Minnesota Timberwolves

Building a big board for the Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves own the No. 1 and No. 17 overall picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. This is who they should prioritize selecting.

The 2020 NBA Draft is less than one month away and, in an ironic twist, the team that owns the first overall pick is probably the last team in the league who actually wants it. The Minnesota Timberwolves were awarded the top selection after a season that saw them completely rebuild their roster and finish with a record of 19-45. In addition to the first overall pick, the Timberwolves also own the 17th — via the Brooklyn Nets — and 33rd picks.

Minnesota enters the offseason with two-thirds of their core in place in point guard D’Angelo Russell and center Karl-Anthony Towns, but the rest of their roster remains largely unsettled. Guard Malik Beasley and forward Juancho Hernangomez are about to enter restricted free agency; wings Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver provide a strong presence on defense but lack a consistent offensive game; wing Jake Layman is solid, if unexciting; and the rest of the team is occupied by young players trying to prove they belong…and James Johnson.

Timberwolves’ President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas has not been shy about the fact the team is considering all possible options at number one and according to The Athletic’s NBA draftnik Sam Vecenie, the pick is considered “a real threat” to be traded. This, along with the fact that there doesn’t appear to be a slam dunk prospect in the draft, makes constructing a big board for the Timberwolves difficult.

Point guard LaMelo Ball, wing Anthony Edwards, and center James Wiseman are most frequently cited as being the best player in the draft, but not only do all three have serious questions regarding their game but also none of them fit seamlessly with Minnesota. Ball’s lack of defense and poor shooting don’t mesh well in a two-point guard lineup with Russell; Edwards’ lack of consistent effort and poor outside shooting is a bad mix for a team who shot 33.6 percent from 3 and boasted arguably the league’s worst defense three last season; Wiseman is a poor fit next to Towns on the defensive end of the court and may not provide more than blocked shots and rim-running at the next level.

It’s all but guaranteed that one of these three players will be selected with the first overall pick on Nov. 18, but it would not be surprising if Minnesota was not the team making said selection. But this is an article for discussing who the Timberwolves should prioritize drafting, not who they shouldn’t.

There are two lenses through which one can evaluate players when developing a big board for a given team: best overall fit and best overall player. In some cases, the best player available is also the best overall fit making the process pretty easy (see: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans). As has already been established, this isn’t necessarily the case for the Timberwolves.

In this scenario — particularly when the team has been as perenially bad as Minnesota — the preferred lens to utilize is that of the best overall player. Again as has been established, the best overall player may fluctuate significantly if the Timberwolves move the first overall pick and select at, say, number five overall instead.

So, when it comes to creating a big board specifically for Minnesota and the first overall the final product is a bit of a mishmash of the two lenses and is entirely dependent on the confidence that a given player will actually end up being good. Without further ado, the big board.

1. Killian Hayes, Guard, Ulm, Big Board Rank: 2

The Timberwolves are in desperate need of a third star next to Russell and Towns and while they’ll likely try to accomplish that task via trade, Hayes is arguably the best shot to do so in the draft. His ability to play both on and off-ball — Rosas and head coach Ryan Saunders have heavily indicated that they want to feature a two-point guard line up prominently next season — and defensive upside makes him a good fit next to Russell. Additionally, his skill set isn’t overly redundant with Beasley, Okogie, and Culver meaning all four will have access to plenty of playing time. He may be raw, but landing in Minnesota would allow him to grow and develop without being thrust into the starting lineup immediately.

Learn more about Killian Hayes with our full scouting report.

2. Onyeka Okongwu, Center, USC, Big Board Rank: 3

It’s difficult to find a better fit for the Timberwolves than Okongwu. His offensive — pick-and-roll, inside scoring, touch — and defensive — rim protection, rebounding, awareness — strengths compliment Towns perfectly and he would immediately raise Minnesota’s floor. Much like Hayes, he wouldn’t be asked to be a star immediately and doesn’t overlap much with the likes of Hernangomez or Jared Vanderbilt. Okongwu would be number one on the Timberwolves’ big board if the NBA weren’t such a guard dominant league.

Learn more about Onyeka Okongwu with our full scouting report.

3. Isaac Okoro, Forward, Auburn, Big Board Rank: 10

Okoro is a beast defensively and if there is one thing Minnesota needs it’s a defensive beast. His ability to guard 1-through-5 would be a godsend for the Timberwolves who don’t have a versatile, above-average defender outside of Okogie and possibly Culver. Okoro could mask some of Towns’ and Russell’s deficiencies would form the base of a bulldogish perimeter defense next to Okogie. The biggest downside is his lack of offense, but the Timberwolves have plenty of that with Russell, Towns, Beasley, and Hernangomez (assuming the latter two are brought back).

Learn more about Isaac Okoro with our full scouting report.

4. LaMelo Ball, Guard, Illawara Hawks, Big Board Rank: 1

Ball possesses potentially transcendent court vision and passing acumen and his physical traits make him arguably the most appealing player in the draft. He shot needs work and his defense leads much to be desired, but the Timberwolves may be able to convince themselves that they can be the one that fixes him (though, the feasibility of such a task is a conversation for a different article). There’s a real argument to be made that the player with the most talent should be the first pick and Ball fits that bill, if only because he possesses at least one truly elite skill. Watching him feed Russell and Towns on a nightly basis could make for some really fun highlights (but as for winning basketball, who knows).

Learn more about LaMelo Ball with our full scouting report.

5. Anthony Edwards, Georgia, Big Board Rank: 4

Edwards will get buckets and at the end of the day, that is what the game has always, and will always, be about. He has been criticized for his overall effort and inability to lift a University of Georgia team beyond mediocrity, but players with the scoring upside of Edwards don’t come around frequently. A big three of Russell-Edwards-Towns would form the base for a top-five offense for years to come (though the Timberwolves defense would hang around the dregs of the league).

Learn more about Anthony Edwards with our full scouting report.

As for the 17th pick, the big board is a little less important, frankly. At the end of the day, the Timberwolves need talent, so their focus should be on drafting a player who has at least one defining skill that can be further developed (again, assuming they keep the pick). Here are some names, in no particular order:

Tyrell Terry, Guard, Standford, Big Board Rank: 20

Terry is a lights-out shooter and hails from Minneapolis (if there is one thing Minnesota sports franchises love it’s bringing in “One of Us!”). The former Standford guard will likely require some seasoning in the G League but would provide the Timberwolves with an outside threat they haven’t had in a long time.

Learn more about Tyrell Terry with our full scouting report.

Tre Jones, Guard, Duke, Big Board Rank: 29

Another “One of Us!” Much like his brother, Tyus, who also was drafted by and played for the Timberwolves, Jones is a solid defender and possesses a high basketball I.Q. He’d fit well next to Russell and could be a floor general for the second unit for years to come.

Aaron Nesmith, Wing, Vanderbilt, Big Board Rank: 25

Miami Heat wings Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro displayed yet another reason why having dynamic outside shooting is of paramount importance in the NBA as they helped carry the Heat to an NBA Finals appearance. While comparing him to those two is admittedly lazy, if Nesmith could bring any semblance of shooting to Minnesota as the other two did to Miam the Timberwolves would be very happy.

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