MINNEAPOLIS – Strip away the pomp and circumstance, the boos directed at David Stern. Forget the interviews that ran the gamut of emotional to senseless and the nascent dreams of relevance, and the NBA draft becomes something else altogether.
Get rid of it all, gut it to its core, and the draft can be a burden. It’s an economics professor’s dream, a laboratory of risk aversion and cost-benefit analysis. It’s a gambler’s paradise, this year starting with pick No. 2 through the rest of the draft. As much as it’s a general manager’s heyday, it’s also his nightmare, the threat of failure and mockery looming in the back of everyone’s minds from the minute Stern opens that little envelope.
Unlike most other teams, whose anxieties and uncertainties hinged on the first round, the Timberwolves had to wait (and wait, and wait) to make their gamble on Thursday. They had to watch and hope and attempt to deal. They had to make do, and in the early aftermath of the Robbie Hummel pick, it seems like a decision that, though risky, might actually work.
By the 58th pick, name recognition has gone out the window, and late-round picks can be frittered away on players who might never come to America. Because no one is paying attention by then. They’ve all rushed out to buy “Fear the Brow” T-shirts in the French Quarter or a new Bobcats season ticket package. Lakers fans have popped in the DVDs of their team’s most recent championships. Mavericks supporters have gone outside to burn their remaining Lamar Odom gear. But on Thursday night, Timberwolves fans were still waiting as 10:30 became 10:45. They wanted someone, anyone, to attach a shred of hope to. They wanted to mock (likely) or cheer (can you cheer at 58?) or at least struggle to pronounce a name with a tongue-twisting surplus of vowels. But what they ended up getting was a pretty good deal.
Here’s a snapshot of the Target Center media room moments leading up to Minnesota’s selection of Hummel:
There was really no way to speculate, not with the players remaining so late in the night. Not after wondering if the Timberwolves had hammered out a trade between every pick that went on the big board in New York. It was hard to even know what the team was looking for at that point. No 58th pick is going to be able to step in and start at shooting guard. Maybe a big man would have been able to eventually back up Pekovic at center. Regardless, it seemed like the last thing the Timberwolves needed was some young, untested player to add to their squad of players who were born after Ronald Reagan’s presidency ended.
And then David Kahn made a very un-58th selection. In Hummel, he got a player who was a consensus first-round pick before his ACL tears. He got a guy who looks to be solidly on the road to recovery, who posted his best collegiate season after the injuries that doomed his draft stock. Kahn gambled that he was getting a bargain, prayed that he hadn’t been duped into a flop.
Even with the third-to-last pick in Thursday’s draft, Kahn was still receiving calls from people interested in it. Regardless of whether any of those offers interested him, Kahn said that it would have felt strange to pull his team out of the draft completely, and as silly as that might sound, he was right.
He would have been criticized for making fans wait for close to five hours to end up with nothing. He would have been accused of stockpiling money. His decision that trading up wasn’t worth it would have been seen as a failure to make a deal, even if no workable deal made sense. So instead, Kahn gave people bait. Think what you want about the Hummel pick, but at least there’s a discussion to be had. People in Big Ten country are familiar with him, and he seems to fit some of the team’s needs.
At least the Timberwolves didn’t add yet another international mystery to their cadre of overseas prospects. That might have been worse than trading or selling the pick, even after Nikola Pekovic actually panned out last season. At the 58th spot, a team can worry a bit about perceptions. At the 58th spot, selections can be less about guaranteed impact than about hoping to look brilliant in a few months or even years.
If Hummel shows up at summer league with a knee brace, if he suddenly can’t jump or dunk anymore, Kahn will hear it. But it was encouraging to learn that the Timberwolves president of basketball operations was more impressed with Hummel’s season than his workouts, that the pick was based on a larger body of knowledge than just a few adrenaline-charged hours. This looks like an informed decision, if a surprising one.
If Hummel succeeds, Kahn will look like a genius. The forward can be the shooter the Timberwolves need, even as a player coming off the bench. Hummel doesn’t have Kevin Love’s size, but he can learn from his new teammate. He’s not a kid, either, just six months younger than Love. He’s mature, and he comes from a solid program.
Of course the criticism will be there if Hummel fails. It has to be. But it should be tempered. Just as no one should let expectations run wild, it would also be wise to remember that if Hummel doesn’t stick, the Timberwolves lose very little. In his place, they could have an international player still under contract overseas or college senior whose name was never once mentioned as a first-round pick.
“It’s 58, folks,” Kahn said, shrugging.
It’s 58, one spot before where the Timberwolves picked Blake Stepp in 2004. (Remember him? Unlikely.) It’s 58, so don’t get your hopes up. It’s 58, so even if Kahn thinks he found a gem, he’s not going to act like it.