first team ever to have three consecutive number 1 picks on the same roster. It is unfortunate Bennett was the number 1 pick in the 2013 draft to be honest, because the statistic makes it sound the Wolves should be absolutely dominant. I do think the Wolves should and will move Bennett before the beginning of the season as someone will still want to take a chance on him.

Funny things to point out during the Draft Lottery. First, there wasn’t any coverage of the Draft Lottery during the halftime show since it probably wasn’t exciting to the world that the Timberwolves won the draft lottery. In the coverage that there was about the Lottery, more of the focus was how the Knicks dropped to number 4 and the Lakers hopped up to number 2. Rightfully so but had the Lakers won the Lottery, I believe there would’ve been a lot more talk about it. Next, I was surprised to see Glen Taylor as the Wolves rep because it was initially reported his wife would represent the Wolves. I thought immediately ‘Oh they got in a fight!’. But later on there were reports family members could not represent teams anymore. It should’ve came sooner with the Cavs winning all those number 1 picks with that kid.

Wolves fans can enjoy this victory today and let the dust settle. This is wonderful for Minnesota and will absolutely drive up Season Ticket sales. It will bring a lot more excitement to the Target Center with Wiggins, LaVine, Rubio, and now the 2015 number 1 pick. There isn’t a doubt in my mind the top pick should be Karl-Anthony Towns. So we will soon visit what that means and how he fits in. There is still a great chance Okafor gets taken first but Towns seems to be a great player in the making.

-The Timber (re)Builder