Draft Blog: Sorting Through June 12-16 Workouts

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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The Timberwolves brought in four different groups of players over the past five days—including a single individual workout from Cody Zeller on Wednesday—as the team prepares for what will be a difficult decision come June 27 during the NBA Draft. Will the Wolves use both the No. 9 and 26 picks, and if so who will the Wolves decide is the correct choice in a field that highlights a pretty deep group of players with similar talent levels? Or will they trade up or down on Draft night?

The best part of Draft season is all of these possibilities are on the table, and the Wolves’ Basketball Operations department is trying to sort through all the potential scenarios that will eventually land Minnesota a player or two that can contribute on this squad right away.

There will be several more workouts over the next 12 days, and Timberwolves.com will be there to help you sift through all the names and performances here at LifeTime Fitness Training Center. Before we head into next week, here’s a little bit of a breakdown on the big names who came through this past week and some of the observations from those workouts.

Shabazz’s impact

UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad worked out on Sunday along with a group that included Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin and Minnesota’s Rodney Williams. And from the 15 minutes I saw at the end of the workout, he looked good on the offensive end. His shot is smooth—has that scorer’s touch—and he also showed the athleticism to the basket you look for in a wing player.

The questions surrounding Muhammad deal with his defense and whether he’s a team-first guy. He began addressing those issues with NBA teams at the Draft Combine in Chicago and he’s continued to try and show organizations that he is, in fact, a team-oriented guy.

“I’m a guy that wants to work hard,” he said on Sunday. “I want to play. Off the court, I’m a nice guy. On the court, I want to play. I’m a guy who wants to win. That’s what it takes to be the best. I’m not just looking to get drafted. I’m looking for my team to be a playoff team, to be an All-Star. That’s something I always try to look for and setting goals to reach out to.”

Muhammad is likely a 3 in the NBA, according to President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders, because while he does have the athleticism to match up with some shooting guards on the defensive end, he could have trouble with some guards who move well without the ball and are quick with it.

Still, Muhammad is a talent, and Saunders said he’s a guy who could be an impact player. He has a special gift for scoring, which is something you need to value. From Muhammad’s perspective, he said he’s targeted the Wolves as a potential landing spot and he sounded willing not only to be a complementary scorer to guys like Kevin Love but to also be a playmaker in Rick Adelman’s offense.

He said he’s worked with Love in Los Angeles—both being UCLA guys—and he’s impressed with Love’s intelligence and game on the court. And as far as Ricky Rubio goes, Muhammad said he’s excited to possibly play with an unselfish point guard like that.

“The scoring will come—I’m a natural guy with natural scoring, so I don’t have to look for scoring all the time,” he said. “Especially with this team, with Kevin Love and Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio.”

Saunders said when it comes to asking around about Muhammad, he hasn’t found reason to believe he should be concerned with the reputation she’s gained for not being a team player. He said he’s spoken with guys like former UCLA coach Ben Howland, who are incredibly complimentary about Muhammad and his game.

On the court when he’s got the ball, it’s easy to see why.

“He’s a natural scorer,” Saunders said. “He’s going to find a way, he’s going to scorer. He’s going to find a way to get 14-15 points; that’s just what he does. It might not be the prettiest way he does it, but he’ll find a way.”

Withey’s range in Round 1

Kansas center Jeff Withey said he was fortunate to play in Lawrence when he did. During his tenure with the Jayhawks he had the opportunity to practice—especially early on—against NBA-bound talent like Cole Aldrich as well as Marcus and Markieff Morris. Going head-to-head with those guys made it easy to learn and improve each day.

“It got me a lot better,” he said. “When I was able to hit the floor, games were easy for me because of practice.”

Now, Withey is working out with teams ranging from the late-lottery all the way to the end of the first round. His stop in Minnesota on Thursday was his 10th team workout, and he had five more before the Draft takes place. Where he’ll land is anyone’s guess—including Withey himself—but he didn’t leave much to the imagination on what he will bring to an NBA team.

His main focus in college and moving forward is helping a team defensively. From there, he can contribute in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations offensively. From a rebounding standpoint, he said a team like the Timberwolves would be great because he’d be able to play next to Love—who is a “rebounding machine.”

“But wherever I go, my thought process is going to be on the defensive end,” Withey said.

