NBA Draft Philosophy: Need Or Best Available?

There are two ways to approach a Draft pick, and the Wolves are beginning the process of figuring out their stance as they hold the No. 13 selection in the 2014 NBA Draft
The NBA Draft will take place on Thursday, June 26 at 6 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPN.
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by Mark Remme
Web Editor
@markremme

There are two philosophies when approaching a draft pick. A team can draft based on position-based need, or they can elect to simply pick the best player available when it comes to their particular position. There’s really no right or wrong way to approach it—just as long as your pick ends up being successful.

The Wolves are entering this Draft season with essentially any possibility on the table. They’re selecting No. 13 overall, which means they won’t have a high lottery pick but should still have a decent selection in what has been deemed one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. There will be a lot of mobility for prospects between now and the Draft on June 26, which means the Wolves need to have an open mind at this point about who might be there and who would be the best asset.

“At this point, it’s best available,” Timberwolves General Manager Milt Newton said. “What that allows you to do is if you draft the most talented player, if it’s a position you already have and he’s better than that player at that position already, you can move that current position you have.”

There are cautionary tales either way you choose. The Trail Blazers already had a strong shooting guard in Clyde Drexler on their roster in 1984, so they elected  to take Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. In 2003, the Pistons had a team primed and ready to win an NBA championship (which they did in 2004) with a lineup filled with young perimeter stars. So they chose center Darko Milicic with the second overall pick and let Carmelo Antony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade stay on the board.

The thing is, who knew Jordan would become the player he did? And how were the Pistons to know all three of those players picked just after Milicic would out-last their young core to the point where all three are, for the most part, still going strong? Hindsight is 20/20, and there’s no judgment here. But drafting for need doesn’t always play out the way you’d like it.

Still, it’s also important to remember what a team’s positional makeup is heading into a Draft. For instance, last year the Wolves had Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved on their roster at the time of the 2013 NBA Draft, so had they elected to pick and keep Trey Burke on their roster it would’ve ensured a logjam at point guard.

This year, the Wolves have the opportunity with nearing or expiring contracts to have more flexibility across the board. And in this particular draft, shooting will be the most available trait. Minnesota will need to sift through who might be available at No. 13—should they choose to stay at that spot—and decide which of the potential shooters are the right fit.

Should the Wolves decide that drafting a shooting wing is the right direction, they’ll have a collection of players that could find themselves falling to 13. Watch for the UCLA duo of Zach LaVine and Kyle Anderson in the middle first round, as well as Duke’s Rodney Hood, North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren, Michigan State’s Gary Harris, Michigan’s Nik Stauskas and Kentucky’s James Young. Most certainly a few of those players will still be around at No. 13, and by and large those players fared well at the Draft Combine in Chicago last week. But which one would be the right fit?

There are a few players that seem to have some promise in the front court as well. Michigan State’s Adreian Payne gained high reviews for his rebounding and shooting abilities, and Creighton’s Doug McDermott was a scoring machine during his college career.

Perhaps the two positions least represented in this first round—especially outside the Top 10—are the center and point guard positions. The Top 10 will likely feature point guards Dante Exum and Marcus Smart, but the middle first round is primarily wing players. The exception might be a guy like LaVine, who could be a combo player. And at center, guys like Indiana’s young big, Noah Vonleh, will likely be gone by No. 13.

The Wolves will have their hands full sifting through all the options, and they’re already well into the process. Newton and other members of the Wolves’ basketball ops staff are in L.A. this week meeting more prospects and watching them work out, and after that they’ll return home and do their invite-only workouts here in the Twin Cities.

Whether they decide on need vs. best available, whichever player Minnesota chooses will likely fit the mold of trying to boost the team’s shooting and athleticism. At the end of the day, that’s likely the biggest area of emphasis as the team moves forward into 2014-15.

“In the position we’re in, we’re still trying to become a more talented team top to bottom,” Newton said. “And that’s one of the conversations I had with the prospects. They asked what were we looking for? I said, we’re looking for talent. The more talent we have, the better we’ll be.”