The Wolves need front-court help and, thankfully, the draft has plenty of options that should be around at pick No. 19.
The last two drafts have been a bit of a roller coaster for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The 2020 NBA Draft provided fans with the unbridled joy that is Anthony Edwards, while the 2021 NBA Draft provided fans with a constant headache from the incessant taunts of losing the draft pick. In terms of excitement, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely fall in the middle of the last two for Timberwolves fans. While not picking in the lottery deprives fan bases of selecting one of many prematurely anointed “stars”, it also means that they can focus more on specific roster construction instead of just the best player available (a rare situation for the Timberwolves).
Drafting for need isn’t always the best approach to take as it can steer teams away from superior talent. However, it also doesn’t make sense to take a player if there isn’t a route for them to get any developmental minutes. Strictly drafting for need shouldn’t be strategy, but it does need to factor into the decision making on some level. One of the biggest needs for the Timberwolves this season is improving their rim protection. As a team, they generated plenty of blocks, but opponents took 34.1% of their shots at the rim (20th in the league) and made 66.1% of them (18th in the league), per Cleaning the Glass.
Timberwolves fans saw up close and personal how much the lack of quality rim protection hurts as Ja Morant dissected them over and over and over again in the playoffs. I’m not saying stopping Morant is or should be the standard, but when there isn’t a reliable rim protector on the floor, performances like we saw from Morant become more common. Thankfully, there are a handful of prospects who could be available with the 19th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft who can help improve the Timberwolves’ rim protection immediately.
5. Ismael Kamagate
Ismael Kamagate may be a name most NBA fans aren’t aware of unless they are really keyed in on the draft. Kamagate is a 21-year-old center who played for Paris Basketball and measured at 6’11” 220 pounds. Kamagate is a freak athlete, but he’s also a bit of a late bloomer, a combination that makes him incredibly intriguing.
As a defender, Kamagate is an athletic rim protector. He moves his feet well, elevates quickly, and has the strength to challenge opponents. Kamagate’s athleticism also allows him to show aggressively on the perimeter. He shouldn’t be switching everything, but he has the mobility to at least occasionally fit in the aggressive defense that the Timberwolves showed this season.
Kamagate produces plenty of highlight blocks, but his defense isn’t perfect. A symptom of being a late bloomer is that Kamagate can get lost in space on defense. He struggles consistently playing drop coverage as he gets caught in between levels, and he is inconsistent with his defensive rotations. Additionally, Kamagate isn’t as dominant of a rebounder as you’d hope. The optimistic view is that these issues will clean themselves up with more experience, but they are worth noting.
Kamagate is one of the more athletic centers in this draft class. He has produced meaningful defensive possessions and has fascinating offensive upside. The 19th pick may be a bit early to take Kamagate, but he’s a name to keep an eye on.
4. Walker Kessler
Walker Kessler was one of the most dominant shot blockers in recent years as he led the country in block rate, ranked first in total blocks, and second in blocks per game. Additionally, according to Barttorvik, Kessler’s block rate of 18.8 is the highest in their database that goes back to 2008. Kessler’s absurd shot blocking ability led to opponents shooting just 49.9% at the rim, tied for the 6th best in the country.
When we talk about elite shot blocking, Kessler’s name must be mentioned. He uses his 7’4.25” wingspan to full effect as he regularly turns away shots. He makes quality rotations and is incredibly effective playing drop coverage. Picturing him as a quality rim protector in the NBA, as a starter or off the bench, isn’t a difficult task.
So, I know, putting him as the 4th best option feels weird. The concerns with Kessler’s defense don’t come at the rim, it’s what happens when he gets dragged away from the restricted area. The most significant concern with Kessler’s defense is his heavy feet. Out of this group of five players, Kessler is easily the least mobile. He’s excellent when he’s challenged head on, but if he’s forced to change direction, adapt to change-of-pace dribbling, or flip his hips, he becomes less reliable and more foul prone.
