DENVER – Last summer, Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau determined he and his staff had three justifiable choices for the fifth pick in the NBA's June draft.
Two of them met Wednesday night at Pepsi Center.
Thibodeau considered young Kentucky guard Jamal Murray and seasoned Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, but Thibodeau pounced when Providence's Kris Dunn was still on the draft board at No. 5.
"When you're studying guys, you don't know who you're going to get," Thibodeau said. "But we thought there were three guys who were very good. We felt confident we'd get a good player."
Ultimately, Thibodeau opted for what he considered need — both positional (point guard) and skills (namely Dunn's defensive potential) — while New Orleans selected Hield sixth and Denver chose Murray seventh.
So far, Murray arguably has been the most productive, turning playing-time opportunity into 8.7 points per game, including four games of 20 or more points while primarily coming off the Nuggets bench.
At age 19, Murray went 17 attempts and more than four late October/early November games without making a shot — an 0-for-8 night against the Wolves included — before he found his shooting stroke and his game.
"He's a good young player," Thibodeau said. "We liked him a lot in the draft. He has an NBA skill with ability to shoot the ball. He's smart and he's a hard worker, so you'll know he'll just continue to get better. He has done very, very well."
Murray averaged 21.3 points over a four-game stretch in mid-November and was named the Western Conference's Rookie of the Month. He hadn't scored in double digits the past six games before Wednesday night against the Wolves, but that's partly because guards Will Barton and Gary Harris are healthy again and Nuggets coach Mike Malone has settled on a rotation that has trimmed Murray's playing time.
"I have not lost one ounce of faith in Jamal Murray and what he can do and the player he can be for us," Malone said. "Right now, he's like most 19-year-olds in this league: Day to day, trying to figure it out, and we're trying to help him out as much as we can."
Murray had seven points in 12 minutes Wednesday while Dunn had two in 14 minutes.
Lessons from God
Even though his team didn't seek a point guard last summer, Malone knows Dunn well, too: A Providence College assistant in the late 1990s, Malone coached a guard named God Shammgod, who as a Providence assistant mentored Dunn on ballhandling and crossover moves.
"I've spent some time with Kris," Malone said. "You love his size, his athleticism, his playmaking ability. He's a terrific young player, but he's learning how to play in this league. The NBA is hard on young guys, it's not easy. Most young players go through learning pains and all that comes with it."
•Wolves guard Ricky Rubio's first-quarter turnover was his first since Friday's Sacramento game. He became the first NBA player since 2008 to record consecutive 10-assist, 0-turnover games Sunday at Oklahoma City and Monday against Atlanta.
•Thibodeau coached Denver's Kenneth Faried on the 2014 U.S. team and reportedly tried to trade for him last summer. "Relentless," Thibodeau said. "He can guard 4s [power forwards] and 5s [centers]. He runs the floor. He makes great effort plays, hustle plays. Those type of plays help unite and inspire your team."
•Wolves assistant coach Ed Pinckney was Malone's top assistant last season with the Nuggets. He left to rejoin Thibodeau, whom he assisted in Chicago.