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For the past few weeks, Tim Connelly has conducted a walking tour of his new city. When the phone rings from executives with other teams and agents for the 2022 NBA Draft class, Connelly likes to throw in his earbuds, lace up his sneakers and walk and talk. With the draft set to take place Thursday night, throwing open the first trade window of the summer, Connelly has been walking all over town while gathering information, trading intel and pondering trades.
“We have a really, really good young core, and those guys haven’t scratched the surface of playing their best basketball,” Connelly said. “But this is the time of year where you’re trying to address some of those needs and trying to help maybe a bit more diversified of a roster.”
The Minnesota Timberwolves have the 19th pick in the first round and three second-rounders — Nos. 40, 48 and 50 — meaning Connelly is flush with resources as he considers drafting players who could help a team coming off a breakout season and making trades to add veterans for a more immediate impact. As fun as last season was, the Wolves need size, toughness, rebounding and playmaking if they are going to continue their climb. Thursday will offer the Wolves several avenues to accomplish that.
Like every general manager in the league, Connelly has been having conversations about drafting players with the Wolves’ picks and packaging those picks with veterans on their roster to get experienced, proven players to address their weaknesses. They have been linked to several players in reports this week and that is unlikely to slow down as the draft approaches.
“I think you want to get on base with (pick) 19,” Connelly said. “How much you want to swing for the fences? That depends on who is there. But there’s some guys in our range that have skill sets that we presently lack.”
The trade market
The Timberwolves’ front office has studied the rosters of the teams that went deep into the playoffs, looking for lessons to learn and dots to connect that will help in their pursuit. Because one of the team’s biggest needs is size, rim protection and rebounding, it is more likely than not they will address that via trade and/or free agency. The goal is to become a team that gets home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, Connelly said.
“If you look at the final eight teams this year, there’s not many teams that were playing rookies,” Connelly said. “So, we’re drafting for the next three to five years, three to seven years. If we expect the 19th pick to make an instant impact on a team that was in the playoffs last year, it’s unfair for that player.”
The Wolves could look to move D’Angelo Russell as part of a package to reshape their roster, a situation we explored in depth on Tuesday. The good vibes that permeated much of the season for the Wolves and Russell seemed to wane after a disappointing showing in the playoff loss to Memphis, and Russell may be paying attention to some of the rumor mill that is churning.
Ima keep it realer than a documentary.
— D’Angelo Russell (@Dloading) June 22, 2022
Malik Beasley, who found his stroke over the second half of the season after a dreadful start, could intrigue teams that need shooting, though the Wolves are a little short in that area, as well. If Minnesota finds a way to add another big, Naz Reid could become expendable. In all likelihood, anyone not named Karl-Anthony Towns or Anthony Edwards could be in play in trade talks.
If Jaden McDaniels isn’t untouchable, he is about as close as it gets. The Wolves are incredibly high on his potential heading into his third season, and his strong finish against the Grizzlies only burnished that view.
Several names of well-established veterans on other teams have emerged as possibilities for the Wolves in trades. Connelly said Wednesday that the team is engaging in conversations all over the league.
“We’re super open to it,” Connelly said. “We’ve had countless conversations about using that pick to add a more quickly impactful piece. But 99 percent of these conversations are just theoretical; we’ll see if they’re actionable.”
The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported on Monday that the Wolves have had conversations about several veteran centers, including Atlanta’s big man, Capela. He recently turned 28 years old and averaged 11.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game for the Hawks, who finished a disappointing 43-39 in the East and lost to the Miami Heat in the first round a year after advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.
Capela’s nose for rebounding and his ability to run the floor and catch lobs would be an intriguing fit in the frontcourt next to Towns, who has been listed as the team’s center for the first seven years of his career. Towns’ shooting and handle make it easier for coach Chris Finch to put him out on the perimeter, which would open things up in the paint for Capela to rim-run and pound the offensive glass.
Sources have indicated that there has not been much headway, if any, made between the Wolves and the Hawks, who have been mentioned as perhaps the most aggressive team this summer when it comes to pursuing trades. There is interest from the Wolves in Capela but, so far, little engagement on any deal.
While some outside the organization have concerns about Towns playing with another center, the Wolves are not in that group. Towns has played with other bigs throughout his career, including with Gorgui Dieng, Taj Gibson and Jarred Vanderbilt, who plays like a traditional center on offense while Towns steps out to the 3-point line in an essential role for this team because of the lack of consistent shooting at other positions. There is little concern internally that the Wolves could make a pairing between Towns and a more traditional big work.
