Wolves have options: Minnesota picks 13th in NBA draft tonight
MINNEAPOLIS — Regardless of whether Kevin Love remains with the Timberwolves after today’s draft, NBA TV analyst Steve Smith says it’s time for them to move on with the 13th pick.
“Need an insurance policy of a big (man),” Smith said in an interview with the Pioneer Press.
Smith looks at power forward Adreian Payne — a fellow Michigan State alum — as the safeguard to the Wolves’ perilous future with Love, who has given no indication that he wants to return to Minnesota when he can opt out of his contract next July.
Many teams are reportedly angling for Love, with some offering draft picks. The latest development Wednesday included Cleveland offering a deal centered on the Cavaliers’ No. 1 overall pick.
Love recently said that Cleveland has a “great, young foundation,” but Yahoo! Sports has reported that Love will not sign long term with the Cavaliers, effectively killing the proposition.
So if this saga stalls and the Wolves stay at No. 13, Payne could be the man.
Smith has known Payne since he stepped onto the East Lansing campus four years ago, so he has a thicker file on Payne than other draft prospects.
“A freakish athlete, works tremendously hard,” said Smith, who played for the Spartans from 1987-91. “I like the balance in his offense, where not everything is a (three-pointer), not everything is a post up. He spreads it out.”
Although Payne, 23, is a few years older than most players in his class, Smith says the 6-foot-9 prospect can still improve his game.
“He played four years (at Michigan State) and wasn’t very comfortable his first two years,” Smith said. “And in his third year, it was the middle of the season where he had his confidence and he started to break out. We started to see a jump shot that we hadn’t seen before.”
Payne never shot three-pointers his first two years in college, but averaged 1.2 attempts as a junior year and 3.4 as a senior. And his three-point shooting percentage increased from 38 percent to 42 percent over those seasons.
“He is really good at knocking down that three-point shot,” Smith said. “With the new trends, new rules and new age of the NBA, you can’t go wrong with a (6-9) guy that can shoot the basketball, rebound, block shots, and I guess, play the dirty-work role.”
While Smith has Payne circled, ESPN’s Jay Bilas says it’s much more uncertain who will be available when the Wolves get on the clock near 7:30 p.m. today.
“At 13, there are a lot of ifs in the draft as to who gets taken and all that stuff, so you don’t really know,” Bilas said in a conference call. “I’m kind of a best-available-player believer, so rather than go for a position or something like that, I think you go with the best-available player.”
Best-available players could be Michigan’s Nik Stauskas and Michigan State’s Gary Harris.
“(The Wolves) need perimeter shooting,” Smith said. “With the trend of the NBA, you need spacing, you need shooting — as we saw with the championships with the Spurs. … Both of those guys are shooting wings that can flat-out shoot the basketball.”
Showing he’s not biased, Smith singled out Stauskas.
“There are some guys that are catch-and-shoot guys and there are some guys that can shoot it off the dribble. He is probably one of the elite players in this draft that can do both,” Smith said. “I also like his size. Then I like his moxie.”
Harris measured at 6-2 without shoes at the NBA Draft Combine, but Michigan State teammate Keith Appling said he makes up for that.
“I feel like his strength makes up for his size,” Appling said. “He’s a lot stronger than people give him credit for or even what he looks like. His ability to shoot the ball and play defense on the other end is what I think will help him at the next level.”
Another best-available player might be Kentucky’s James Young, but Smith sees him as another version of Shabazz Muhammad, whom the Wolves traded for in last year’s draft.
“James Young is a slasher,” Smith said. “He can obviously put the ball in the hole.”
Wolves President of Basketball Operations and coach Flip Saunders said Stauskas and Creighton’s Doug McDermott are the draft’s best shooters, but both could be off the board when the Wolves are on the clock.
Saunders said most draft boards start to drift apart outside the top five, led by Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins. That’s not all bad, he added.
“I believe the draft, players taken 17, 18, 19, those players have the ability to be rotation players next year,” Saunders said. “To play 15-18 minutes and to get that out of draft, you feel pretty good.”