Looking back and grading the Wolves’ 2008 draft
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 first in a five-part series.
In many ways, barometer of mediocrity though it is, the Timberwolves’ 2008 draft haul represents a remembrance of more hopeful days.
It was the last draft before David Kahn got his hands on the franchise’s personnel directives and, via some draft-day wheeling and dealing by Kevin McHale, brought together Minnesota’s frontcourt of the future. There was no epic strikeout this time around, no first-round gem passed over for a lesser talent — the course of draft action that seems to have defined the Wolves the past few years.
Instead, McHale landed an eventual top-10 NBA star and one of the strongest, toughest big men in the game today — and yes, they’re two different people.
First round: O.J. Mayo (later traded to Memphis), third overall
Because the NBA doesn’t allow trades until after draft rounds conclude, it’s Mayo’s name that shows up at the top of Minnesota’s 2008 draft crop, but that was never McHale’s intention. Once he could, McHale dealt Mayo, the one-and-done Southern California guard, to Memphis in a mega-trade that procured Kevin Love’s services. In exchange for Love, Mike Miller, Jason Collins and Brian Cardinal, Memphis — which had drafted Love fifth overall — got Mayo, Greg Buckner, Marko Jaric and Antoine Walker. Like Mayo, Love spent a year in Los Angeles (at UCLA) before declaring for the draft. Unlike Mayo, he’s blossomed into a three-time NBA All-Star and one of the game’s most unique players.
Second round: Nikola Pekovic, 31st overall; Mario Chalmers (later traded to Miami), 34th overall
Many draft analysts called Pekovic a top-10 pick, but because he was making so much money with his then-current team, Panathinaikos of the Greek League, he slipped into the second round. Players drafted in the later round aren’t subject to the rookie-scale contracts first-round selections are, and teams weren’t willing to use a first-round pick on a guy who knew he could make more money overseas. So the Wolves rendered Pekovic the first pick of the second round and, after two more years overseas, he signed for three years and $13 million in 2010.
Chalmers, meanwhile, had just wrapped up a standout three-year career at the University of Kansas but was traded to the Heat for cash and a pair of 2009 second-round picks (Nick Calathes and Henk Norel were later selected). Minnesota already had Randy Foye and Sebstain Telfair at point guard and apparently felt it better to accrue future assets than maintain Chalmers’ services.
The success of McHale’s move to land Love requires little rehashing. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound stretch four just wrapped up his sixth NBA season with a second all-NBA second-team award and made his first All-Star Game start.
Improving his body and his game every year since his rookie campaign, Love has finished in the top five in scoring and rebounding each of his past two fully healthy seasons (he played only 18 games in 2012-13 due to injury) and morphed from a pudgy, glass-clearing first-year into a trim, fit machine that can score inside and outside while remaining tenacious on the boards. This past year, he became the first player since the 1976 NBA-ABA merger to average 26 or more points, 12-plus rebounds and four or more assists per game.
He’s easily the franchise’s best draft-day get since Kevin Garnett in 1995, also a fifth overall pick. But, like Garnett, Love could be on the way out.
And he hasn’t been around long enough to provide much of a return on investment.
In Love’s six seasons, Minnesota hasn’t been to the playoffs. Because Love wants to win and felt slighted Kahn didn’t give him a maximum extension in 2012, he reportedly will opt out of his contract after next season if he’s not traded first.
Which could leave Pekovic as the lone Wolf in the Timberwolves’ imposing frontcourt.
Like Love, it took Pekovic a year to get his bearings once he turned up on American soil. After averaging 5.5 points and three rebounds as a rookie, Pekovic’s upped that total to 16 and 8.3 the past three seasons. The 6-11, 285-pound Montenegrin behemoth is one of few "true" centers left in the NBA, doing the majority of his damage in the paint and punishing smaller, lither five men in today’s league.
For his efforts, Minnesota inked Pekovic to a max-length, five-year, $60 million extension last summer.
But Pekovic has yet to prove he can be a viable force throughout the course of a season, missing at least 17 games every year he’s been in the league. In 2013-14, he sat out 28 of the Wolves’ final 38 games due to an injured ankle after receiving early-season All-Star consideration.
The Chalmers trade drops the Wolves out of the "A" range for the simple fact Chalmers has gone on to start at point guard for a team that’s vying for a third straight NBA championship. Shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range and averaging 3.8 assists for his career, Chalmers certainly looks like a better option at the point than J.J. Barea or Alexey Shved, the two guards behind Ricky Rubio on this year’s roster.
But even with Love alone, Minnesota’s 2008 draft ranks as one of the best in franchise history.
It’s what came before and after that hurts.
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