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Ranking The Best Teenagers To Ever Play For The Wolves
By now it’s well-known that the 2019-20 NBA season has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic that’s forcing everyone to get creative with their work lives, including us here at Timberwolves.com.
Without new basketball games and practices to write about, we’re taking on a new beat: the QuaranTeen Wolves. As we navigate our new normal, we’ll bring you updates on what Wolves players, coaches and front office members are doing as they self-quarantine and try to slow the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible. We’ll also take a look back at memorable players and moments that have shaped the Wolves’ franchise.
To introduce the new beat, we’re sticking to the theme and ranking the best teenagers to ever play for the Wolves. It’s a short but mostly unforgettable list.
1. Kevin Garnett (Nov. 1995 - April 1996)
Stats As A Teenager: 80 games, 28.7 MPG, 10.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 49.1 FG%
All Timberwolves fans have the iconic, Kevin Garnett rookie photo ingrained in their brains.
It must have been a photo from Garnett’s first NBA Media Day. The 19-year-old was dressed in an original, white jersey — one of my personal favorites. I was only alive for the final season the Wolves sported these uniforms, so my allegiance to them must be rooted in the KG photo.
KG appears to be somewhat hunched over on a stool, basketball in his lap, secured by his right hand. He’s centered and looking into the camera, slightly squinting his left eye, showing a playful smile that shows off teeth whiter than his jersey.
But what first catches your attention is that he’s pointing straight into the camera as if he’s
directly addressing Wolves fans, warning us that he’s coming for our hearts.
Sure enough, they soon belonged to him.
Garnett’s decision to forgo college in 1995 was naturally controversial at the time. Would a 19-year-old be mentally and physically mature enough to compete against grown men after playing against 15- to 18-year-olds for four years?
The question was valid at first. Garnett averaged an unremarkable 6.3 points in 20.2 minutes per game in his first 40 NBA games, and premature “bust” labels began to blemish his reputation.
KG quickly put an end to such libel.
Garnett may not have had the same amount of experience as his NBA peers, but he boasted a work ethic and hatred of failure that his 20- and 30-year-old opponents would never match.
Fans were soon introduced to the player who still drowned in his oversized jersey but who parted seas when he exploded in the paint with a dunk and those intense eyes that could seemingly pop out of their sockets with one more flex of a facial muscle.
Garnett’s drive not only salvaged his career, but it also paved a clear path for the NBA greats who followed his prep-to-pro journey. What would have happened to Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and LeBron James’ careers had Garnett given in to the early haters and doubted his potential? Would his career have amounted to nothing more than a reason franchises should tap the brakes before drafting high school players?
I was proud of learning how to scramble eggs at 19 years old. Garnett shaped the trajectory of the NBA at that age.
2. Karl-Anthony Towns (Oct. 2015 – Nov. 2015)
Stats As A Teenager: 9 games, 28.9 MPG, 15.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.4 SPG, 2.3 BPG, 49.1 FG%
Towns only played nine NBA games as a teenager, but his seamless transition to the pros boosts his ranking.
Some NBA drafts are prefaced with debates of who will be chosen as the year’s No. 1 overall selection. The 2015 NBA draft wasn’t one of them.
Wolves fans welcomed the Kentucky star and obvious No. 1 overall pick with open arms at the 2015 Timberwolves Draft Party. The young rook didn’t disappoint and injected hope into a fanbase yearning for a brighter future.
Towns didn’t have the immediate swagger young Garnett displayed, but he performed as advertised in his first nine games, recording double-doubles in six of them.
After recording a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double in his NBA debut (which was coincidentally a one-point win over fellow lottery pick D’Angelo Russell and Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers), Towns gave his best teenage performance with a 28-point, 14-rebound night against the Denver Nuggets — and that was before he began ruling from beyond the arc.
It didn’t take long for fans to become acquainted with Towns’ comforting interior game that had plenty of tricks and few weaknesses. His craftiness on the offensive end, his rebounding dexterity, and the glimpses of his inept passing quickly made him a player the Wolves would rely on for many seasons to come.
3. Stephon Marbury (Nov. 1996 – Feb. 1997)
Stats As A Teenager: 38 games, 32.7 MPG, 15.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 7.4 APG,1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 40.3 FG%, 35.5 3P%
Andrew Wiggins became the Timberwolves franchise’s first Rookie of the Year in April of 2015, but if not for Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury may have beaten Wiggins to the punch in 1997.
Nineteen-year-old Marbury was sent the Wolves’ way during the historic 1996 draft after being selected No. 4 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. The Wolves dealt Ray Allen and a 1998 first-round draft pick that ended up to be Rasho Nesterović in exchange for the 1997 Rookie of the Year runner-up.
If we’re solely grading Marbury and Allen’s rookie seasons, the Wolves won that trade.
Hesitation is always at bay when it comes to putting a young player in charge of a team’s offense, but Marbury quickly diminished any doubts Minnesota had about his capabilities.
At just 19, Marbury was a composed yet edgy leader who seemed to know the player he was right from the get-go. He finished 10th in the league in assists per game and led his rookie class by averaging 7.8 dimes in his debut season.
Garnett was the primary beneficiary of Marbury’s beyond his years distributing expertise and probably owes his former partner in crime some of the credit for his first All-Star Game nod.
Marbury played as if he had eyes in the back of his head and a sixth sense that allowed him to find an open Kevin Garnett without fail, which made them one of the most entertaining, young scoring duos of the time. It’s hard to top a clip of Marbury running into KG’s arms with his fists in the air and Target Center in his palms.
