Looking back and grading the Wolves’ 2009 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 second in a five-part series.
Thanks to some previous wheeling and dealing in the fallout of sending Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2007, the Timberwolves wound up with four first-round picks, including two top-six selections, in the 2009 NBA Draft.
They scored unique flair with one. They completely whiffed on another.
And one got away.
So began the short but dismal David Kahn era after he replaced Kevin McHale as Minnesota’s president of basketball operations. High on international scouting but not on overall foresight, Kahn could’ve built one of basketball’s best backcourts five summers ago.
Instead, he settled for Ricky Rubio and a kid who lasted in the NBA for three seasons.
First round: Ricky Rubio, fifth overall; Jonny Flynn, sixth overall; Ty Lawson (later traded to Denver), 18th overall; Wayne Ellington, 28th overall
Worldwide hype surrounded Rubio long before he declared for the 2009 draft. International scouts called him the best European guard prospect they’d ever seen; some even compared to him to Pete Maravich. So Kahn was more than happy to have David Stern call Rubio’s name when Minnesota commenced its gauntlet of first-round selections June 25, 2009. Through three seasons, Rubio has turned out to be a fine distributor and turnover generator. But he hasn’t developed a scoring touch (10.1 points per game, 36.8 percent from the floor) becoming of a point guard in today’s NBA.
Rubio wasn’t a bust, but he wasn’t a home run. Kahn’s next decision, though, proved far worse.
After two years at Syracuse, Flynn emerged as another ballyhooed point guard — and this one could score, averaging 17.4 points his sophomore year for the Orange on the way to the Sweet 16. But once he got to the NBA, he struggled to adjust. Minnesota assigned him to the Sioux Falls SkyForce of the NBA Developmental League during his rookie season and ended up trading him before his rookie contract was up.
With the next selection in the 2009 draft, Golden State took a kid from Davidson by the name of Stephen Curry.
Already with two top-lottery rookie contracts to pay and a log jam created by drafting two point guards, Kahn struck a deal with the Nuggets to send them Lawson in exchange for a first-round pick a year later. The Wolves selected forward Luke Babbitt 16th overall with that pick in 2010.
Even after that exchange, Minnesota still had one more first-rounder to corral. It went with Ellington, a smooth-shooting two-guard from North Carolina who Kahn saw as eventual help on the wing.
Second round: Nick Calathes, 45th overall; Henk Norel, 47th overall
The Timberwolves had two-second round picks in 2009, both acquired from the Heat in exchange for Mario Chalmers in the previous draft.
Keeping in line with his love for international players, Kahn went with Calathes, a Greek combo guard, and Dutchmen Norel. Calathes spent the first four years of his professional career playing in Greece and Russia before breaking through with Memphis this past season.
Norel never played an NBA game.
Picture Rubio dribbling up the Target Center court, Curry to his right and Kevin Love posting up to his left.
A starting five featuring that backcourt, Love and Nikola Pekovic at center certainly would have been imposing, perhaps enough to make a few playoff appearances and keep Love in Minnesota. But instead, the Wolves went with their perception of the best available talent at six and got burned.
Flynn played 134 games in a Timberwolves uniform before Kahn traded him to Houston in June 2011. A year later, he was out of the league.
Ellington proved an adequate backup at shooting guard from 2009-12, averaging 6.5 points per game and connecting on 37.6 percent of his 3-pointers. Minnesota traded him to Memphis in exchange for Dante Cunningham in the summer of 2012.
Kahn’s second-round dealings weren’t much better. In exchange for an eventual NBA champion point man in Chalmers, he accrued a pair of players who never played for Minnesota.
Rubio, meanwhile, remains a polarizing figure at the center of the club’s future. It was thought Kahn saved the one "designated player," max-level rookie extension for Rubio when he could’ve given it to Love — part of the reason the All-Star power forward reportedly wants out of Minnesota.
Rubio can begin negotiating his own extension this summer. His camp likely will ask for a hefty sum, but Rubio hasn’t blossomed into the kind of all-around point man that deserves max money.
The biggest strikeout in 2009, though, was not drafting Curry, the NBA’s active leader in 3-point percentage at 44 percent. While he, too, is a point guard, he would’ve been blatantly better sharing a backcourt with Rubio than Flynn turned out to be. The two could’ve spelled each other at times, too.
There have been some questionable personnel decisions in the Wolves’ beleaguered history, and the 2009 draft is right down there among the worst of them.
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