Withey is a 7-foot, 235-pound center. He said protecting the rim is something he did in college, and that certainly is a checkpoint for the Wolves during this offseason.

Zeller impresses, but fits forward role

Saunders was candid when talking to Cody Zeller. He said he told the Indiana standout he got his butt kicked by Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe during the Gophers’ win at Williams Arena over the Hoosiers last season, and Saunders said Zeller knew it. But Saunders said if Zeller would’ve been playing the 4 instead of wrestling with Mbakwe inside, he wouldn’t have had such difficulty with his physicality.

And with that in mind—combined with Zeller’s impressive ability to play facing the basket—Saunders said Zeller is more of a forward at the NBA level than a center. Zeller seemed to agree, given the physicality from guys like Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard that awaits him at the next level.

Saunders, instead, said Zeller showed a lot more of his offensive game than he displayed at Indiana. While with the Hoosiers, Zeller posted up a lot—and it worked. He shot 62.3 percent as a freshman and followed it up with 56.2 percent shooting as a sophomore. But Saunders said Zeller has the ability to shoot from different areas on the court.

“We wanted to see the things we thought he could do playing perimeter shooting the ball,” Saunders said. “His skill level, his footwork, those are the things that we saw. Whether it’s individual or together, we’ve seen him enough playing in the Big Ten, in the NCAA tournament, we’re aware of the things he can do competing.”

With the Wolves projecting him as a forward, that likely puts up a red flag for Draft night as they currently are not in the market for a power forward with Kevin Love returning from injury and a Derrick Williams/Dante Cunningham rotation plan. Still, in a best available scenario Zeller will likely be an enticing pick if he’s available at No. 9.

Muscala continues to shine

It was great getting to see a Minnesota native in Mike Muscala come through for an individual team workout at Target Center—particularly since the former Roseville Area standout grew up loving the Wolves’ teams coached by Flip Saunders. This week, he was able to get to know Saunders a little bit more and got to take instructions from him on the court—Saunders, being a coach at heart, is very active implementing drills during the workouts. Muscala said he did get a chance to swing home and see family while he was here and watched Game 3 of the NBA Finals at home, but of course this is a business trip. He needed to focus, even though he was walking into the Wolves’ locker room as a player instead of a fan.

For Muscala, this has been a whirlwind trip through the Draft season. He was an incredibly gifted scorer and rebounder in college for a somewhat obscure school: Bucknell. He is the school’s all-time leader in points and ranks second in rebounds and blocked shots, and for that reason (along with being a two-time Patriot League Player of the Year) got invited to the Draft Combine in Chicago. His stock seems to be rising, particularly because he’s a gifted scorer with a wing’s touch in a big man’s body. Part of that is because he said he grew about three inches a year in high school, so he developed his touch while playing on the wing. Now, he’s a big who can hit those midrange shots and provide a shooter’s touch out of the pick-and-pop situations. Saunders said he was impressed with Muscala’s footwork as well.

Much like Zeller, the thing about Muscala, according to Saunders, is he’s a forward in the NBA—not a center. That being said, Muscala is getting a lot of workouts in with teams. He’s gone through 13 to date and has seven more lined up so far before the Draft.

Gobert, Adams work out Wednesday

Rudy Gobert is still an intriguing pick even though he’s viewed as a project for Saunders—a guy who might not be ready to contribute in large doses for a few years. But he’s 7-foot-1, has athleticism and a wingspan of 7-foot-9. That’s what you call protecting the rim potential. He is very lanky—kind of like Wolves center Chris Johnson—but in time he could be a pretty solid contributor for an NBA team. He projects anywhere from 10 to 22 in mock draft boards, so he has a wide range of teams that could decide to select him midway through the first round.

Adams is an easy-going guy. The 7-foot Pitt freshman and New Zealand native from New Zealand is also an athletic player who can finish at the rim and brings a knack for offensive rebounding. He brings some defensive skills and can run the floor well, and he said he’s focusing on showing he can block shots. He said that’s something he’s working on as he goes.

"I have to work on my timing and stuff,” Adams said. “Coming from New Zealand where there are a lot of short guys, I didn't really have to jump. Here, guys jump out of the gyms. It's crazy."

From a personality standpoint, Adams came across laid back while still being focused on the court.

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