Sandell: A look at which route Wolves may take with No. 9 draft pick
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The home stretch before the June 27 NBA Draft has begun.
With the Minnesota Timberwolves finishing up the last of their scheduled predraft workouts on Friday, the process of finalizing their options is underway.
Armed with the ninth and 26th picks in the first round, the avenues that the Wolves could take are numerous in a draft field that appears wide open beyond a fairly set upon top-5.
This year's draft holds a satisfiable amount of intrigue not because of any drool-worthy, bona fide future stars, but because there is a lack of a consensus No. 1 and not much separation between prospects once the draft gets more than five picks in.
"I believe right now that everybody has a pretty good handle on the top-5, not where they're going, but who they are," Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders after a recent prospect workout. "The draft is probably going to start again at No. 6."
"This (draft) is going to be different. There's a lot more jockeying, there's a lot more people calling to try to make potential trades. There's just a lot more unknowns.
The Wolves' two primary needs entering the draft are the desire to acquire a solid shooting two-guard and an extra layer of size with a reliable big man. The likelihood is high that the Wolves pursue the former option at No. 9, given that the bigs available, while there is talent to be found, are mostly made up of players two or three years away from having an impact in the NBA.
The question remains: What will the Wolves do with their first pick at an interesting juncture in such a fluid draft?
Since the NBA scouting combine, rumors have been floated of the Wolves possibly attempting to trade up in the order to get to Indiana guard Victor Oladipo, who has been slotted as high as the top-3 on some mock draft boards.
KSTP-TV and 1500ESPN.com contributor Darren Wolfson reported in early June that Wolves showing strong interest in potential deals with Orlando (No. 2 pick), Washington (No. 3) or Charlotte (No. 4) to be in position to grab Oladipo.
But with the way this draft has been playing out, the cost of moving could be high enough that it simply may not be worth it.
This has made any trade by the Wolves at No. 9 seem like a long shot. Saunders has alluded to as much on multiple occasions, although one must account for the possibility of a smokescreen.
"If you're going to get a (high) pick you're probably going to give up a lot more than it's probably really worth," Saunders said.
That hasn't stopped the Wolves from looking. Saunders was in Washington D.C. on June 14 for an individual workout with Oladipio, which Saunders said confirmed "everything we expected out of him."
The hottest name circulating with the Wolves attached to it is Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. ESPN's Chad Ford, DraftExpress.com and NBAdraft.net all have the Wolves selecting Caldwell-Pope at No. 9.
Caldwell-Pope, who has been to Minneapolis for workouts twice in the last month, has the 3-point shooting prowess to draw high interest from the Wolves. The 6-foot-6, 204-pound guard shot a combined 34% (149-of-439) from long range in his two-year career at Georgia, and was the SEC's second-leading scorer last season (18.5 points per game).
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh's deadly perimeter shooter, is in the conversation as well. Away from the spotlight of a major conference, McCollum became a star in his four-year stay in the Patriot League, owner of a 21.2 points per game career average.
McCollum, who stands out partly because of his polish and obvious intelligence, emerged into the national consciousness in 2012 when he dropped 30 points in Leigh's upset of Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
A broken left foot in early January ended McCollum's senior season prematurely, but his 51% 3-point percentage in 12 games prior to the injury still gave reason to take notice.
"I was impressed," Saunders said after watching McCollum work out at the Wolves' practice facility last week. "He shot the ball well. He's extremely bright. He's very mature. He's not going to be awed by the situation in the NBA."
The knock against McCollum is that he slightly undersized -- 6-foot-3, 197-pounds to play at the two. Having played primarily as a point guard, the Wolves would require him to adjust, which McCollum insisted he is capable of doing.
"They need another guard who can knock down shots and score and help out Kevin Love down low," McCollum said. "I feel like I'm that guy. I'm one of those guys that can be a starting two-guard in this league and also be able to play the one as well."
Shabazz Muhammad is also a lingering possibility. While Muhammad doesn't exactly fit the Wolves' main needs, Saunders and company could decide he is a talent that shouldn't be passed up if available.
The 6-foot-6 small forward comes with the obvious red flags, largely from his rocky one-year stay at UCLA, but he has the physicality and shooting range to be a decent scoring option.
"The thing about Shabazz is that he might not look pretty when he's doing it, but he plays really hard and competes," Saunders said after watching Muhammad work out on June 16. "He's one of those guys that just finds ways to score and be effective."
Especially in this year's draft, selecting on the backend of the lottery picks carries notable level of unpredictability when trying to evaluate a prospect's long-term potential. Since 1991, only 9.2 percent of the players taken with picks 6-30 have made it on an All-Star roster or were named to an All-NBA team in their careers.
There have been several solid gets for teams at No. 9 in past drafts - Tracy McGrady (1997), Dirk Nowitzki (1998), Amare Stoudemire (2002), Joakim Noah (2007) and DeMar DeRozan (2009).
Whichever prospect the Wolves spend their top pick on, Saunders expects that newcomer to be able to have an immediate impact.
"We more right now think we can get somebody at No. 9 that is going to help us," Saunders said. "If we have people in the draft that are going to help us right away in the draft, those are the people we're going to go with."