Minnesota gets bigger on the wing, while adding shooting and secondary playmaking in our masthead 2022 NBA Mock Draft.
You can find the full mock draft results with explanations for each pick here.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a definitive, yet versatile core moving forward that will allow President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and his front office to travel down nearly any possible path in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.
Despite how quickly the Wolves have ascended from the depths of the NBA to a likely perennial playoff team, that doesn’t mean that they have any incredibly pressing needs that must be addressed on draft night.
Presuming a D’Angelo Russell comes should not guide Minnesota’s plan of attack on Thursday. Even if the Wolves essentially ran it back next season, it is fair to believe they will return to the playoffs and potentially win a first-round series at worst, health permitting. There aren’t many teams in the league who have the security that Head Coach Chris Finch and franchise cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards provide.
That security blanket puts the Wolves on the fringe of the lottery with two options: take a swing or draft a need.
Wearing my president hat, I decided to take a swing by selecting SF Nikola Jović, the No. 12 overall prospect on my personal big board.
Santa Clara wing Jalen Williams and Ohio State guard Malaki Branham, two of my favorite players and hypothetical Wolves targets in this draft, were already selected, as were strong fits in Ohio State forward EJ Liddell and LSU swingman Tari Eason.
The pick came down to Arizona sophomore guard Dalen Terry and the 19-year-old Jović. Minnesota certainly needs more playmaking and long, agile defenders — such as Terry — but size, offensive versatility and shooting on the perimeter are vital qualities in today’s NBA and those are Jović’s strengths.
Jović — who just turned 19 this month and is the sixth-youngest prospect among those in the consensus top 50 rankings — measured at 6-feet-11, 223 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan at last month’s NBA Combine in Chicago, and that pops on film.
The Mega Bemax (Serbia) product is a knockdown perimeter shooter who possesses good footwork, a great, consistent shot motion and deep range. Jović shot 35.6% on 4.7 3s per game and, frankly, I would be surprised if he doesn’t improve upon this with improved shot selection at the next level. He is comfortable running off screens to quickly catch-and-fire triples, commonly shoots right over the top of contesting defenders in traditional C&S situations, and is capable of setting up 3s with basic dribble combos that keep bigger wings off balance. His shooting talent is undoubtedly NBA-caliber.
When his matchups overcommit, Jović flashes his above average, fluid handle for his size to use the lower two levels of the floor to create for others and score against rotating defenses. He grew up playing guard and it shows in his game.
He averaged 3.4 assists to 2.7 turnovers (1.2 A/TO) per game in 25 games for Mega Bemax this past season, which holds up well among secondary creator wings in this year’s class. His turnover percentage (15.5%) is too high, but he would be operating with more space, have easier reads and, hopefully, make a bigger impact passing with the Wolves, as long as he is decisive in doing so. Don’t be surprised if Jović develops a post game, either. He has shown the willingness to take smaller defenders down there and create off the block as well.
Coming off the bench alongside a floor general like Jordan McLaughin — who creates open corner 3 looks as well as any player in the entire NBA — and knockdown shooters in Malik Beasley and Taurean Prince would give the Wolves a bigger, more versatile and offensively potent second unit. Adding a second creator with size to that group would allow Minnesota to simultaneously bring Jarred Vanderbilt off the bench and replicate some of what Jaden McDaniels brought as a reserve during the stretch run this season.
Finch could turn to Jović with the starters for stretches of the game to create a jumbo lineup, too. A D’Angelo Russell, Edwards, McDaniels, Jovic and Towns grouping would hold an average wingspan of about 6-11 and contain five defensive playmakers whose skills are accentuated by the team’s high wall scheme.
There may be growing pains initially with Jović learning the high wall scheme and what it requires of him as a low-man tagging rollers and x-ing out to contest shooters on the perimeter, but he projects to be someone capable of doing those things given his length, fluid mobility and playmaking instincts to make it work. He is still figuring out how to use it on-ball, where he struggles because he stands up out of a stance too much and needs to improve his lateral agility.
Drafting Jović as a long-term 4 would ensure Towns remains a center, like he should, to maintain maximum spacing on the floor so that he can build off of a career year as a driver. Towns has never played alongside a 4 with the size to hold his own on the glass, effectively defend off the ball and space the floor. He has played with a players who specialize in one of the three skills, or some combination of the three, but not a player who flashes all of those skills quite like Jović does.
Hell, Finch could run 4-5 pick-and-rolls with Jović handling. He’s got great touch on passes over the top of the defense. He utilized his 9-foot standing reach to throw entry passes to rollers, as well as bigs who sealed and posted up in the middle of the lane, with ease and precision. That length and handle are useful when throwing pocket passes at angles unavailable to smaller guards, too.
That skillset could allow him to be a solid playmaker on the short roll, too. He was very seldom used as a roller in the half-court given the team’s roster, but he has all the tools to be a deadly short roll passer once he learns screening angles and makes good contact on screens. He pick-and-popped a bit in smaller lineups, but rolling would unlock a new element of his game to accentuate his versatility.
A player as widely skilled as Jović would supplement the Wolves’ already versatile, moldable core with further lineup flexibility as a shooter and creator that is hard not to get excited about. He has the playmaking itch necessary to survive and thrive in the high wall scheme, and could be a positively impactful defender if he can improve his lateral agility and the angles he takes to wall off drivers. If he can go those things, he’d be a steal at 19, but that’s no guarantee.
First, that could be a big ask, and second, Jović may not even be available when Minnesota selects at No. 19, if they stand pat. Atlanta (No. 16) and Chicago (No. 18) are both looking to get improve on the wing (if they don’t trade their picks), and Jović would be an excellent fit in Houston at No. 17 — even if they select Paolo Banchero at No. 3. San Antonio (No. 20) and Denver (No. 21) are logical fits, as well, and have the ammo to jump over the Wolves if necessary.
It has been confirmed that Minnesota did host Jović for a workout earlier this month, so it is clear there is at least some level of interest from the Wolves in the Serbian National Team player.
Connelly is no stranger to hitting a home run with a Nikola Jo-ićs from Serbia, so why not kick off his Wolves tenure by rolling the Nikola dice again?
The bottom line is that with the first of four picks, Minnesota needs to be aggressive within reason. Jović has home run potential and there aren’t any other prospects who are likely to be available at 19 that carry his blend of potential and immediate translatable skills that fit the roster’s needs.