As we talked about before, the Timberwolves finished 2011 with the NBA’s worst record, therefore earning the best chance to land the No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft.
They have a 25.0% chance of winning the draft lottery, and a 64.3% chance of landing in the Top 3. The lowest the Wolves could pick would be No. 4.
Obviously, their draft position, which will be determined on May 17, will determine which prospects they can ultimately hope to target, but let’s take an early look at the possible candidates and what they might bring to the Wolves.
Kyrie Irving – PG, Duke
6-2, 180; born 3/23/92
Strengths: Irving has great point guard instincts. He is someone who seems to understand when to be the facilitator and when to look for his own shot. Has good size and athleticism to defend his position well. Excellent ball handling ability as well as a sense of calmness and savviness about him with the ball in his hands. Shows excellent command of an offense and makes the “right” play the majority of the time. Underrated shooter from the outside and a very good from the free throw line. Also has shown that he can hit pull-up jump shots off the dribble and ability to finish at the rim.
Weaknesses: Although Irving is a solid athlete, he does not possess the incredible athleticism of someone like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook or John Wall. Durability might be a concern, as evidenced by only playing in 8 NCAA games as a freshman due to a ‘turf toe’ injury. Might not have the extraordinary ability to take over games in the way someone like Rose can.
How He’d Fit in Minnesota: Perfectly. The Wolves are dying to upgrade the starting point guard position, and someone like Irving would be a godsend. Irving’s passing ability and vision would help make Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson better. His ability to score as well is something that would suit the Wolves much better than the more pass-first game of Ricky Rubio. Irving would instantly step in as Minnesota’s long-term point guard and projects as someone who could help take the franchise to the playoffs for the first time in years.
NBA Comparison: Irving has been compared by some to Chris Paul, and while he doesn’t project to be as dominant as Paul, the two do share some similar qualities, most notably their strong court-presence and command of an offense.
Derrick Williams – SF/PF, Arizona
6-9, 240; born 5/25/91
Strengths: Very productive in college for Arizona. Carried his team to a solid run in the NCAA tournament. Solid fundamentally and is not afraid of contact. Has the mass to bang down low and gets to the free throw line at a good rate. High awareness on the offensive end; showed great ability to move without to ball to put himself in positions to receive passes that led to baskets inside. Positions body well and uses pump fakes effectively down low to make up for lack of elite athleticism. Long wingspan helped him on the boards and made him a decent threat as a shot blocker. Able to face up and put the ball on the floor.
Weaknesses: Lacks ideal size and strength for the power forward position, but also lacks elite athleticism and quickness to be a full-time small forward. A classic 3/4 tweener who was able to dominate smaller college defenders, but will have to adjust at the next level. Needs to improve his mid-range jump shot to succeed in the NBA because he won’t be able to out-muscle defenders down low any longer. Needs to learn to pass out of double-teams as well.
How He’d Fit in Minnesota: Clearly going to be a Top 3 pick, possibly No. 1 depending on who is selecting at that spot, Williams would be redundant for the Wolves, who already have a SF/PF tweener in Michael Beasley, who is arguably more talented and a better fit to play alongside Kevin Love because of his perimeter game. If Minnesota drafted Williams, Kahn and Taylor would have to consider trading either him or Beasley.
NBA Comparison: He has been compared to the aforementioned Beasley, but his game is more reminiscent of someone like David West of the Hornets.
Enes Kanter – C, Turkey
6-11, 260; born on 5/20/92
Strengths: Kanter has NBA size for the center position and is a polished, skilled big man who can definitely be a force down low. He has long arms and good strength necessary to establish position in the post. Loves contact and is comfortable finishing against resistance. Has a scorers mentality and a very diverse offensive game for a big man; has a nice shooting stroke and is good from the free throw line. Also has good body control is not the lumbering, clumsy big body that so many 7-foot centers are. Said to be a coachable player with good work ethic.
