MINNEAPOLIS — The matrix of possibilities plunges the considerer into a seemingly endless network of options.
Draft a shooting guard. Then a center. Draft a center. Then a shooting guard. Throw a small forward into the mix somewhere.
A limited number of scenarios exist if the Minnesota Timberwolves opt to take the 2013 NBA Draft hand they’ve been dealt.
But there’s one course of action that opens a vast number of doors, though president of basketball operations Flip Saunders makes it sound like each one leads to the same result.
A draft-altering trade. One that moves the Timberwolves above the two- or three-year project threshold to snag a player that could contribute right away.
And while Saunders said early on in his tenure such a move would be a difficult one to pull off, it’s not outside of the realm of potential reality.
Nor should it be, as dictated by Minnesota’s 31-51 record and league-worst 3-point shooting percentage last year.
If the Timberwolves were to try and trade their No. 9 pick, No. 26 pick and/or a name already on the roster for a higher first-round selection, it’d be for “an impact player,” Saunders told KFAN 100.3 last week. “He’s got to be a player that you feel is gonna step in from day one and is gonna be a starter for you from day one. You think that the guy, down the road, has potential, that in three years he’s gonna be an all-star type player. We rank guys, and he’s got to be in that 1-1.5 range, a player that basically has all those qualities.”
In a thin draft class where picks outside the top seven are likely bound for the bench, or the NBA D-League, one prospect stands above the rest for Minneapolis: All-American two-guard Victor Oladipo.
The 6-foot-4, 213-pound Indiana product and Kansas’ Ben McLemore rank as the top-two off-guards in this year’s draft. Both are expected to go in or close to the top five, with most mocks listing McLemore ahead of Oladipo simply because of upside.
But the Timberwolves need to win now, and Saunders thinks Oladipo’s more NBA-ready at the moment.
“I like them both,” Saunders said. “I think Oladipo — like I’ve said (and) what everyone has said — (is) a more ready player to jump into the league. McLemore has great offensive ability. There’s something about Oladipo; I look at the ‘it’ factor.
“I think he really has that.”
But virtually the only way that “it” ends up in a Timberwolves uniform is via a trade up for a top-five pick.
Possessing two first-round selections gives Minnesota some bargaining room, at least theoretically, by packaging together two lower-round picks and offer them to a high-selecting team that’s more in the market — and, potentially, price range — for role players than an immediate, everyday stud.
There’s a problem, however: teams that performed poorly enough to pick in the top five are rarely in such a state. Draft lottery victor Cleveland’s almost out of the question, and Orlando, Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix all have multiple, immediate needs (they wouldn’t be picking in the top five if they didn’t).
But that doesn’t mean Saunders can’t offer help in meeting them halfway.
Forward Derrick Williams, who’s yet to find his niche in Minneapolis and hasn’t blossomed into the star his No. 2 overall selection was hoped to merit, has been floated as possible trade bait to go alongside one or both of Minnesota’s first-round draft picks. He’s a viable, somewhat proven asset that averaged 12 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last year.
But with a now-healthy Kevin Love planning on eating every available second at the power forward spot Williams excelled in last year, there won’t be nearly as many opportunities unless he switches positions (he’s struggled when placed on the wing).
Every top-five team in the draft save for Cleveland could use help at the four, a spot not heavily featured at the top of most mock drafts. Land Williams and receive one, maybe even two, more first-round picks — and a squad in desperate need across the board like Orlando or Charlotte has more building blocks to play with.
The Timberwolves’ straits aren’t as dire, but the necessity of a viable 3-point shooter can’t be overstated.
They could deal one or both first-round picks for one that’s already in the league, especially if a team above them picks McLemore or Oladipo and wishes to deal a shooting guard to clear room on the roster and underneath the salary cap.
One suggestion that’s circulated around social media deals with the Magic, who might want to part ways with Arron Afflalo if they pick McLemore at No. 2 overall.
But that’s just one possibility, and a completely speculative one at that, in an almost infinite list.
“You never know what can happen,” Saunders said. “You always have to keep your options open.”