June 9, 2018, 8:31 pm
The 2018 NBA Draft will be held on June 21 and workouts, predictions and analysis have been in full force of late. The Minnesota Timberwolves are currently slated to draft No. 20 overall in the first round and No. 48 overall in the second round and have been looking at a wide variety of prospects.
The Wolves are one of the more secretive teams when it comes to draft workouts and interviews, keeping everything behind closed doors and not talking to the media. Likely afraid to tip their hand, the team just prefers an environment without distractions or outside influences.
The secrecy makes it tough to lock down concrete information, but it doesn’t stop us from rampant speculation and examining potential fits.
When looking at the Wolves’ roster and where they stand, some needs clearly stand out above others. The Wolves desperately need shooting at nearly every position. They need some playmakers on the wing. They need aggressive defenders. They need versatility. They need polish and experience.
While that may sound like a long list, there are prospects out there that can check all of the boxes and not just in the top-10. This draft is deep with wing players and combo guards, especially outside of the projected lottery. While big-men dominate the top-10, plenty of solid wings pepper the board in the teens and 20s that the Wolves will certainly target.
Of course there’s always the question of whether teams should just be drafting the best player available, regardless of their position and the Wolves have shown they’ve favored that route before. You only need to look back to last year when the Wolves selected Justin Patton No. 16 overall, and then targeting Taj Gibson in free agency. President and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau later said Patton was the top player remaining on their board despite a sudden glut of bigs on the roster.
Even the year before with Thibodeau making Kris Dunn the No. 5 overall pick despite Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine manning the back-court. Dunn was, more-or-less, the best player left and the Wolves didn’t hesitate to swoop him up. Of course now all three players have been traded, but that speaks to the nature of the team and the differences between now and then.
Then the Wolves were just hoarding assets, getting talent at every position. They decided to cash-in on the assets instead of seeing them through, which leads the team to now. The Wolves are in a mode to compete, but they’re also cap-tied. With room to only sign one or two free agents over a minimum salary, the team needs these picks to contribute as role players from day-one, or cash them into something that can.
Patton and this No. 20 overall pick are going to factor into the Wolves’ future one way or another, whether they’re traded this offseason or kept around. For the time being we’re going to assume the Wolves are keeping both guys and how each will alter the teams’ draft strategy.
The front-court is locked in with four players (potentially five if Jimmy Butler sees more time at the four, as Thibodeau alluded to in his end-of-season conference) and the point guard is pretty set with at least two, probably three players vying for time (assuming Derrick Rose re-signs which seems very likely as of now). That leaves the wing where the Wolves basically have two players, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins.
Last year, depth at the wing was a major issue for the Wolves even when the team was at full-health. Nemanja Bjelica stepped in when Butler was hurt, and Jamal Crawford provided minimal value, but now both are gone and the position is wide open.
Combine what we said earlier about the middle of the draft being deep with wings and combo players to the complete dearth of even just bodies behind Butler and Wiggins, and it makes this No. 20 pick fairly interesting from the Wolves’ perspective. By now you’re probably just craving some names, so here we go. We’ll start with a few guys who the Wolves could, and should look at for their 2018 NBA Draft selection.
Jacob Evans | G/F, Cincinnati | 21 years old
Measurables: 6′-5.5″ | 200 lbs. | 6′-9.25″ wingspan | 35.5 vertical
Evans had huge expectations going into his junior season after a sophomore breakout. Unfortunately he took a step back in some key areas that sunk him into the middle of pack instead of standing out as one of the best “3-and-D” prospects available.
Defensively Evans remains one of the more enticing options available. He’s a bulldog on defense, getting up close and personal with his defensive assignment. His length isn’t elite, but he makes up for it with his activity and physicality. He’s also very loud, communicating with his teammates on and off the ball directing traffic and making sure everyone is well positioned.
Off the ball he fights through screens, deflects passes and snuffs out steals when he can. Evans isn’t a flashy player, opting to make the correct play most of the time. He’s capable of defending threes, despite being a little small, and can hound most twos.
Offensively is where the question marks begin. His efficiency took a major jump from year one to year two, but declined from year two to year three without seeing a significant increase in usage. He’s also not an above the rim type of player, preferring a more physical, grounded game. That being said, his percentages still remain solid on the surface and perhaps the regression is being overblown.
In his junior season Evans shot 67.1 percent at the rim, 35.3 percent on 2-point jumpers, 37 percent on 3-point jumpers and 75.4 percent from the line. His jumper is solid, enough to be a catch-and-shoot guy, but will likely never be a major threat off the dribble.
