Column: It's Time To See What These Picks Can Do
It's Time To See What These Draft Picks Can Do
I’ve heard the radio banter. I’ve read the tweets and Facebook posts. I’ve gotten earfuls from my friends.
Whether you’re in favor or against how this year’s version of the NBA Draft played out for the Wolves, there are some vocal opinions out there. And with good reason—the first round shook out about as unpredictably as you could have imagined. If you called up Marty McFly and Doc Brown, fired up that DeLorean and headed back to Thursday morning with an anonymous stack of final mock drafts and the actual results from this week’s first round, chances are your previous self wouldn’t have picked the actual results as a viable option.
But it is.
Anthony Bennett going No. 1 to the Cavs set it all in motion. Then we saw Cody Zeller go No. 4 to the Bobcats, Nerlens Noel fall to No. 6 and get dished from New Orleans to Philly for Jrue Holiday, and a combination of Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and C.J. McCollum available as the Kings went on the clock at No. 7. Conventional wisdom suggested that KCP—a guy most Wolves fans thought the team would wind up with—would still be there when Minnesota picked at nine.
As it turned out, McLemore and KCP went seventh and eighth, the Wolves didn’t believe McCollum’s size would be an ideal fit given how small the team had played the past two seasons, and in order to secure higher draft value later in the first round Minnesota decided to trade that No. 9 selection for the 14th and 21st overall picks. They then, later in the night, traded their 26th pick to Golden State along with Malcolm Lee for a future pick and cash.
Here’s where the fun begins.
Minnesota ended up selecting UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad at 14, then followed it up with a safe and rather defensive-oriented pick in Gorgui Dieng with No. 21. The moves did a couple things the Wolves hoped to accomplish in this Draft—it got them a scorer who has a fluid shooting motion and should be able to add depth on the wing. It also got them a rim protector who should be able to become a serviceable rotation player in their front court.
It also created a stir among fans. Immediately after the No. 14 pick, reaction was mixed on whether or not Muhammad would be a great teammate or if he’d bring some of the off the court baggage we heard about in the media last year at UCLA.
Those reviews continue to be polarizing. Nationally, media members give the Wolves favorable reviews for their picks in this year’s draft—particularly since those true shooting guards were off the board before they picked—and feel that both Muhammad and Dieng will become strong contributors. Around Minnesota, there still seems to be debate whether or not the Wolves made the right choices.
For me, it’s time to stop looking back and questioning the past. It’s time to look forward to what could be in the future.
Muhammad has said all the right things during this Draft process. In Chicago during the Combine, he met every question about his character and his image head on. He said he’s focused on improving his game, being a team player, and winning. He seems to understand that, no matter where he ended up, there would be questions and eyeballs following his every move.
When he came through Minnesota in June, he followed suit with those same right answers to the same questions. He even brought with him a pretty on-point knowledge base of the Wolves’ organization, talking about Rick Adelman’s legacy as coach and the type of style his teams tend to play, what it would be like to catch passes from Ricky Rubio and pairing up with fellow UCLA player Kevin Love.
When he was selected on Thursday and the trade went through, Muhammad became a member of the Timberwolves. He’s leaving a year that had its controversies and entering a completely new situation. A clean slate. Everything that happened in the past can and will be forgotten with hard work, team play and graciously filling the role Adelman and Flip Saunders envision for him.
Adelman knows what he wants in a player, and if someone doesn’t fit the criteria he’s looking for he’ll express that. The Wolves wouldn’t have picked anyone both Adelman and Saunders didn’t feel comfortable with.
At the end of the day, Muhammad is a young and talented player with upside. He has size, could get time at the 2 and the 3 and has a really pretty jumper—a combination that the Wolves haven’t had a lot of during Adelman’s first two years. He’ll head off to Summer League, and he’s got a chance to really shine in Las Vegas. Not only is it his hometown, but it’s his first opportunity to showcase the skills he possesses at the NBA level. He averaged the second most points per game as a freshman in this history of UCLA—not exactly a slouch program. This guy can do work on the court; now it’s time to prove it.
This year’s Draft is not a guaranteed success at this point. A lot needs to be seen down the road before we can say that. But it’s time to embrace these players. Let them develop this summer, get familiar with the league this winter and build a foundation for themselves both on and off the court. This is a fresh start, and it’s their responsibility to put in the work and buy into the Wolves’ philosophy. And until they prove otherwise, these kids deserve the benefit of the doubt they’ll do just that.
It’s time to take a step back and watch these players get to work. There’s a lot of career left to be played out.