Plenty of curiosity is left in this local basketball season, with the Timberwolves regrouping post-trade deadline and post-All-Star break to see what their reconfigured lineup can accomplish in the final 29 games and the Gophers men's basketball team trying to shake off Sunday's damaging loss to Iowa and still sneak into the NCAA tournament.
But if you've already focused at least one eye on the future with both of those teams, the 2020 NBA draft is a big deal in each case. That point was underscored with ESPN.com's latest mock draft (Insider required) from Jonathan Givony that has plenty of local interest. Let's take a look at the highlights:
• ESPN's mock has the Wolves picking sixth even though they currently sit in the No. 4 spot in the pecking order. I'm not sure if it's because their model suggests the Wolves (16-37) will move past a couple of the bottom-feeders they're clustered with by the end of the year or if it's reflective of more of the franchise-cursing lottery luck, but it does emphasize two points: With eight teams sitting between 14 and 20 wins (seven in the East plus Minnesota in the West), there is a ton to sort out still in terms of draft position; and where the Wolves ultimately land will be pretty important in what is not considered a very strong draft.
ESPN's mock has the Wolves taking Kentucky freshman combo guard Tyrese Maxey at No. 6, which is plausible — though Maxey might be more of a high-floor, low-ceiling type of player (and one who is shooting less than 30% from the shorter college three-point distance this season). Maybe someone like 6-8 overseas forward Deni Avdija — more of a swing-for-the-fences move for a franchise that covets high-end talent — would be the play? ESPN has Avdija going one spot earlier at No. 5.
After all, combo guards are more common than playmaking fours. And the Wolves could scoop up the former in the mid- to high teens with the Brooklyn pick (projected at No. 17 by ESPN) they acquired as part of the Robert Covington deal. ESPN's mock has the Wolves getting Arizona wing Josh Green with that pick.
It's also notable that the Wolves have a high pick (mid-30s, likely) in the top of the second round. In fact, they're the only team in the projected first 10 picks of the second round that hasn't traded that pick. The second round is far from the throwaway round it used to be as NBA teams look to find stars to develop or find low-cost rotation players.
• Speaking of which, two players with local ties could be on the Wolves' radar with that second-round pick.
ESPN's mock has Tre Jones — Tyus' brother, formerly of Apple Valley and now of Duke — going No. 30 overall with the last pick in the first round. And it has Gophers big man Daniel Oturu going No. 37 overall early in the second round to Sacramento.
Oturu is of particular interest because what the sophomore does will have a major impact on the Gophers in 2020-21. Givony writes of Oturu: "Players at age 20 who produce at Oturu's level are clear NBA prospects, but the value of players in his mold has dipped, which might relegate him to the second round. With Minnesota appearing likely to miss the NCAA tournament, Oturu might consider returning to college, fine-tuning his skills and trying to enter the NBA on a higher note next year."
If he does enter the draft, though, he could be an intriguing prospect for the Wolves (and others) to consider.