Weaknesses: Injury concerns, according to many NBA draft sources. History of knee issues, and some have expressed concern that he won’t hold up to an 82-game NBA season. Athleticism and quickness is not great, and therefore probably won’t be an elite defender in terms of shot blocking. Will have to prove he can be consistent against elite competition as well.
How He’d Fit in Minnesota: Very well I think. PG, SG and C are the Wolves biggest areas of need, and Kanter would be a safe bet to be the most talented center in Wolves history right away (even though that isn’t saying a whole lot). He would compensate for Kevin Love’s lack of true low-post scoring ability, but it would remain to be seen if Kanter could help make up for Love’s defensive inability. It’s also hard to say how much of an upgrade he would be over Darko Milicic, especially considering the money Kahn has invested in him.
NBA Comparison: Kanter compares favorably to someone like Al Horford or Nene, who are both very talented and can absorb contact down low and score despite not having Dwight Howard-like athleticism.
Donatas Motiejunas – PF/C, Lithuania
7-0, 224; born on 9/20/90
Strengths: Motiejunas is a 7-footer with loads of potential. He has awesome agility and foot speed for someone of his height. Great range on his jump shot and can also play and score with his back to the basket, which will create mismatches for his opponents. A very well-rounded offensive games; has a hook shot, turn-around fadaway and excellent footwork to go along with his outside shooting ability. Has very good ball handling skills as well. Is explosive as an athlete for his size and thus projects to be someone who can block some shots. Scouts say he has a competitive fire and a strong desire to win.
Weaknesses: Some have criticized Motiejunas for not always giving 100% in practice. He is very talented, and some believe that he has a tendency to rely on his raw talent as opposed to working hard to become elite. Needs to improve his overall upper-body strength in order to play center. Average wingspan for a 7-footer.
How He’d Fit in Minnesota: While Motiejunas is an athletic 7-footer, I’m not sure he’d be the best fit for the Wolves. He excels out on the perimeter more so than down low in the post, which does create some matchup problems for opposing centers, but the problem is that Kevin Love is already a perimeter big man. His lack of bulk and strength might also be a problem because the Wolves desperately need someone who can protect the rim be a force in the paint. Motiejunas projects to be more of a power forward than a true 5.
NBA Comparison: Scouts are bringing up Dirk Nowitzki’s name a lot when talking about Motiejunas, but I’m not willing to go that far yet. Someone like Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani comes to mind… a 7-foot player who likes to rely on outside jump shots and finesse.
Alec Burks – SG, Colorado
6-6, 191; born on 7/20/91
Strengths: Prototypical size for an NBA 2-guard. Burks has great length (we all know how much Kahn values that) and athleticism. Has explosive leaping ability and can finish at the rim very well due to his great body control while in mid-air. He is a solid shooter in rhythm off the dribble. Scouts are saying he is very coachable and willing to put forth effort on defense. His athleticism and quick feet and hands make him someone who projects as a strong defender at the NBA level once he improves his upper body strength.
Weaknesses: Burks’ main weaknesses are his lack of strength and his suspect jump shot in spot-up situations. Both are correctable however; his frame is such that he could easily add 20 pounds of muscle, and his shooting stroke looks good. He just needs to be more consistent with his jump shot. Needs to learn better shot selection too, although his tendency to force shots might have been due to the lack of elite talent around him at Colorado.
How He’d Fit in Minnesota: Burks would be a great fit for the Timberwolves at the SG position. His lack of spot-up jump shooting ability wouldn’t be as big of a problem since Wes Johnson has proven to be effective as a catch and shoot guy. The Wolves need someone like Burks who has the ball handling and slashing ability to get to the basket. If he can add some strength, I think Burks could be a very good NBA player.
NBA Comparison: Although he is not quite as polished or strong, Burks reminds me a little of John Salmons. Other scouts bring up the names, Eddie Jones or Evan Turner as well. Burks is someone like these guys who can be a very solid SG and a great #2 or #3 option on a good NBA team.
