Column: Defensive Up Side Is Key In 2014 Draft Prospects

Wolves GM Milt Newton said this week that two-way players are what the team is looking for in this year's NBA Draft prospects.
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by Mark Remme
Web Editor

The Drafting process is something that takes a lot (and I mean A LOT) of time to sift through. There’s a lot of money riding on who you select, and there’s a lot of expectations for success that come along with the type of team you build. So you need to do your due diligence one everyone and see where that leaves you after the process is complete and the NBA Draft goes live on television.

No matter how much work you put in, there are always questions marks about players. You never know how someone will translate to the NBA unless that person’s name is LeBron James. The level of uncertainty that comes with anyone is definitely what makes the Draft so intriguing. It’s why there are so many Mock Draft boards out there and so much speculations for nearly two months leading up to the big night.

So no matter how much we do our research, there is always an element we won’t know. We didn’t see Anthony Bennett going No. 1 to the Cavs last year. We didn’t see Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore dropping to the latter half of the Top 10. This year, who knows where the top draft picks will land?

For the Wolves, the good news is there are a lot of shooters available for selection. At No. 13, there should be a group of players still on the board that can, in theory, translate to the NBA as a shooter and make some sort of an impact in the rotation. Some will translate better than others, no doubt, but if you’re looking for a guy who can hit a jump shot (and in this league, EVERYONE is looking for that), the chances of you finding one in this particular draft crop in a late-lottery spot will be better than other drafts.

But what I’m most curious about is not how these guys will translate on the offensive end at all. This group, whatever their strengths may be, has an overwhelmingly strong scouting report that suggests they will all be able to score in some capacity. Some are stronger jump shooters, some are better at attacking and have more athleticism, but there is a solid group of players that project between Nos. 5 and 20 that can score.

The defense will be the kicker.

I’ll admit I do the majority of my Draft homework between late-April and the Draft itself. During the NBA season, I watch games from time to time—mostly the NCAA tournament—but my main attention is set on what’s going on inside our league. So once the season is over, that’s when I start really digging in. I attend the Draft Combine in Chicago, I read the mock drafts, I do my homework on scouting videos and player reviews and I attend the Wolves’ Draft prospect workouts here at Target Center.

And in doing so this season, I’ve noticed one thing about the prospects in this draft: While they rate very highly on offense, their defensive abilities are the biggest questions marks. Not to say they aren’t capable—it’s just the biggest question regarding the players’ abilities.

Minnesota’s major priority is figuring out which one has the right skill set for this team. He said he sees a variety of players that could fit their criteria.

“One of the things we spoke about during the year was getting more two-way players,” Wolves general manager Milt Newton said. “There are quite a few of those players in this draft. We have our work cut out in regards to seeing who we want to include in our mix, but they are quite a few of those players in the draft and I think at the end of the day that’s the type of players that we’re looking for. More two-way players, more guys that are pretty good offensively but also can defend.”

The Wolves have a roster that, as it sits, is very offensive minded. Everyone knows that. They were third in the league this year with 106.9 points per game, and they were incredibly effective at gaining the edge in the first and third quarters. But they were 26th in the league in points against, allowing 104.3 per game, and they were 29th in fourth quarter points allowed at 26.1 per game.

Minnesota had trouble locking down perimeter scorers when it mattered most last season, and in general their lineup features guys who tend to gamble and aren’t lock-down, on-ball defenders. For me, that would be high on the priority list with this group or, at the very least, it will be important to identify players who are not reliable on the defensive end.

For me, the top three traits that should be looked at are these: Defensive reliability, 3-point shooting and overall athleticism. The defensive presence a prospect can bring could make an immediate impact in helping keep opponents in check late in games. The outside shooting is a no-brainer, and the overall athleticism would be a nice complement to Ricky Rubio’s passing style. We haven’t seen a lot of the alley-oop, flashy style we once did with Rubio over the past couple years, and part of that is because the Wolves don’t aren’t high flyers at this point.

This Draft has a little bit of everything, and the Wolves certainly have a shot at adding pieces that can help them win moving forward. But even though there are a lot of shooters in this field, finding the one that can hold his own defensively will be pivotal. That’s where Minnesota can really win in this Draft class.