They were the exemplary compliments for one another’s games, but their similar personalities ignited one another’s fire on and off the court and eventually led to an early break up after two trips to the playoffs.
We’ll always be left wondering what could have been had Marbury stuck around, but his brief yet impressionable time in Minnesota makes him one of the best young Wolves players of all time.
4. Andrew Wiggins (Oct. 2014 – Feb. 2015)
Stats As A Teenager: 54 games, 34.6 MPG, 15.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 43.5 FG%, 35.4 3P%
It’s reasonable to say Andrew Wiggins didn’t exactly meet the original standards set for him when the Cavaliers selected him as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 NBA draft. That’s probably putting it lightly.
A lot of the disappointment that plagued Wiggins’ time with the Wolves was due to the promise he showed as a teenager.
The Wolves gave up former franchise player Kevin Love to rebuild their future with young Wiggins. Hopefulness was a rational reaction for Wolves fans who fell in love with Wiggins’ explosiveness in his first campaign with the Wolves.
Wiggins’ praised athleticism was on display every night as he leaped in the air over veteran opponents to throw down momentous dunks and almost always landing on both feet as if the bewildering moves were just your average wide-open jump shot from the elbow.
Fans also became familiarized with his trademark spin move that either resulted in a polished floater or a fade-away jump shot that some likened to Kobe Bryant’s signature move.
Wiggins capped his teen years with a 20-point performance then rung in his 20s with a 30-point game against the Rockets. He was a combined 21-for-39 and recorded eight total rebounds, three assists, two steals and seven turnovers. in the two games.
At the time, we probably adored his willingness to keep shooting even when shots weren’t falling and he failed to impact the game in other ways. However, that habit may have been the reason his rookie season was his most prized season with the Wolves.
5. Zach LaVine (Oct. 2014 – March 2015)
Stats As A Teenager: 57 games, 20.4 MPG, 7.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 41.7 FG%
Like Wiggins, teenage LaVine seemed to have more athleticism than he knew what to do with.
It was always perplexing to see how a skinny kid could be so powerful when dueling against some of the strongest athletes the world had to offer in the paint. But LaVine soon made it known that his scrawny size wouldn’t hold him back from posterizing anyone who got in the way of him and a hoop.
LaVine, of course, turned heads early on with the dunks he still shocks the league with today, but before he became a reliable scorer for the Wolves, he earned his playing time by being a premier passer.
LaVine only recorded 17 total points in the first four NBA games he earned playing time in, but he also added 15 assists to his introductory stat lines. He recorded his first double-double in his 16th NBA game when he posted 22 points and 10 assists against the San Antonio Spurs and was fifth in assists among NBA rookies after averaging 3.0 dimes a game before he turned 20.
Like Marbury, LaVine will always be a great “what if” for the Wolves who traded him to the Chicago Bulls in the deal that brought All-Star Jimmy Butler to Minnesota. But whoever LaVine is playing for, it’s safe to say the NBA is better off thanks to the Wolves’ decision to take a chance on the lanky 19-year-old from UCLA who never doubted his strength.
6. Tyus Jones (Nov. 2015 – April 2016)
Stats As A Teenager: 37 games, 15.5 MPG, 4.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 35.9 FG%
Nineteen-year-old Tyus Jones was the cherry on top of the Wolves’ 2015 draft night.
Not only were they welcoming the No. 1 overall pick Towns to Minnesota, but they were also reuniting with one of the state’s most beloved high school hoopers after trading two 2015 second-round draft picks and a 2019 second-round draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jones’ rights on draft night.
I remember hoping Jones and former Duke teammate Jahlil Okafor somehow ended up being drafted by the same team after watching their bond blossom in the 2014-15 NCAA season, but the draft’s results were so much more favorable.
Jones played 37 games with the Wolves before turning 20, and though he carried out a role much smaller than the one he once earned a state championship at Target Center with, he still played with the poise and grit he leaned on to become Minnesota’s 2014 Mr. Basketball and Duke’s 2015 Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
Jones was never the largest player on the court, but even at 19, he was never the most malleable, either.
He dazzled us with his court vision, which led to jaw-dropping lob and behind-the-back passes, but what I enjoyed most about young Tyus’ game was his inability to be fazed. If turnovers, losses and sporadic playing time were getting to him, fans and spectators weren’t going to know about it.
Jones had been nothing but a star player for the first 18 years of his life, but he continued to carry himself as if that were still the case when he was a 19-year-old, bench-warming NBA rookie. I will always consider that the most admirable aspect of Jones’ time as a Timberwolf.
7. Ndudi Ebi (Nov. 2003 – Feb. 2004)
Stats As A Teenager: 17 games, 1.9 MPG, 0.8 PPG, 0.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.2 BPG, 42.9 FG%
And this is where the “unforgettable” runs out.
I bet this is the first thing you’ve read about Ndudi Ebi in 2020. If not, you may be a Timberwolves encyclopedia.
There were plenty of reasons for Wolves fans to celebrate during Ebi’s rookie season but few (none?) involved the 2003 rookie himself.
Minnesota selected Ebi with the No. 26 overall draft pick of the 2003 draft after he was touted for his smooth shooting stroke and shot-blocking abilities. Ebi originally committed to the University of Arizona but canceled his college plans to declare for the draft out of Westbury Christian High School in Houston.
Uh, turns out a year or two of preparation with the Wildcats may have done him some good.
The Nigerian native only played 17 games in his rookie season (19 total in the NBA) and never recorded more than four points or 4 minutes, 3 seconds in a single game.
I’m not sure there are many benefits of reading about Ebi’s NBA career other than acquiring arbitrary, trivia knowledge.