Bismack Biyombo – C, Congo
6-9, 243; born on 8/28/92
Strengths: Biyombo is someone who has been meteorically rising up draft boards lately due to his freakish athleticism and shot-blocking ability, which have been well documented in many YouTube highlights. ESPN’s David Thorpe even speculated that the Wolves could draft Biyombo No. 1 overall. He looks like he could become an elite shot-blocker at the NBA level due to his awesome length (7-7 wingspan) and explosiveness. Has uncanny timing and reflexes for blocking shots. His willingness to tirelessly hustle for loose balls and rebounds are also intriguing.
Weaknesses: For all the hype around Biyombo’s shot blocking ability, his offensive game is incredibly raw. He doesn’t possess any of the basic fundamentals of a skilled big man, and his offense will probably be limited to alley-oop dunks and put backs for much of the early portion of his career. There are also questions about exactly how old he is; some believe he is at least a few years older than he is listed. Some scouts have expressed concern because he hasn’t faced top-notch competition on a consistent basis, and despite his wingspan, he might be a bit undersized to play center in the NBA.
How He’d Fit in Minnesota: On paper, Biyombo would be an amazing fit for the Wolves. A super athletic, explosive shot blocker to pair with Kevin Love in the front court sounds amazing. The Wolves undoubtedly need someone to make up for Love and Beasley’s defensive inability, but I’m not a believer of Biyombo yet. His complete lack of even a basic offensive game is scary. If Biyombo and Love are your starting C/PF combo for the future, that leaves no one who is consistently capable of scoring down low in the half court. If I was David Kahn, I’d much prefer Enes Kanter over Biyombo.
NBA Comparison: Biyombo’s fellow countryman, Serge Ibaka is a popular comparison. Both are limited offensively, but still are able to help their teams with their amazing shot blocking and rebounding skills.
Brandon Knight – PG, Kentucky
6-3, 185; born on 12/2/91
Strengths: Knight has great size and strength to be an NBA point guard. He is a natural leader who loves to have the ball in his hands in the clutch. Has tremendous speed and a great first-step to get by his man on the dribble. He’s good at driving the lane and controlling his body to finish at the rim. He’s also a good passer and a smart defender. His biggest asset is his intensity and fearlessness.
Weaknesses: Like Irving, Knight is a solid athlete, but not a huge leaper. He forces shots too often at times, and needs to adapt his game because he won’t be able to blow by his man as often as he was able to in college. His jump shot can run cold on him, as evidenced in the latter portion of the 2011 NCAA tournament.
How He’d Fit in Minnesota: While he might be a good fit for the Wolves, I’m pretty confident that if they miss out on Irving in the draft, they will just roll with Rubio as their starting PG. Kahn has too much invested in him to seriously consider Knight, Kemba Walker or Jimmer Fredette.
NBA Comparison: His game reminds me a little of some of the combo guards like Jason Terry.
Conclusion: As I have blogged about earlier, the Wolves desperately need to win the lottery and draft Kyrie Irving. To me, he is the unquestioned top prospect in this draft, and would suit this team far better than Rubio would.
If Minnesota’s bad lottery luck continues this summer and they are slotted to pick at No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4, I think they need to try to see if another team covets Williams, Kanter or Motiejunas enough to trade a solid vet for the pick. Including the pick in a package to land a veteran at SG would be ideal.
Basically, if the Rubio is going to be the Wolves’ starting PG, they are going to want to surround him with as many capable scorers as possible, so Rubio can play the Rajon Rondo role for Minnesota, which is basically, play good defense, get the ball to the scorers in good positions, and not worry too much about his own offense.
If that isn’t possible, I think drafting Kanter or reaching for Burks is the next best move. But no matter what David Kahn and Glen Taylor decide to do, they need to make this 2011 draft count. Since Kahn took the GM job prior to the 2009 NBA Draft, he has had 6 first round picks, and none of those have exactly turned into NBA stars.
And with the Wolves 2012 pick going to the Clippers as part of the infamous Sam Cassell/Marko Jaric deal, it’s imperative that the Wolves bring in a quality player or two this summer if they want to take the next step and become a playoff team.