NBA: Timberwolves have draft pick even they can’t mess up

A team already served apple juice and graham crackers during timeouts is about to get younger. Following Thursday's NBA draft, the Timberwolves will remain on track to become legitimate contenders in the year 2023, probably squaring off in the pl...

A team already served apple juice and graham crackers during timeouts is about to get younger.
Following Thursday’s NBA draft, the Timberwolves will remain on track to become legitimate contenders in the year 2023, probably squaring off in the playoffs against a team from Ganymede, Jupiter’s third-largest moon.
My guess is, win or lose, after that ’23 series, Coach Ryan Saunders will point out that the Wolves are headed in the right direction.
These NBA drafts usually are a free-for-all, with bodies flying everywhere. Youngsters get drafted, pose for a picture with the commissioner, then have the new caps ripped off their heads as they walk offstage because they’ve already been traded. Twice.
In 2013, the Wolves drafted Trey Burke No. 9 overall, then quickly shipped him to Utah for picks 14 and 21 (Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng). In 2008, they drafted O.J. Mayo and then sent him to the Grizzlies for Kevin Love. In 2006, they drafted Brandon Roy and sent him to Portland for Randy Foye. In 1996, they drafted Ray Allen and sent him to Milwaukee for Stephon Marbury. All within minutes of their being chosen.
And those are just first-round guys. Second-rounders are treated like bubble gum cards, swapped or bundled with nary a second thought. Last year, the Wolves sent second-round pick Markel Brown to Brooklyn for cash considerations, probably because the locker-room cooler was running low and needed to be restocked with high-end energy drinks.
So it’s usually best to wait 24 hours and let everything settle before taking a peek to see which new players have been added. Fans go to bed thinking they have a freshly minted All-American on their team’s roster, only to awaken and discover that player has been replaced by a Bosnian coat rack.
This draft promises to be different, however. The Wolves have the No. 1 pick. Now, they already have proved they can screw up a No. 6 pick (Jonny Flynn) and a No. 4 pick (Wes Johnson) and even a No. 2 pick (Derrick Williams). But a No. 1 pick, when there are two good choices available? Never say never, but this one seems foolproof.
All they have to do is decide whether to take Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor, both 19. Towns might be the better choice based on the notion that he brings something new to the Timberwolves’ table: defense. But either man could capably step in when Nikola Pekovic fractures his buttocks, or something, during the sixth or seventh game of the season.
And even if Pekovic unexpectedly remains ambulatory, he’s still not the shot-blocking, athletic, defensive presence the Wolves will need when their core players are old enough to shave. That’s Towns, who projects as a better defensive player than Okafor.
Then again, maybe the Wolves’ brass decides it isn’t ready to introduce the concept of defense to such a young squad. Maybe the plan will be to try scoring enough to overcome their many other deficiencies. In that case, Flip Saunders could swap picks with the Los Angeles Lakers, who covet Towns.
I’d be OK with that if the Lakers were willing to sufficiently compensate Minnesota for dropping down to No 2. And Minnesota still would get Okafor.
Other than that, I wouldn’t fool around too much here. These draft nights are confusing enough. They should just put generic caps on these kids when they’re chosen; have them pose with all-purpose jerseys while on stage. And for God’s sake, don’t interview them until everything has settled down and they actually know where they’re headed.
Minnesota’s night should be a little less tumultuous for a change. Assuming both Towns and Okafor have passed the J.R. Rider Memorial Psychological Test, either is a good choice. For 20 years, the organization has insisted that all draft-eligible players take the test. The only year they let it slide was 2005, and they ended up drafting Rashad McCants. The exam was immediately reinstated.
All signs point toward a relatively tranquil experience as the Wolves add a teenager to their group of core players. This one will be hard to goof up. Barring calamity, this pick will keep the team on track for that 2023 playoff appearance, barring an uptick in global warming or a stray asteroid.

Tom Powers is a columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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