Wolves take a long look at Zeller

Indiana big man Cody Zeller worked out alone for Timberwolves management for 75 minutes Wednesday, foregoing an earlier group session that featured four other centers and forwards at Target Center at the discretion of his agent.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t work.

By session’s end, he was dripping sweat everywhere off his chin and brow, including on reporters gathered close.

“There were certain games last year when I lost between seven and 10 pounds in just one night,” he said. “It’s tough for me to put on weight just because I’m always working out and sweating so much.”

Zeller is one player the Wolves will consider with the ninth pick in the June 27 draft, if he’s still available.

Zeller might have been one of the draft’s top three picks if he had left Indiana for the NBA after an impressive freshman season. Now he could go anywhere from fifth to the mid-teens because of a sophomore season in which scouts questioned his strength at 7 feet and 240 pounds and his ability to play against bigger, longer competition.

Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe was partly responsible for sowing those seeds of doubt. He manhandled Zeller at Williams Arena last winter when the Gophers upset the No. 1-ranked Hoosiers.

Flip Saunders, the Wolves president of basketball operations, said he mentioned to Zeller that he “got his butt kicked” that night.

“He was aware of that,” Saunders said.

Zeller played inside with his back to the basket against Mbakwe. In the NBA, Saunders envisions Zeller stretching defenses with his outside shooting at power forward.

“He’s not a center and anyone looking at him as a center is not evaluating,” Saunders said. “He can really shoot the ball. He’ll be a very good ‘stretch 4.’ ”

The Wolves already have the league’s best “stretch 4” — a power forward who spaces defenses with his outside shooting — in Kevin Love. They also have Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham at that spot. So unless the Wolves reconfigure their roster, is there room for another power forward — albeit a mobile, athletic one who can keep up with Ricky Rubio on the fast break — on a team that wants a draft pick who can contribute next season?

“I think I’d fit in well,” Zeller said. “I’d be able to grow behind [Nikola] Pekovic and Love. I know Rubio would be a lot of fun to play with. I love point guards who can run … My quickness, speed, agility as a big guy, that’s what I’ve been doing in the Big Ten and that’s what translates in the NBA.”

Missing Pekovic

Saunders did not meet with Pekovic while he was in Europe last weekend for a camp featuring top international prospects, as he had hoped. And he does not expect to visit with him in person before Pekovic becomes a restricted free agent on July 1, but will maintain a dialogue with Pekovic’s agent.

“He knows where we’re at,” said Saunders, who was in Italy less than three days. “Now it’s just a matter of when the time comes, we’ll sit down and deal with things.”

Etc.

• Saunders called Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams — a 7-foot New Zealander who intrigues scouts with his size and athleticism — “one of the most physical type players in the draft” and called Rudy Gobert — a 7-2 center from France who has a 7-9 wingspan — a project on which an NBA team will have to wait three years to develop. When asked if the Wolves can take a project with their ninth pick, he said, “Depending on how good that project can be down the road. Right now, we think we can get somebody at No. 9 who’s going to help us next year.”

• The Wolves will work out six more players on Thursday, including Kansas center Jeff Withey and Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira. Both are project players the Wolves will consider with their 26th overall pick.

• UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad is scheduled to work out Sunday and Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum is set to visit Tuesday.

• The Wolves hired former NBA center Calvin Booth as their director of player programs/scout and hired former WNBA player Kaayla Chones — daughter of former NBA player Jim Chones — as manager of team operations. Booth will advise players on life issues and help with pro scouting.

• Saunders sounded hopeful he will get a chance to see top shooting guards such as Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Kansas’ Ben McLemore work out if the Wolves can swing a deal to move up in the draft, but he will probably have to go to them.

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  • Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders joked with former Indiana star Cody Zeller on Wednesday.

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