Saunders used his opening statement to talk at length about how he thought the team had a good mix of veterans and young players at the start of the year — a group he hoped would compete for a playoff spot — before injuries derailed the season. At that point, he and the Wolves had a decision: keep playing some of the non-injured veterans or go with a wholesale development movement.
The Wolves obviously chose the latter and won just 16 games while also developing Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine (and securing a pick guaranteed to be no worse than No. 4 in this year’s draft).
“I felt we accomplished what we set out to do,” Saunders said when talking about the franchise’s revised strategy.
If the rebuild is to mean anything, though, this year’s draft is crucial. Whether you think the Wolves were tanking or merely just that bad with all the injuries this year, the end result is a high draft pick. Here is what Saunders had to say when I asked him about how he and the Wolves will approach things as the May 19 lottery and June draft draw nearer:
“We’ll go through both individually and as a staff and see a lot of players, watch a lot of film. A lot of it has to do with what background checks you have on players — and communications with them when we sit down and talk to them. … It’s a daily process you go through evaluating, and it can change.
I believe this: I believe when you draft in the top four or five, I believe you’re going to get a good player. This is a pretty deep draft, and it’s a pretty top-heavy draft really compared maybe to some of these past years. What you have to do at that point is take the best player available and not be as concerned with what position he (plays). Usually teams that have made major mistakes in this league have drafted for position high rather than drafting who the best player was. … I’ve always had an order in my head.”
That’s nothing revolutionary, of course, but in a draft in which so many people seem focused on big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor as the possible top two picks, Saunders said on multiple occasions that he believes the Wolves will do well regardless of where they wind up picking (anywhere from No. 1 to 4).
“Whoever we draft will be a piece (next year),” Saunders said. “The draft is that good.”
Maybe he has to say that now, but it’s also worth noting that Flip has done a pretty good job so far in evaluating draft talent. Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine are his first-round picks, and all of them seem to be rotation players at worst. Andrew Wiggins, acquired for Kevin Love, could be a superstar.
Still, I have to imagine that deep down, knowing the injury history of Nikola Pekovic, Saunders has to be hoping to have a chance to draft one of those big men.