For Evans to be successful, he really just needs a consistent 3-point jump shot because his defense will carry him far. He hit 41.8 percent of his 3-point jumpers as a sophomore. If he reaches that clip in the NBA, he would be a valuable role player. Any additional offensive game he adds is gravy. He’s a good passer (1.7 assist/turnover ratio) and is just as vocal offensively as he is defensively. He’d fit into any lineup, but asking him to create would be a stretch.
Envisioning Evans on the Wolves is easy. Being able to learn from Butler and develop under his wing is probably a perfect match. Thibodeau would value his defensive chops immediately and might have the easiest time finding minutes under Thibs among most rookies in this class. His ceiling might be capped off, but Evans provides everything the Wolves need right now.
Chandler Hutchinson | G/F, Boise State | 22 years old
Measurables: 6′-7″ | 193 lbs. | 7′-1″ wingspan* | N/A vertical
He may catch people off-guard being from a mid-major program, but don’t be fooled. Hutchinson is a potent scoring wing who is supremely athletic, willing to chip in some counting stats and fit nicely defensively.
In his senior season, Hutchinson was tasked with carrying his team’s offense and delivered with 20 points per game. He’s drastically improved his shooting over his four years in Boise. As a freshman he shot 35.6 percent overall, compared to 47.5 percent in his senior season. After his sophomore season he completely overhauled his jump shot and went from a non-threat from 3-point range (seven combined makes at 26 percent) to a weapon outside (72 makes at 36.5 percent).
His bread-and-butter is his ability to drive the ball to the rack. He’s a slashing wing that’s comfortable going to either hand and is a strong finisher at the rim. He drew 7.2 free throws per game his senior season, showing a willingness to take contact.
Strong line for Boise State's Chandler Hutchison in an impressive road win over Oregon despite 6-for-16 shooting. Finished with 20 PTS, 10 REBS, 3 AST, and 9 fouls drawn. Dynamic straight-line slasher with super long strides in transition. Fan of his tools + talent. pic.twitter.com/gPP9HWMCeK
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) December 2, 2017
The development of his jump shot only opened up the driving lanes for him as well, making him into a dynamic scoring option. He shot 72 percent at the rim, 34.2 percent on 2-point jump shots, 35.9 percent on 3-point shots and 72.8 percent on free throws.
Defensively Hutchinson has ideal size for a modern wing. He skipped out on the combine due to a first-round promise (rumored to be the Bulls at No. 22), so his measurements aren’t official, but he should be able to hang in there with most threes, and perhaps some twos and fours.
His actual defensive performance is tough to evaluate because Boise State played zone the majority of the time, but his rebounding and steal rates paint a promising picture.
There are concerns that knock Hutchinson from being a sure-fire lottery pick to more of a mid-to-late first rounder. His jumper, while drastically improved, is still inconsistent. Occasionally he reverts back to his old form when he gets tired or out of habit. The extra distance from NBA range may end up playing a factor as well.
On drives Hutchinson isn’t a dynamite athlete that can hang in the air and change his shot on the fly, relying more on his strength and length to finish through players. He can get away with this in college, but at the NBA level he may have to get more creative. A consistent jumper would also go a long way in helping him create some space.
He also needs to take better care of the ball. His 3.4 turnovers per game as a senior were much too high, though some can be attributed to a sky-high 33.2 usage rate. Hutchinson is less of a playmaker and more of a shotmaker. His 3.5 assists were by virtue of the offense running through him. He does show a willingness to pass on his drives, but sometimes forces it.
Overall Hutchinson represents an excellent option for a scoring wing off the bench on day-one. His aggressiveness at the rim should translate right away and as he continues to tweak his jumper, he could turn into a double-digit scoring threat off the bench that’s highly efficient. His defense might be the furthest behind in his game, if only because he needs to learn the ins-and-outs of man-to-man defense.
With Jamal Crawford opting-out, Hutchinson could step right into that role, and perhaps improve their fortunes there.
*Hutchinson skipped the NBA Combine, therefore his measurements are unofficial
Khyri Thomas | G, Creighton | 22 years old
Measurables: 6′-3.75″ | 205 lbs. | 6′-10.5″ wingspan | N/A vertical
The first thing that stands out about Thomas is tremendous length, despite his smaller stature. Then the shooting numbers jump off his stat page. He shot 51.1 percent overall in his collegiate career, including 40.6 percent from 3-point range.
In his junior season, Thomas shot 77.2 percent at the rim, which put him in the 96th percentile among wings, and 40.5 percent from NBA range, with was the 78th percentile (both stats courtesy of The Stepien.com). His mid-range was also well-above average.