Jake Fischer from Bleacher Report reported on Wednesday that the Wolves, Hornets and Raptors are the three teams at the front of the line for Turner’s services. From what I can glean, there is something to keep an eye on here, though it remains unclear how substantive the talks have been between the Wolves and Pacers.
Turner is a little different than Capela when it comes to playing center. In his seven seasons in the league, Turner has averaged 6.7 rebounds per game. Not exactly Dennis Rodman territory there, but Turner also is a much more well-rounded offensive player than Capela. He made 51 percent of his shots last season, the second-best mark of his career, and twice has led the league in blocked shots. He made 33 percent of his 3-pointers but was limited to 42 games by a foot injury.
Turner’s rebounding numbers may have been depressed in some ways because he played most of his career in Indiana with Domantas Sabonis, one of the league’s most relentless rebounders. If Turner is given a role that prioritizes rebounding in Minnesota or elsewhere, he could make a big jump.
The Wolves would have to be confident that Turner’s foot injuries are not something to worry about over the long term, but his versatility and shooting would give Finch more options to throw different looks at opponents.
Maybe the most intriguing fit of all of the players rumored to be available for trade, Murray was an All-Star this season, averaging 21.1 points, 9.2 assists, 8.3 rebounds and a league-leading 2.0 steals per game for San Antonio. He will turn 26 in September and still has two years left on his contract at $16.5 million next season and $17.7 million in 2023-24.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe proposed on his podcast that the Wolves should part with Russell and two top-three protected first-round picks to get Murray to Minnesota. Fischer reported that the Spurs are asking for a “Jrue Holiday-like package” to pry away their young star. In 2020, the Bucks sent three first-round picks, two pick-swaps, Eric Bledsoe and George Hill to the Pelicans for Holiday. That kind of package seems pretty steep for a very good player, but one with a few limitations.
At 6-foot-4, Murray has similar size to Russell, but he plays a lot faster. Murray only shot 32.7 percent from 3-point land for the Spurs last season, but his explosiveness and competitiveness would figure to be a great fit with Edwards, Towns and McDaniels.
Wolves minority owner Marc Lore has generally preferred aggression on the open market and is not averse to parting with draft picks if those picks will land him a quality player. Would Glen Taylor and Connelly share that sentiment if the opportunity to land Murray was genuine?
Talk about a big move. Gobert is one of the best defensive players of his generation. Coming to Minnesota to play with defenders like McDaniels, Vanderbilt, Patrick Beverley and (on his best days) Edwards would have to be a welcome departure from Utah’s leaky perimeter defense.
Even if Towns couldn’t quite stay with some of the smaller power forwards while Finch deployed the two-big lineup, having a defender as stout as Gobert there to help cover for him would be fun to watch.
Alas, so far it seems that Utah is driving a very hard bargain for one of their two franchise players. It’s an understandable stance for Danny Ainge to take. Gobert is a generational talent on defense, a hard worker who has been relatively durable over his nine-year career. Trading Gobert would be ushering in a new era in Utah. The Jazz fell short in the playoffs this past season, and there are real questions about whether Gobert and/or Donovan Mitchell will remain in Utah for the long term. It’s a franchise-altering decision, and the Jazz don’t seem to be in a hurry to make it.
“I thought by this point, some of the conversations that we’ve had or we’ve heard of leaguewide … I thought they’d be a bit further advanced than they are today,” Connelly said Wednesday. “But all it takes is one call, and you make a trade in two minutes. A lot of jabbing right now; hopefully, there’s some punching starting (Thursday).”
The top three players in the draft are well-established, with Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero believed to be going in some order to Orlando, Oklahoma City and Houston. But once the draft gets past Nos. 8 or 9, the field really levels out, according to scouts. That makes sitting at No. 19 a tantalizing position for Connelly. In an eye-of-the-beholder draft, Connelly’s eye for talent should give him a leg up.
Any number of players could be there at No. 19, and there are plenty more early in the second round looking to become the next Nikola Jokić or Monté Morris, two of Connelly’s biggest success stories in Denver.
“If it’s super close, we’ll factor in need and position, but I think the biggest mistake we could make is passing on a guy because of where we are presently and we look up a year or two from now and the guy is a special player,” Connelly said.
