Every Wednesday and Friday between now and the 2014 NBA Draft on June 26, FOXSportsNorth.com’s Phil Ervin will take a look back upon the past half-decade of Timberwolves‘ selections and grade the front office’s work based on how each draft class has panned out. This is the third in a five-part series.
Former Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn whiffed drasticallyin his first draft on the job but, thanks to a franchise-worst-tying 15-win season, had a chance at redemption in 2010. Not only did Minnesota wind up with the draft’s No. 4 overall pick, but also trades with Denver and Philadelphia netted it a pair of additional first-round selections.
However, once again, Kahn missed out on turning around the organization’s fortunes via the draft.
In the lottery, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George were both available. Further down, Minnesota would’ve had a crack at Eric Bledsoe or Greivis Vasquez, both of whom have gone on to become viable NBA point men.
It wound up being a relatively thin draft class. But instead of one or more of the above game-changers, the Wolves landed a rookie they traded two years later, a veteran who never blossomed and a low first-rounder who’s no longer playing in the NBA.
First round: Wesley Johnson, fourth overall; Luke Babbitt (later traded to Portland), 16th overall; Trevor Booker (later traded to Washington), 23rd overall
Johnson resurrected his college career in one year at Syracuse after transferring from Iowa State, where he reportedly had disagreements with then-coach Greg McDermott and battled a nagging foot injury that kept him out of the lineup his sophomore year. Averaging 16.5 points on 50 percent shooting (41.5 percent from 3-point range) his junior season with the Orange, Johnson ranked high on Kahn’s draft board, just as Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn had a year before.
After John Wall (Philadelphia), Evan Tuner (Philadelphia) and Derrick Favors (New Jersey) became the 2010 draft’s top three overall selections, Kahn went with a Syracuse star for the second straight summer. He then deemed drafting Babbitt and dealing him with Ryan Gomes to Portland for five-year vet Martell Webster a better course of action than picking up a point guard like Bledsoe or Vasquez at 16, having drafted Flynn and Ricky Rubio a year prior.
Some more maneuvering sent Booker and second-round pick Hamady N’Diaye to Washington for Lazar Hayward, Washington’s 30th overall selection, and Nemanja Bjelica, a Serbian professional who never wound up playing in the NBA.
Sacramento, meanwhile, drafted Cousins fifth overall, one spot after Minnesota, while Indiana took George at 10. With four centers on the roster, Kahn didn’t have much room to add Cousins. But with as much trouble as Minnesota’s had gleaning wing talent throughout the franchise’s history, passing on George now looks like a glaring oversight.
Kahn thought Johnson was the answer at that spot. He was wrong.
Second round: Paulao Prestes, 45th overall; Hamady N’Diaye, 56th overall
Like Bjelica, Prestes also never played in an NBA game. The Brazilian native has been playing in his home country’s professional league since 2005.
N’Diaye, a center from Rutgers, has appeared in 33 games, spending most of his professional career in the NBA Developmental League.
If there was some sort of real-life auto-draft function available to NBA general managers, Kahn might as well have used it June 24, 2010. Not only did none of his acquisitions pan out to contribute much in Minnesota, but also the most return he got for any of them was three future New Orleans second-round draft picks in a three-team deal that sent Johnson to Phoenix in July 2012.
The No. 4 overall pick spent one year there before signing a free-agent deal with the Lakers. In four NBA seasons — the first two of which he spent in Minneapolis, starting 63 and 64 games — Johnson has yet to average double figures scoring and is a slightly above-average defender.
But at least he gave the Wolves a little something (7.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game) in his two years with the club. Webster put up similar numbers in two seasons before being waived in 2012 and eventually signing with Washington, and Hayward played 42 games and barely contributed during his rookie season before being traded to Oklahoma City the following summer.
He lasted with the Thunder only a year; they traded him back to Minnesota, where he played four games in 2012-13 and was waived that January.
So that’s three future second-round selections, a veteran whose best years have come in Portland and Washington, a rarely used asset who didn’t last past his rookie contract and two Europeans who never came overseas. Not exactly a prime haul for a team with three first-round draft picks in one year.
And to rub some final salt in the wounds of Wolves stakeholders, it’s worth mentioning that George scored 21.7 points per game this past season and has led the Pacers to each of the past two Eastern Conference finals. Minnesota, in turn, has been saddled with an awkward 2012-13 rotation and an aging Kevin Martin at shooting guard during that stretch.