Monday, May 16, 2016

If the Wolves Win the Lottery

The NBA draft lottery is tomorrow evening (May 17), where our Minnesota Timberwolves will hopefully cash in on their 8% chance to get the #1 pick. The team could pick anywhere between 1 and 8, except for 4th. If the Wolves are lucky enough to win the lottery for a second consecutive year, who should they take?

Ben Simmons, the much heralded freshman out of LSU, is considered the top prospect. However, Duke's Brandon Ingram has closed the gap considerably since midway through the collegiate season, and some teams might actually prefer Ingram over Simmons at this point.

Ingram's tenacity on both ends and his shooting ability make him look like a good fit for the Wolves current roster. While some have suggested Ingram could be a stretch 4 at times, I don't see that as a real possibility. He's extremely thin, and while it's true he's young, his body type is likely to remain the way it is even as he gains weight. His body is very similar to that of Kevin Durant's.

For me, Simmons should be pick if they get #1. He actually could play the stretch 4 role a bit better than Ingram, as he's more versatile and much stronger. Ingram is a way better shooter, but Simmons is going to be a great all around player. The main argument for the Wolves to maybe pass on Simmons is that they already have Ricky Rubio, who does a lot of the same things Simmons does in a half court offense. While I don't disagree with that sentiment, I think it undersells Rubio's value defensively, and Simmons ability offensively. Rubio ranked as the best or second best defensive point guard by most advanced metrics, and his shooting percentages improved considerably in the second half. If he can continue to knock down open shots, he could play with Simmons just fine.

Simmons best use offensively seems to be as a point forward, but he's immensely skilled and should realistically fit into any system. His biggest problem at LSU wasn't that he didn't assert himself enough (as the pundits keep suggesting) but rather he was playing with a few upperclassmen who thought they were much better than they actually were (looking at you, Tim Quarterman) and hogged the ball. A Simmons/KAT front court is almost a perfect fit against most teams. The Wolves could also choose to go really big at times, using a lineup of Rubio/Wiggins/Simmons/Dieng/Towns. The shooting would suffer, but the defensive potential would be spectacular. With most teams going small, the Wolves would be able to counter with a pounding offense that could score inside or get to the foul line at will. That kind of a lineup would be best used in short spurts, though, because stretching the floor would be a challenge.

If the Wolves are lucky enough to win the lottery and decide for whatever reason that Branon Ingram is the better fit, ideally they'd manage to trade down to #2 and pick up an extra asset or two. That would require the team picking at #2 to value Simmons much higher than Ingram, which isn't a guarantee but certainly a possibility.

I also think the odds the Timberwolves trade Ricky Rubio are much lower now that there's a new GM and President of Basketball Operations. For the Wolves defense to take a major step forward as many expect under Tom Thibodeau, they'll need Rubio around. Even if they don't win the lottery and Kris Dunn falls to them, I still think Rubio's going to be a better player. I'd prefer the Wolves trade the pick in that situation.

With so many possibilities it may have made more sense to wait to see what pick the Wolves get tomorrow, but to me Simmons is the clear cut #1 prospect. He's taken a bit of a hit because there's no real comparison for him; he's a point-forward with point guard skills who's best position might eventually be a power forward. Ingram looks like Kevin Durant and has a good shot, although he's not even close to Durant as a prospect coming out of college.

After 20 years of terrible lottery luck, the Wolves got lucky last season by holding onto the top pick. Maybe it will continue to average out, and the Wolves will again pick #1. Regardless, it'll be nice in a few years to care more about a playoff basketball game at this point than the NBA draft lottery. 

My top 8:

  1. Ben Simmons, LSU
  2. Brandon Ingram, Duke
  3. Jamal Murray, Kentucky
  4. Dragan Bender, International
  5. Kris Dunn, Providence
  6. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
  7. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
  8. Henry Ellenson, Marquette
I'm not a big fan of Ellenson at all, but the draft really falls off quickly. Valentine should be a late lottery pick or even later, so the Wolves could likely trade down and get him. He's a solid all around player that at worst should be a decent role player. He has the potential to be a starting shooting guard with size and versatility though, and his college numbers are even better than Hield's. Bender is a long-term project but he's a huge power forward with shooting touch, so I'd be fine waiting for him to develop next to KAT. Murray to me is going to be a great player, and he might fit best next to Rubio in the backcourt.

The team will have plenty of options, and Thibs will have a big decision to make in his first off-season. Here's to hoping it works out better than most Timberwolves decisions of the past.