Whether the Wolves move Russell this offseason or not, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a point guard go to Minnesota. Beverley is a combo guard, but has initiated the offense a lot for the Wolves, but he is on the last year of his deal. Jordan McLaughlin performed very well for the Wolves last season, but at present seems to be viewed as a backup point guard on a team that goes deep in the playoffs. Getting another ballhandler to help get the Wolves into their offense, find teammates shots and score himself could be good for the short and long-term outlooks.
TyTy Washington | Kentucky | 6-3 | 20 years old
Sam Vecenie’s rank: 14 (out of 100)
Vecenie’s (very educated) analysis: Good size and length for a combo guard who shades more toward the lead guard position at 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan. Not a great athlete but plays with great pace. Washington’s critical skill is the ability to process the game faster than others. Seems to make the right play far more often than not. Washington’s best skill is as a passer, something he only got to do sparingly this season because Sahvir Wheeler needed to play on the ball. Instead, he played more of an off-ball combo role because the team needed him to score.
Krawczynski’s (completely uneducated) analysis: I like Washington’s size and his ability to play up-tempo, something that Finch really wants to see more of with this team. That goes for attacking on offense and getting back on defense in transition. Any player whose best attribute is his passing could really help this offense move forward, because Russell just completed the best passing season of his career and was, at times, a magician in the way he found his teammates for easy buckets.
This is a wing-driven league now. The Wolves have nice depth there with Edwards, Beasley, McDaniels, Beverley, Josh Okogie (for now, at least) and Jaylen Nowell. But you can never have enough switchable wings who can shoot from outside. It’s a Connelly staple, so adding another one or two would make sense.
MarJon Beauchamp | G League Ignite | 6-6 | 21 years old
Vecenie’s rank: 28
Vecenie’s (very educated) analysis: Great frame for an NBA wing. At 6-foot-6, Beauchamp pairs that with a 7-foot wingspan, broad shoulders and a strong lower half. He doesn’t get bullied or knocked around. Uses that frame in multiple functional ways. Plays with a terrific motor. The trajectory is key here. As opposed to becoming more of a shot creator, Beauchamp has taken those two best attributes — his frame and motor — and turned into more of a garbage man willing to get into the tough areas of the court.
Krawczynski’s (completely uneducated) analysis: Love Beauchamp’s story. After high school, he decided not to attend college or go overseas, but instead just train with Chameleon BX, a hyper-demanding program designed to prepare Beauchamp’s body for the NBA. Then the pandemic hit and derailed things, and he ended up at Yakima Valley Community College and then Ignite. Not a reliable shooter or ballhandler, which gives me pause.
Malaki Branham | Ohio State | 6-5 | 19 years old
Vecenie’s rank: 21
Vecenie’s (very educated) analysis: Plays decisively and aggressively. All about scoring upside for Branham. He’s a legit shot maker. Big-time midrange gunner out of ball screens. Hit an absurd 59.6 percent of his shots out of ball screens, a number particularly ridiculous given that 40 percent of those shots were pull-up jumpers from outside of eight feet.
Krawczynski’s (completely uneducated) analysis: Love that he made 41.6 percent of his 3s for the Buckeyes last year. Even if Beasley stays next season, I think the Wolves need to add more shooting to the second unit. There just weren’t enough knockdown guys to keep the defense honest even on nights where the shots weren’t falling. Branham’s shooting could be the kind that always makes a defense think twice.
Tari Eason | LSU | 6-8 | 21 years old
Vecenie’s rank: 13
Vecenie’s (very educated) analysis: He is a superb defender, first and foremost. Extremely switchable. Think Eason has one through five upside. You can’t displace him at all as a driver. He’s stronger than you are almost all the time, and he’s quick enough to beat you to the spot. So disruptive with his hands on your dribble. If you put the ball in front of him, he might snatch it.
Krawczynski’s (completely uneducated) analysis: A 6-8 forward who can guard all five positions and hit 36 percent of his 3s last season? He should go fifth, not 19th.
Jake LaRavia | Wake Forest | 6-8 | 20 years old
Vecenie’s rank: 22
Vecenie’s (very educated) analysis: The first key is shooting. LaRavia wasn’t a high-volume shooter in college, taking only 2.2 attempts per game from distance. But I have few doubts that he’s going to make shots from 3 in the NBA. Has an exceptionally clean stroke from distance that will have absolutely zero issues transitioning back behind the NBA 3-point line.
