MINNEAPOLIS — While preparing to run a draft room for the first time, new Minnesota Timberwolves President Flip Saunders has said on multiple occasions that the closer the draft gets, the more likely it is that teams fall in love with certain players, even in a down draft.
It appears that player for Saunders is Indiana guard Victor Oladipo.
The Timberwolves enter the draft on Thursday night with two first-round picks and two second-rounders and with a desperate need for perimeter scoring and defense at shooting guard. As a tenacious defender who can score in transition and has shown significant improvement in his outside shooting, Oladipo would seem to fit most of those criteria.
"I just say there are certain guys when you look at them have the 'it' factors," Saunders said recently when asked about Oladipo and Kansas guard Ben McLemore, widely considered the top two shooting guards available. "So when you walk in, you can tell when they're warming up just how they handle themselves and handle the ball and shoot the ball and just how they go about their footwork."
The only problem is that Oladipo is projected to go long before the Wolves get on the clock at No. 9. Saunders has had discussions with several teams in the top five about trading up, with talks centering around Minnesota's two first-round picks, including No. 26, and forward Derrick Williams.
But the asking price may be just too high to get up there to get him.
"Depending on how much you want to give up you can always move up, but usually that price a lot of times gets to be steeper and steeper the closer you get to the draft," Saunders said Monday.
If the Timberwolves can't make a move to get Oladipo and have to stay at No. 9, Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lehigh's C.J. McCollum are considered strong candidates. Indiana big man Cody Zeller is another possibility.
The Timberwolves were the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA last season, hitting just over 30 percent as a team. Getting All-Star Kevin Love back from a twice-broken right hand and the anticipated re-signing of Chase Budinger figure to help in that regard, but the Wolves are still looking for more reliable perimeter threats alongside point guard Ricky Rubio.
"We need shooting, but we want a multipurpose player," Saunders said. "We don't want a player who's just a shooter, we want a player how can defend, shoot, make plays, get out and run on the open floor, so that's what you're trying to get. There's a few players who have the ability to do that."
They also want a more prototypical shooting guard from a size perspective after using the smaller Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved in that role last season. Oladipo is 6-foot-4, but with a wing span that helps him play bigger. Caldwell-Pope is 6-foot-6, which could give him the edge over the 6-3 McCollum if it comes down to those two.
Williams has been the center of trade chatter for the last two years. The former No. 2 overall pick is stuck behind Love in a log jam at power forward that also includes Dante Cunningham, and he is the team's best trade asset.
But Williams also showed significant improvement in his second season, filling in admirably as the starting power forward for Love. He's still only 22, and Saunders seemed hesitant to part with Williams in a draft that is considered to be short on impact players.
Having the pass-first Rubio in the fold at point guard should increase the chances of a draft pick fitting in right away and getting open shots, but Saunders hopes a shot-maker next to the precocious playmaker in the backcourt will also make things easier on Rubio.
"(Defenders) are going to make them stay at home to open up a lot more lanes for him, a lot more passing lanes, penetrating lanes and he'll be even a more effective player," Saunders said. "So it's not just making those guys, but what guys we bring in that can make him better. Guys that can shoot. Guys that can get out and run. Guys in the open floor. Guys that can do a multitude of things."