Day by day, the Timberwolves’ predraft workouts provided a steady stream of shooting guards, whether they paraded to the team’s Target Center doors or new president of basketball operations Flip Saunders traveled to work out Indiana’s Victor Oladipo near Washington, D.C.
He’s searching for someone who fits the job title and has prototypical NBA size for the position — in other words, someone who stands literally head and shoulders above current starter Luke Ridnour.
“If that’s what they want,” Georgia sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said, “I’m their guy.”
Oladipo and Kansas’ Ben McLemore are considered the prizes of a shooting guard class that Saunders deems the draft’s deepest position. But he would have to strike a deal to move up from the No. 9 spot to pluck one, a prospect that Saunders makes sound less likely as the days tick by.
That just might make Caldwell-Pope the favorite to be the newest Wolves player by Thursday night.
Measured last month at 6-5½ in sneakers, he is nearly an inch taller than either one, although Oladipo’s wingspan is an inch longer and NBA executives always remind that the game is played with arms and not the top of your head.
“I can shoot it, I can create my own shots, I can defend, I can rebound,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I can do a lot of things.”
The Wolves finished dead last in three-point shooting last season, a lousy 30.5 percent with both Kevin Love and Chase Budinger injured much of the year. That has led Saunders to list shooters as his team’s biggest needs.
He wants to put those shooters around Ricky Rubio to help make the precocious point guard better, and vice versa.
But he wants more than stand-still shooters.
“We need shooting but we want a multipurpose player,” he said. “We don’t want a player who’s just a shooter. We want a player who can defend, shoot, get out and run the open floor. So that’s what you’re trying to get. There are a few players who have the ability to do that.”
By Saunders’ estimation, there are a handful of prospects who are such two-way players. Oladipo and McLemore are foremost among them. Caldwell-Pope almost certainly is in that group, which also could include Lehigh combo guard C.J. McCollum and perhaps California’s Allen Crabbe or Providence’s Ricky Ledo.
Saunders apparently considers the rest what he calls “specialists,” a lengthy list of shooting guards such as Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr., San Diego State Jamaal Franklin, North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock, Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin and Arizona State’s Carrick Felix who primarily are shooters.
In moving from the coaching sidelines to the front office, Saunders now must evaluate a player such as Caldwell-Pope, who likely has made himself into a lottery pick while playing for a Georgia team that lacked talented players around him, against a guy like McLemore, whose talent might have sometimes been hidden in a stacked, structured Kansas program.
And then Saunders must decide whether the price of moving from ninth pick into the top five is a worthy price to pay for the chance at McLemore.
“Sometimes when guys go into a situation that’s more disciplined, they can actually look better than guys who go into situations where they have the freedom to do everything,” Saunders said. “Those guys can do worse, some can’t be as productive in a freedom situation where they’re maybe the only guy. It’s a tough question. Sometimes it’s a unique question. Usually it’s more of a feel about them.”
Saunders points out that Caldwell-Pope was considered the better recruit — a McDonald’s All-America pick from Greenville, Ga., who was ranked 12th-best player by Rivals.com in 2011. McLemore was rated 34th coming out of high school.
Georgia went 15-17 — 9-9 in the SEC — last season, when Caldwell-Pope shot 37.3 percent from three-point range and averaged 18.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals.
When asked what NBA player his game most closely resembles, Caldwell-Pope paused, seemingly puzzled, and then offered a somewhat curious choice.
“If I had to say someone, I’d say Shane Battier,” he said, referring to the Miami forward. “He can shoot and defend. He just works hard at whatever he does. I kind of consider myself the same.”
Caldwell-Pope, 20, also said he considers himself more defender than offensive threat, which seemingly qualifies him to suit Saunders’ two-way requirement.
“My offense is going to be there,” he said. “If I focus on defense, it just brings along my offensive game, too. That really just keeps me calm and lets my game come to me.”
He said he was nervous participating in team and media interviews at last month’s Chicago combine, but has grown comfortable with the predraft routine and his place entering the NBA.
“I’m hoping for the best,” he said. “I hope I end up on a great team. I bring a lot. I have a lot of energy. I compete on both ends. I can help a team. Whoever drafts me is getting a hard-working, humble, coachable kid.”