Thomas was the second leading option on a high-octane Creighton offense that relied heavily on spacing the floor. He’s not just a spot shooter either. He’s comfortable coming off of screens, shooting off the dribble and shooting off-balance.
The problem is he might be a tad one-dimensional. Right now he’s not a reliable creator and has more of a scorers mentality when attacking the rim. There are also some questions about his ability in the pick-and-roll. Given his size, some primary ball handling ability could go a long way, but he doesn’t quite have it yet.
Defensively he’s an ideal matchup for most guards. His wingspan creates havoc on smaller players, poking the ball loose and contesting nearly every shot. He may not be able to keep the fastest guards in front of him, but he slides his feet well and cuts off lanes players think they have.
He can also guard wings (in college he always lined up against the opposing team’s best player, regardless of position) though his value is higher as a stopper on the ball and disrupting the offensive flow. If he’s on the wing, he just becomes an undersized one-dimensional player.
As one of the best pure shooters on this list, and perhaps one of the best in the class, Thomas also brings a lot of experience with him. Starting 95 of 102 games in his college career, with NCAA tournament appearances in all three seasons, he’s a seasoned player who could make an immediate impact.
Thomas would likely be the best 3-point shooter the moment he steps on the floor for the Wolves and work into the rotation quickly based on that alone. His size could end up working against him with the Wolves heavy on guards, but his length is so superior that with some additional strength he could bother some wings.
He’s not necessarily a playmaker, which could also be an issue off the bench. He’s perfectly suited to shutdown opposing point guards with his length and size, but offensively profiles better on a wing. Adding the skills for a combo guard could vault him into starting lineups.
Sharing the court with a bigger ball-handler right now would be ideal. He can cover the primary point of attack on defense, then slide to a secondary shooting role on offense. He’d fit nicely next to someone like Jimmy Butler, perhaps in some big lineup combinations.
Keita Bates-Diop | F, Ohio State | 22 years old
Measurables: 6′-8.5″ | 224 lbs. | 7′-3.25″ wingspan | N/A vertical
Bates-Diop is the biggest player on this list and perhaps the most versatile. The 2018 Big Ten Player of the Year prides himself on contributing in a number of different areas without being outstanding in any one area.
He’s a solid spot-up shooter with range beyond the arc, hitting 35.9 percent on 3-point jumpers, 44.2 percent on 2-point jumpers, 72.4 percent at the rim and 79.4 percent at the line in 2018. He’s shown a good feel around the rim with a variety of layups and post moves. He also understands the nuances of the game like when to screen, cut and move the ball.
Defensively he’s versatile, ideally fitting in against both threes and fours at the NBA level, while being an excellent candidate to switch a lot. He’s also shown solid rebounding (8.7) and blocks (1.6) for his size.
On the downside Bates-Diop had some passiveness his game that might raise some red flags. He attempted just 4.1 free throws per game, signaling he may not have attacked the rim as much as he could have. He also averaged 1.8 turnovers to 1.6 assists. Bates-Diop isn’t the best playmaker with the ball, relying more on his teammates to put him in good spots. He typically knows what to do with the ball when he has it, but isn’t the most careful.
There’s also some question of his motor and focus, and that he’s not completely letting all his talent shine because of it. He’s also still slightly undersized for the four and doesn’t have the elite athleticism to keep up with every three in the league.
Overall Bates-Diop would represent a pick with some ceiling, but potentially more risk than others listed here. He’s proven that he can contribute in many areas, averaging 4.4 blocks, steals and 3-pointers combined in college. He could probably step in early and play small-ball four off the bench and take over spacing duties from Gorgui Dieng.
He needs to become a better playmaker and fuel in internal fire at the next level, and he needs to get stronger to hang in there with fours or he may doomed to the dreaded ‘tweener’ label. Without one elite skill he needs to refine the entire game. He may never be a star player, but he has the ability to compliment any starting lineup nicely if he puts everything together.
When looking at this list, a common theme here is guys that should be able to step right in and contribute, specifically in reserve of Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler. They all may not have the highest ceilings but seem like solid bets to be rotational NBA players.
There are other guys who could fit extremely well long-term, like Troy Brown Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but are likely too raw for Thibodeau’s liking. Or there’s guys like Zhaire Smith and Lonnie Walker who are dream fits, but should be well off the board by the time the Wolves are on the clock.
Off this list, my personal odd-on favorite for the Wolves would probably be Chandler Hutchinson. His offensive versatility, defensive potential and size is something the Wolves desperately need off the bench. Jacob Evans is also right there and someone I could easily see Thibs falling in love with. A lot can change between now and June 21, though.
Thibodeau is looking for production out of the No. 20 overall pick, and whether it’s through one of these rookies or via trade, he will have plenty of options.