The Minnesota Timberwolves have hosted private workouts for several potential draft picks, but history suggests they might not select a player they brought in.
Neither center Gorgui Dieng (above) nor guard Shabazz Muhammad, both rookies last season, worked out for the Timberwolves before last year's NBA Draft.
Andrew Richardson / USA TODAY Sports
By Phil Ervin
MINNEAPOLIS -- When Flip Saunders worked a draft-night deal to land Gorgui Dieng last June, the move came as a surprise to some not privy to the Timberwolves inner circle's workings.
Not because Dieng wasn't worthy of the draft's No. 21 overall pick. The Louisville center was considered a low first-round candidate well before Saunders picked Trey Burke and dealt him for Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad in an agreed-upon trade with the Utah Jazz.
But before receiving his jersey at an introductory press conference last summer, Dieng had never stepped foot inside the Target Center. He's not known to have worked out privately with team brass, either.
Instead, a careful, season-long scouting effort caused Saunders, after his top options fell from the board, to maneuver for Dieng's services. He talked to Dieng's coach, Rick Pitino, extensively, and pored over film of the athletic but raw big man from Senegal. Scouts put together a detailed report on him, amassed during his four years at Louisville that culminated with a 2013 national title.
So by the time draft day arrived, Saunders had all the information he needed.
"We had a pretty good feel on Gorgui last year," Saunders said. "We didn't have to work him out."
Saunders doesn't recall all-time franchise luminary Kevin Garnett coming to town for a pre-draft workout. Stephon Marbury didn't, either.
"Some guys, we probably don't need to see because we've seen a lot of those guys," Saunders said. "It's where you are from a comfort level and the guys you're looking at. I believe we've got a pretty good handle on those guys."
This year, those guys are a group of prospects -- Saunders says he has seven of them "boxed" at the top of Minnesota's draft board -- the Timberwolves could potentially take with the No. 13 overall pick. To date, none of the names most closely associated with the club's needs have traveled to the Twin Cities for some wining, dining and a private workout with Saunders.
Some of them might not.
"I think it's all a body of work," said Saunders, who conducted a second set of workouts Sunday in Minneapolis. "I don't think you can put too much emphasis into it; it's a 30-minute interview process, but you've got to put a lot of evaluation into the course of the season. Most of these guys we've seen early, whether it's practice or in games, before Christmas or after Christmas, conference tournaments, NCAA tournaments.
"By that, you've got a pretty good body of work in how they play and the improvements that have been made from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."
That and the NBA's annual combine comprise the advanced scouting piece of the puzzle. Teams also don't want to tip their hand to other NBA organizations by bringing in too many of their favorite prospects. Agents, in turn, aren't always wont to allow their best clients to travel and work out for a team with a low lottery pick like Minnesota.
Sometimes, the Timberwolves have to go to them. Saunders said he and general manager Milt Newton may schedule some off-site, private workouts with prospects between now and the June 26 draft.
To date, they haven't entertained any names that register as highly probable picks. The first set of workouts, held Thursday, featured a group of players -- including University of Minnesota Gophers guard Austin Hollins -- that don't show up on any major mock draft boards. On Sunday, Minnesota hosted a pair of second-round aspirants in Missouri guard Jabari Brown and Stanford forward Dwight Powell, along with low first-round prospect Jerami Grant, a Syracuse forward.
Of those players, only Grant projects as the two-way player the Timberwolves desperately need after finishing with the league's second-worst defensive field-goal percentage last season. But he may be a reach at 13, given his lack of 3-point prowess -- he only attempted five triples in 2013-14.
Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas, Duke small forward Rodney Hood, Michigan State stretch four Adreian Payne, Kentucky wing James Young and Croatian small forward Dario Saric would seem to better fit that bill. Some mock drafts like Minnesota to take a point guard like Syracuse's Tyler Ennis or UCLA's Zach LaVine, but that would likely predicate trading J.J. Barea in order to make room for another floor general.
As of Monday afternoon, Minnesota hadn't announced any more upcoming pre-draft workouts.
Saunders and friends surely will host more players, but if history has anything to say about it, they may not be the ones the former coach ends up selecting in 24 days. The Timberwolves selected Garnett fifth overall in 1995 without working him out, and Marbury came along a year later in a draft-day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks.
One went on to become the most renowned player in franchise history. The other was dealt in a three-team trade in 1999.
It doesn't mean draft workouts aren't important, Saunders said. They allowed the front office to familiarize itself with Muhammad, for example, who became the team's top selection in last summer's draft.
They're just one slice of the pizza, though.
"It's good because you can put them in situations that you know players are going to be in," said Saunders, who also has a head coach to hire and a current franchise face in Kevin Love to try and keep around. "Some guys react good, some guys don't react good. It puts it in perspective (for) management.
"It's good to see those guys and give you a little bit of insight into what makes them tick."