Let’s break new ground. Let’s use a sentence never before uttered or written.
The Minnesota Timberwolves can’t screw this up.
The Timberwolves finally turned their historical wretchedness into the first overall pick in the NBA draft. They did so in the rare year when holding the first pick gives them their choice of can’t miss-options.
As of a month ago, the Wolves were likely to choose Duke center Jahlil Okafor with the first pick, because of Wolves boss Flip Saunders, owner of all the thrones in this game of thrones.
Now it appears they are leaning toward Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns, who is more athletic, has more shooting range and is better defensively, and have at least considered taking Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell, who might be the most skilled player in the draft.
Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis has caused lots of fun speculation because he is remindful of Dirk Nowitzki, but his rèsumè is not nearly strong enough for him to be considered as the first pick.
The Timberwolves can’t screw this up for two reasons:
1. Saunders. He’s shown prescience with his draft picks, taking Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine when they were raw and unattractive college prospects. He’s a good judge of talent.
2. He’s going to take either Towns or Russell, and either could develop into a great NBA player.
I think the Wolves will take Towns, and he might bring the most immediate help. He’ll immediately improve the Wolves’ defense and provide a tailor-made complement to Andrew Wiggins and the Wolves’ guard-oriented offense.
Towns could be good for a long time.
Russell has a better chance to be great.
Call it chronological bias. If the Wolves’ goal is to win an NBA championship, I’d like to see them emulate the most recent champions.
For most recent champions, their best players were guys who handled the ball, got to the rim and shot with range.
For this year’s Warriors, that’s Steph Curry, along with Klay Thompson in the regular season and Andre Iguodala in the finals.
While the Spurs greatly benefited from the presence of Tim Duncan, they won big when Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli or Kawhi Leonard were at their best.
The Heat won with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Mavericks won with a big man, Nowitzki, playing like a small man. The recent-vintage Lakers? All Kobe Bryant. The Celtics? Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and versatile-if-aged Kevin Garnett. The dynastic Bulls? Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal provide prime arguments to this argument, but in the modern NBA, where shooting the three-pointer, creating for teammates and getting to the rim are favored strategies, I’ll take the guy who starts plays over the guy who can only finish them.
Towns may be great, but a team featuring Wiggins and Russell handling the ball, driving to the rim, hitting outside shots and creating for teammates would be impossible to effectively guard, as long as Wiggins continues to grow and Russell puts in the work to develop his strength and skills.
The analytics that should inform the Timberwolves’ decision on the first pick in the 2015 draft should come from the Department of Redundancy Department.
A young team building its future around a long, lean, athletic, multi-skilled swing player from a large Midwestern university should take another.
Russell is 6-5, with an ideal frame for a young NBA player. He can handle, create, get his shot off quickly, shoot with range, run the floor and finish at the rim.
Russell would also give the Wolves the flexibility to complete the transformation of their roster.
Ricky Rubio has yet to prove he can shoot proficiently or stay healthy. Russell’s ballhandling would allow Saunders to try to trade Rubio for another high pick in a draft that may be six or seven deep.
Show us your stuff, Mr. All The Thrones. Take Russell, then make a deal.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On