Krawczynski’s (completely uneducated) analysis: The more shooting, the better. LaRavia shot 40 percent from 3 as a freshman and 38 percent as a junior. Anything to breathe more spacing into Finch’s offense and open things up for Edwards to dive to the basket. I do wish the sample size was bigger than 2.2 shots per game, though.
Wendell Moore Jr. | Duke | 6-6 | 20 years old
Vecenie’s rank: 31
Vecenie’s (very educated) analysis: Great strength with that frame. Really hard to go through him. Great lower-body power and strong through his core. Think the critical piece of the puzzle is that Moore Jr. has a strong feel for the game. Really smart player. Smart cutter who creates offense by reading defenders and moving off the ball. If his man turns around, recognizes it immediately.
Krawczynski’s (completely uneducated) analysis: He’s not super athletic. As Vecenie said, a “below-the-rim finisher.” That worries me a little bit. Love that he played three seasons at Duke, meaning he should have some maturity to his game when he comes to this level. And he shot 41 percent from deep. Beautiful.
Dalen Terry | Arizona | 6-7 | 19 years old
Vecenie’s rank: 17
Vecenie’s (very educated) analysis: Phenomenal size and frame for an NBA wing at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. Has great lateral quickness and is a genuine NBA athlete. Just flies around out there. An extremely active presence who constantly gives his team energy. On top of that, Terry has a very enthusiastic attitude with a motor that never quits.
Krawczynski’s (completely uneducated) analysis: What’s not to love? Sounds like Corey Brewer to me. And that’s a compliment. Vecenie said scoring/shooting is among the bigger concerns with his game, but on a team with Towns, Edwards and Russell, who needs it?
Jalen Williams | Santa Clara | 6-6 | 21 years old
Vecenie’s rank: 18
Vecenie’s (very educated) analysis: Grew up as a lead guard, and because of that and a late growth spurt from 6-foot-3, Williams has developed real playmaking ability. Epitome of being a dribble-pass-shoot guy despite now being the size of an NBA three. Best out of ball screens right now. Was a three-level scorer at Santa Clara.
Krawczynski’s (completely uneducated) analysis: I generally love guys who had late growth spurts (I’m still waiting on mine). Usually that means they really developed guard skills in their younger days of being undersized. When they sprout up, they move fluidly and see the floor. That’s what it sounds like we have with Williams.
Even though Connelly said he thought it would be easier to find immediate help in the frontcourt by adding veterans, there are a couple of intriguing candidates who have plenty of muscle and could be available when the Wolves are on the clock.
Walker Kessler | Auburn | 7-1 | 20 years old
Vecenie’s rank: 30
Vecenie’s (very educated) analysis: An elite collegiate rim protector who’s among the best we’ve seen in the last decade in terms of blocking shots and contesting at the basket. Kessler posted an absurd 19.1 block rate this year. That’s the best mark in college basketball since 2008, when former VCU and Bucks center Larry Sanders had a 19.3 rate. Does as good a job at staying big as anyone I’ve seen in the last few years.
Krawczynski’s (completely uneducated) analysis: What I like about Kessler is he’s SO different from anything the Wolves have had in the frontcourt in, well, forever. He is a massive body who eats up space and swallows shots at the rim. Can he move well enough to keep up in the NBA? We’ll see. But the sheer size to him makes him hard to ignore.
E.J. Liddell | Ohio State | 6-7 | 21 years old
Vecenie’s rank: 24
Vecenie’s (very educated) analysis: Smart defensive player. Good rim protector, particularly from the weak side. Liddell displays great timing in knowing when to leap. Doesn’t quit on plays. Guys see someone who is 6-foot-7 with a heftier frame and think they can attack him as he rotates over from the weak side, but he gets off the ground quickly and is always there.
Krawczynski’s (completely uneducated) analysis: On the flip side to Kessler, Liddell doesn’t have overwhelming size, but he gets by with smarts, athleticism and tenacity. Love the instincts. He turns 22 in December, so he’s a little older, but he has improved his shooting and hit 37 percent from deep last year. Feels a little like Paul Millsap, who did wonders for Connelly in Denver.
(Top photo: Troy Taormina / USA Today)