By drafting UCLA guard Zach LaVine, the Wolves hope their first-round mistakes have come to an end.
The Timberwolves have to hope their second draft with Flip Saunders at the helm will continue reversing some of the damage done under former General Manager David Kahn from 2009-2013.
Saunders made his third first-round selection in two years Thursday night when he picked UCLA guard Zach LaVine with the 13th pick. That follows Saunders’ acquisition of UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad and Louisville center Gorgui Dieng in draft-day trades last year.
Coming out of high school, LaVine was ranked as the 44th-best prospect in the 2013 class by Rivals.com. He committed to UCLA and decided to stay even after coach Ben Howland was fired and Steve Alford took over. He averaged 9.4 points as a freshman and is viewed as a tremendous athlete who will take time to develop at the NBA level.
Kahn made nine first-round selections over four drafts, but of all his selections, only point guard Ricky Rubio remains with the team.
If the drafts and player deals under Kahn had been more in the mode of a well-run team such as NBA champion San Antonio, you could rest assured the Wolves would have had much better records and All-Star forward Kevin Love would not be pushing for a trade.
Saunders can’t afford to make any mistakes if he wants to overcome Kahn’s disaster in drafting and dealing.
Here are only a few of the glaring mistakes that transpired while Kahn was in control of draft decisions.
In 2009, Kahn selected Rubio at No. 5, Jonny Flynn at No. 6, Ty Lawson at No. 18 – all three of them point guards – and shooting guard Wayne Ellington at No. 18. Kahn then traded Lawson, who has become one of the NBA’s best point guards in Denver. He averaged 17.6 points, 8.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season.
He passed on Stephen Curry at No. 6 to draft Flynn, and Curry has become one of the best players in the NBA for Golden State. He averaged 24 points, 8.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game last season with the Warriors.
Flynn, meanwhile, is out of the NBA. He played in the Australian National Basketball League in 2012 and then joined the Chinese Basketball Association in 2013 before leaving the team after a month because of an injury. He hasn’t played professionally since.
In 2010 the Timberwolves took small forward Wesley Johnson with the fourth overall pick — one spot ahead of DeMarcus Cousins, who was selected by the Kings — and Nevada small forward Luke Babbitt at No. 16 and Clemson power forward Trevor Booker at No. 23 (Babbitt’s and Booker’s rights were traded on draft day to Portland and Washington, respectively). Johnson played two years with the Timberwolves before being traded to Phoenix, a trade Kahn made to give the Wolves more salary cap space, but it also cost them a first-round pick, which Phoenix could get next season. Johnson is now with the Lakers and averaged 9.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 28.4 minutes per game last season.
Meanwhile, Cousins averaged 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds last season with the Kings and is one of the better young centers in the NBA.
In 2011, the Wolves selected Derrick Williams with the second overall pick, a move that was considered wise at the time. But Williams was a miserable small forward with the Wolves and was eventually traded to the Kings. A few of the players drafted after Williams include shooting guard Klay Thompson, drafted 11th overall by Golden State, and small forward Kawhi Leonard, drafted 15th overall by the Pacers and traded to the Spurs.
Leonard was the NBA Finals MVP this year, averaging 14.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 23 playoff games. Thompson has been linked as the key trade piece between the Wolves and Warriors in any potential Love deal. He averaged 18.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game this season.
Williams put up decent numbers with the Kings last year, averaging 8.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Kahn also had the 20th pick in the 2011 draft and used that on forward/center Donatas Motiejunas, who was traded to Houston along with Flynn for Brad Miller, the draft rights to Nikola Mirotic and Chandler Parsons and a future first-round pick. The Wolves then traded the rights to Parsons back to the Rockets for cash. Mirotic was traded to the Chicago Bulls for Norris Cole, UCLA guard Malcom Lee and cash. Mirotic is now one of the most highly coveted European basketball stars while Parsons averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and four assists per game for the Rockets last year.
There were other misses as well, but the overall story is simple: The Wolves had nine first-round selections over Kahn’s tenure and only Rubio remains, which is why Kahn is gone.
Gophers’ NHL picks
It’s not surprising that the Dallas Stars (previously the Minnesota North Stars) have drafted more Gophers than any other NHL team, with 23 selections. However, the organization has only drafted two Gophers (Nico Sacchetti in 2007 and Gino Guyer in 2003) since moving to Dallas.
Another good sign of the Gophers’ pedigree is that three members of the Gophers coaching staff have been NHL draft picks — head coach Don Lucia was selected by Philadelphia with the 168th overall pick (10th round) in 1978, associate head coach Mike Guentzel was the 135th overall selection (seventh round) by the New York Rangers in 1981 and assistant coach Grant Potulny was the 157th overall pick (fifth round) in 2000 by Ottawa.
With 12 NHL draft picks already on the Gophers roster, Lucia’s program could see that number grow this weekend when the 2014 NHL draft is held in Philadelphia. Four players with ties to the Gophers were ranked in the 2014 NHL Central Scouting final rankings, including incoming freshmen defensemen Jack Glover and Ryan Collins, ranked 38th and 57th overall among North American skaters. They were teammates for the past two seasons at the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., after helping Benilde-St. Margaret’s to the 2012 Class 2A title.
Chanhassen native Jack Ramsey of the BCHL’s Penticton Vees is ranked 181st among North American skaters. A forward who is not expected to join the Gophers for the upcoming season, Ramsey is the son of former Gophers and NHL defenseman Mike Ramsey and the brother of Gophers women’s hockey captain Rachel Ramsey. Outside of North America, incoming freshman Leon Bristedt ranks 24th among European skaters eligible for this year’s draft.
The Gophers have produced 189 NHL draft picks and 19 first-round picks, including current defenseman Brady Skjei. The Lakeville native was selected 28th overall by the New York Rangers in the 2012 NHL draft.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org
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