The Timberwolves started draft night with a first-round pick. They finished it with two.
President of basketball operations Tim Connelly went down and then up in the draft on Thursday, tossing out four separate deals as he made his first draft with Wolves an eventful one.
As the Wolves came in at 19th overall, they dealt with the Grizzlies to drop back and take the 22nd and 29th picks from Memphis – but they didn’t finish.
Wolves kept the first of those picks and selected Auburn center Walker Kessler at No. 22, but before they could pick No. 29, Connelly struck a deal with Houston for No. 26 and selected Wendell. Moore of Duke.
Wolves’ busy draft room liked how the night had gone ahead of them and thought they could get two quality players they had targeted as they moved back. Connelly said the trade talks started slowly, but around picks Nos. 8 and 9, the trade calls started to become more “actionable”. He credited his front office with handling the chaos.
“This room did a fantastic job of planning for what we thought it might be. It allowed us some flexibility because we had a pretty good lay of the court,” Connelly said. “…These guys were surgical. I’m just the dumb guy who tries to run everything.”
Wolves traded the No.19 and also sent a 2023 second-round pick as part of the Memphis deal. In trade with Houston, which had previously acquired the No. 26 from Dallas, Wolves dealt the No. 29 and two future second-round picks.
Second-round currency was on the move everywhere. Wolves traded Charlotte from No. 40 to No. 45 and salvaged a 2023 second round that belongs to the Knicks. At No. 45, they knocked out Josh Minott of Memphis, a positive prospect Wolves relished. They then traded the No. 48 to Indiana for a future second-round pick and cash and kept their No. 50 pick to select Matteo Spagnolo, an Italian guard who will stay there for the time being and not join. Wolves right away,” Connelly said.
Connelly couldn’t comment specifically on Wolves or Minott’s early rounds as their trades weren’t finalized. He spoke in general about how rookies might adapt more in the future than immediately.
“We were looking for personality types. We were looking for guys that we can grow with in the long run,” Connelly said. “We don’t want to put too much expectation on their ability to contribute straight away. When you have a team that has been as successful as us, it’s hard to put that on your shoulders.”
With their first pick, Wolves went for size and a potential rim protector in Kessler, who played a big part in Auburn’s season in which the Tigers earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Kessler was the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year.
Wolves could use a rim protector and size in the frontcourt and they got some from Kessler, who was renowned for his ability to block shots. He had a stunning 4.6 shots per game in his only season at Auburn following his transfer from North Carolina.
Last season, Wolves played a defensive scheme that required center Karl-Anthony Towns to be on the perimeter to cover screens and keep players along the perimeter. Players would then rush behind towns to keep the edge. Kessler could help them keep the rim if he can contribute right away.
Connelly said a priority for Wolves this offseason is to add rebounds to their roster after finishing last season as the third-worst team in defensive rebounding percentage. Kessler averaged 8.1 rebounds per game and 11.4 points. He shot 61% from the field but only shot 20% on 1.5 three-point attempts per game. But Kessler’s place next season, if at all, is a question mark.
In Moore, Wolves acquire a wing that blossomed in his third season at Duke after struggling in his first two. Moore averaged 13.4 points as he helped Duke reach the Final Four. He improved his three-point shooting from 30% to 41% from his sophomore season to the junior season.
Moore earned high marks from draft evaluators for his ability to play on and off the ball and could score the dribble. He was also a solid defender who could hold multiple positions. Wolves are betting Moore can continue to progress from his freshman year while overcoming what some analysts see as a lack of athleticism.
“I think we’ve improved,” Connelly said. “I’m not going to put unfair expectations on what they’re going to do on the pitch. Most rookies don’t have a huge impact, but I think when you add the type of people that we’ve added, I think that the organization got better.”
The second-round picks will be development projects for Wolves, as Minott averaged 6.6 points, mostly off the bench in his lone season at Memphis. Minott has the athleticism to play in the NBA but likely needs to work on his shooting. Spagnolo averaged 12.2 points while playing for Vanoli Cremona in the Italian Lega A. Wolves have also signed Theo John from Champlin Park to their Summer League squad, according to a report from Athletic.
At first, the draft was silent on trades, as the top 10 picks all remained with the teams that selected them. Wolves did not sit idly by as the trade began soon after. However, point guard D’Angelo Russell, whose status was trade rumored later, was still on Wolves’ roster as the draft took place on Thursday, the first major window for trades in the offseason.
Connelly entered the night expecting his team to argue and debate picks and strategy. He said he got what he wanted.
“Are you kidding me? I’ve had a few beers already, I’m so sick of it,” Connelly said. “…No shortage of arguments, which is great. No shortage of debates. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
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