It's that time of year again, Wolves Nation. Actually, way past time to turn your attention to college basketball's fast-approaching tournament play and yes, May's NBA draft lottery. Here's the field the Timberwolves are losing for this time around. One of 'em probably destined to play beside Andrew Wiggins:

Jahlil Okafor

Duke 6-11, 275 pounds

Center, 19 years old

He already has been universally anointed the draft's No. 1 pick and some NBA insiders promise May's lottery winner gets the next Tim Duncan. If he's not the Big Fundamental, call him Baby Fundamental because of his great hands, sublime footwork and countless offensive moves that belie his young age. He might not have shown himself the rebounder or defender the other top big men have so far, but he has been absolutely dominant offensively on a Duke team that's 16-2.

Did you know? Recruited by college coaches since he was an eighth-grader, some say he is the most polished big man to come out of Chicago since Eddy Curry or Rashard Griffith. His father once called him part Hakeem Olajuwon in his prime, with some of Duncan's fundamentals tossed in.

Karl-Anthony Towns Jr.

Kentucky 6-11, 250 pounds

Center, 19 years old

He's uniquely skilled big man with great size, agility and reach who can shoot and handle it, even if you don't always see it all on a Kentucky team loaded with other talent. He has impressed with his rebounding and shot-blocking and underachieved offensively, probably because of the many gifted players who surround him. Certainly not his team's featured player like Okafor is, but's Fran Fraschilla calls him a "five-tool player."

Did you know? New Jersey-raised, he was at age 16 the only prep player chosen for a Dominican Republic national team — his mother is from there — coached by Kentucky's John Calipari two summers. Towns then graduated high school a year early to play for Calipari at Kentucky. He played for the World team in the 2013 and 2014 Nike Hoop Summit in Portland.

Emmanuel Mudiay

Guangzhou China, 6-5, 195 pounds

Point guard, 18 years old

He reneged on a commitment to play for Larry Brown at SMU and signed with a Chinese pro team, but hasn't played since November because of an injured ankle. He impressed enough overseas to still be considered this draft's best point guard, even if it's of the scoring variety. NBA scouts loved his size, strength, athleticism and quickness when played alongside Towns at the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit. A pick-and-roll nightmare matchup for the next decade or more.

Did you know? Born in what is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo, he was raised in that war-torn country by two older brothers and a mother who grew vegetables and sold coffee to support the family after his father died when he was a baby. When he was 5 years old, his mother moved to the United States to lead a way there for her three boys, who joined her a year later in the Dallas area.

D'Angelo Russell

Ohio State 6-5, 175 pounds

Combo guard, 18 years old

The Wolves need a big man more than another guard, but don't sleep on a combo guard from Flip Saunders' beloved Big Ten (and home state of Ohio) who is silky smooth, has length and big hands as well as both a playmaker's feel and a scorer's mentality. Lefthanded, he also invites comparisons to Houston's James Harden.

Did you know? He's not from Ohio at all, but is one recruit from Louisville who got away from Rick Pitino and the hometown team. He played for the same guy who coached Rajon Rondo in high school but played his final three seasons at the same Florida academy that Joel Embiid and Luc Mbah a Moute did.

Don't forget:

• Kentucky junior C Willie Cauley-Stein

•UCLA freshman PF Kevon Looney

•Latvian PF Kristaps Porzingis

NBA short takes

A renaissance arising on Peachtree Road

The Atlanta Hawks' fortunes are looking up, and not just on the court where they are the surprise story of this NBA season with the Eastern Conference's best record.

Forbes magazine's latest franchise valuations estimate the Hawks' worth has doubled from just a year ago, up to $825 million just in time for the team's sale. Television viewership locally has increased 61 percent and attendance has increased 2,220 a game from last season. Five of six recent home games were announced as sellouts; the Timberwolves make their lone Philips Arena visit Sunday.

The Hawks' three ownership groups plan to sell the franchise and arena operating rights after a racially offensive e-mail written by co-owner Bruce Levenson was leaked.

Worth the wait for Waiters

Consider new Oklahoma City guard Dion Waiters a happy man. Wouldn't you be, too, if you just left Cleveland?

But seriously, folks…Since the Thunder acquired Waiters in a three-way trade three weeks ago, he has found a slightly expanded role and apparently, more receptive star teammates in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook than he had with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The Wolves visit Oklahoma City on Monday.

"Listen," Waiters told the Oklahoman newspaper, "they give me the ball. Like, I touch the ball. Like, I actually, like, you know, touch the ball…They brought me in since Day 1 with love. It seems like I've been here forever. It seems like I've been playing with them forever, too. When I came here, we clicked right away."

Barkley's parting words

NBA fans worldwide last week picked injury-prone Kobe Bryant over Houston's James Harden to start the All-Star Game.

"I love Kobe Bryant, but James Harden deserves to be starting in the All-Star Game," TNT analyst Charles Barkley said. "The Lakers stink and Kobe hasn't played enough games. James Harden should be starting … plain and simple."

Wolves' Week Ahead

Sunday: 5 p.m. at Atlanta (FSN)

Monday: 7 p.m. at Oklahoma City (FSN)

Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. Dallas (FSN)

Friday: 6 p.m. at Philadelphia (FSN)

Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Cleveland (FSN)

Player to watch: Kevin Love, Cavaliers

The former Wolves All Star returns to Target Center for the first time – and only time this season – since last summer's blockbuster trade sent him to Cleveland. Oh, yeah, and a guy named LeBron and the recovering Cavs will be there, too.


« Disappointing the way we played tonight, I think we played with deflated balls. »

Wolves coach Flip Saunders, playing off the NFL's news of the week after Wednesday's lopsided home loss to Dallas