In an incredibly drama-free NBA lottery Tuesday, the Timberwolves didn’t move, staying put at No. 5.
But now they can really get moving in preparation for the June 23 draft.
In the lottery for the 20th time the Wolves — with Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns representing the team in New York while wearing the late Flip Saunders’ wedding band on a chain around his neck — continued a streak in which they haven’t moved up.
But they weren’t alone, because the lottery went completely according to form. Philadelphia won the No. 1 pick, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston. The Wolves had entered the lottery with a 26.15 percent chance of finishing fifth, a 29.12 chance of moving into the top three, a 36 percent chance of finishing sixth and a tiny chance of falling to seventh or eighth.
Players who might be available at No. 5 include Kentucky guard Jamal Murray, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, Providence guard Kris Dunn and Croatian power forward Dragan Bender. Among the players the Wolves are thought to have interviewed at the draft combine last week in Chicago were Murray, Duke guard Brandon Ingram and Hield. Dunn confirmed he had interviewed with the Wolves, a process he said went well, saying “Me and [new Wolves coach] Tom Thibodeau are on the same page.”
“The thing I liked about him is he’s a defensive coach,” Dunn said of Thibodeau at the combine. Dunn is a two-time Big East Conference player of the year and defensive player of the year. “And my greatest strength is defense.”
The Wolves could also opt to use the pick in a trade to acquire a more experienced player. Or they could trade down in the draft either for extra picks or a veteran player or both, if there is a player still on the board at No. 5 that another team covets. That’s especially true if a team is looking for a point guard and Dunn is still on the board.
Indeed, what the Wolves have now is flexibility, which is exactly what Thibodeau wanted.
In the days leading up to the lottery, Thibodeau said he hoped for the best, but that, “We’re going to get a good player” no matter how the lottery came out. He has often said that improved defense, rebounding and shooting are the team’s three most pressing needs.
To Thibodeau, flexibility is the key. The Wolves have a young core of players and the fifth pick. And with that comes options.
“You never know what could happen with trades and things like that,” Thibodeau said before the lottery. “I think we’re in a great position. I’m really excited about that. We’ve got a very good young core that we’re excited about coaching and we also have the high pick and also have the cap room. I think it’s a great position to be in.”
Perhaps that’s why Thibodeau and new General Manager Scott Layden interviewed more than a dozen prospects at the combine. They also interviewed potential second-round players and prospects who might not get drafted at all, just to be ready for any eventuality. The team also brought in a group of players, headlined by Providence forward Ben Bentil, who were contemplating whether they will keep their names in consideration for the draft or withdraw, depending on their prospects.
Another group of potential second-round picks will be brought to Minneapolis on Wednesday for a workout, a group that is believed to include Miami’s Angel Rodriguez and Tonye Jekiri.
On Tuesday, Thibodeau said the lottery results will allow the team to narrow its focus and schedule visits for potential first-round picks.
Even if the Wolves do ultimately trade the pick, Thibodeau said all the homework wouldn’t be for nothing.
“It’s a beginning,” he said. “Anytime you have an opportunity to spend time with the prospects, it’s good. Because it’s not just this draft. It’s about down the road. You don’t know what trade opportunities might come up someday, [or] free agency.”
Staff writer Jerry Zgoda contributed to this report.