If the Timberwolves land Kessler, fans should be excited. His shot blocking and rebounding would immediately improve the bench unit’s defense. If he ever finds the outside shot that he is so desperately searching for, it may even garner the question of if him and Karl-Anthony Towns can play together. In terms of pure shot blocking, though, there aren’t many options better than Walker Kessler.
3. Christian Koloko
Christian Koloko is one of the most defensively versatile centers in this class. When Koloko was on the floor, opponents shot 49.9% at the rim. This number leaped to 59.4% when Koloko wasn’t on the court. Having a 10% differential is extraordinary and a testament to how impactful of a defender Koloko is. Additionally, Koloko measured with a 7’5.25” wingspan (second longest in this class) and ranked sixth in total blocks, 14th in blocks per game, and tenth in block rate among true high major programs. I don’t put a ton of stock into combine numbers, but when they back up what the tape is showing it can be notable. Among all centers at the combine, Koloko had the second quickest lane agility and second highest max vertical leap.
What makes Koloko’s rim protection so enticing is how disciplined he is. Koloko rarely chases blocks and is incredibly disciplined. He has great recognition and shockingly quick processing speed. Koloko is more than capable of making multiple rotations in a single possession. They don’t all end up with a block, but they either deter the shot entirely or make it tremendously difficult.
Koloko is at his best defensively near the rim, but he has the footwork and mobility to extend his defensive pressure to the perimeter. He’ll be best utilized in drop coverage, but Koloko can also play the more aggressive scheme the Timberwolves implemented this season.
2. E.J. Liddell
That’s right, a 6’7” power forward is sliding in at number two on this list. Besides having an impressive 6’11.75” wingspan, Liddell plays much bigger than he is. He has the strength to battle inside and the awareness to constantly disrupt the opposition. What makes Liddell such a captivating option for the Timberwolves is the defensive versatility he provides. He can play power forward, defend on the perimeter, play small-ball center, and act as a devastating low-man.
EJ Liddell’s statistical profile is in rarified air especially when you factor in his size. He’s one of 4 guys to reach these marks; 1 is talked about as this year’s DPOY; another as the top pick. I get the age difference but I’ll be stunned if Liddell isn’t an impactful player. pic.twitter.com/A0HyB6zhOW
— Tyler Metcalf (@tmetcalf11) April 13, 2022
As a rim protector, Liddell has a lot of the same characteristics mentioned for Koloko. He’s patient, composed, intelligent, and athletic. Liddell has a knack for meeting shooters at the apex of their jumper, is tenacious with his chase down blocks, and expertly knows when to leave his man for the rotation.
Liddell would be a prize with the 19th pick, but the closer we get to the draft, the less likely it feels that he’ll be there. He may go earlier, but the biggest competition for Liddell right now appears to be the Chicago Bulls at 18. One spot. Liddell’s positional versatility, basketball IQ, and toughness are exactly what the Timberwolves need.
1. Mark Williams
I freely admit that this has quickly turned into a pipe dream as the rest of the basketball world has caught up to how brilliant a player Mark Williams is. However, if for some reason Williams is available at 19, the Timberwolves need to sprint to the podium with their pick.
For starters, Williams is length personified as he measured at 7’2”, a standing reach of 9’9”, and a wingspan of 7’6.5”. While these measurements seem superhuman, it doesn’t matter if they aren’t properly utilized and implemented during live play. Not only does Williams have extraordinary length, but he also knows how to use every inch of it to singlehandedly disrupt opposing offenses.
Williams doesn’t have the quickest feet, but his footwork is sublime. He is almost never off balance, allowing him to promptly react to cuts, in the pick-and-roll, and defending in space. Even though Williams has impressive block numbers, much of his rim protection comes from shot deterrence. When ball-handlers get downhill and see Williams waiting for them, they often look for the kickout pass or recycle the play.
Williams is everything you want out of a center in today’s NBA. He is an elite rim protector, great rebounder, and low maintenance on offense. With the Timberwolves, Williams would significantly elevate either their starting lineup or bench rotation’s performance.