MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves apparently didn’t feel like being left out of the 2013 NBA Draft unpredictability party.
The team struck a late deal Thursday with Utah to bring UCLA small forward Shabazz Muhammad and Louisville center Gorgui Dieng to the Twin Cities, partway filling two of its biggest needs in roundabout fashion while leaving some more offseason work to be done.
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With the ninth overall selection, Minnesota drafted point guard Trey Burke for Utah in exchange for the Jazz’s two first-round picks — 14th and 21st overall. That put them in position to have Utah draft and trade Muhammad, an athletic scoring machine who can help meet Minnesota’s desire for improved outside shooting, but leaves a gap at the two-guard position that still requires rectifying.
The Jazz then picked Dieng, a 6-foot-11, 245-pound big man whom the Timberwolves hope can be an effective, rim-protecting backup in the post.
“It was chaotic from the first pick,” president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said during a press conference between the first and second rounds. “We addressed our defense inside, and we addressed our ability to score. We have not addressed our ability to make perimeter shots … I’m not disappointed, because I believe one thing: that both these guys will come in and be able to play for us next year.”
Commissioner David Stern’s announcement that Minnesota snagged a point guard initially shocked reporters and fans watching the draft broadcast and following on social media, especially after Saunders said earlier this week his team wouldn’t be drafting a one-guard.
But reports of the trade immediately followed, meaning Burke had to trade in his league-issued Timberwolves flatbill for a Jazz lid. Muhammad, conversely, sported a Utah hat while discussing his future in Minnesota with guest ESPN broadcast host and Miami heat forward Shane Battier.
“The Timberwolves are getting a hard worker,” Muhammad said. “I’m going to be in the gym all the time.”
The transaction was one of several surprises in a first round that saw dark horse forward Anthony Bennett taken first overall by Cleveland and projected top-three picks Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore fall to sixth and seventh, respectively.
Minnesota also traded guard Malcolm Lee and the 26th pick — Colorado forward Andre Roberson — away for cash and a future second-round pick to Golden State, who in turn gave Roberson to Oklahoma City for the 29th overall selection, then traded down again to 30 in a deal with Phoenix.
Acquired in a draft-day trade with Chicago in 2011, Lee leaves the Timberwolves after averaging 4.0 points and 1.9 rebounds in 35 games.
Saunders worked the phones most of Thursday in attempt to trade up, but with names like Noel and McLemore sliding so far, no one drafting ahead of the Timberwolves was willing to budge.
Detroit grabbed shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope out of Georgia at No. 8, taking the last player Minnesota would’ve seriously considered for the ninth pick.
That left C.J. McCollum as the next likely choice for the Timberwolves, but Saunders and his staff determined that trading down to 14 would be a more beneficial option than selecting the combo guard from Lehigh.
A big factor in that decision was sheer size — Muhammad is a 6-foot-5 with a 6-11 wingspan, while McCollum stands about 6-foot-3 with a 6-6 wingspan.
“I like C.J.,” Saunders said. “We felt really, in reality, that Shabazz would be a better fit for us than C.J., really … We just thought we wanted to have a little bit more size there.”
If Minnesota is to procure a shooting guard that’s able to make an immediate difference, it’ll have to do so in free agency, which begins July 1, or via another trade after the draft.
At the three spot, Muhammad brings a knack for point production and a somewhat-tarnished reputation to Minneapolis.
Ranked by Rivals.com as the country’s No. 1 prep recruit a year ago, he led UCLA in scoring with 17.9 points per game and shot 37.7 percent from 3 on 106 attempts. That’s attractive to a Timberwolves team that was the NBA’s worst from beyond the arc last season.
Enticing enough to overlook his rap as a poor teammate, an NCAA suspension for taking impermissible benefits and reports that his age had been falsified.
“I know it’s not a popular pick with Shabazz, and I’ve been very critical of him,” said Saunders, who worked out Muhammad on June 16. “Talking to him and talking to a lot of people, we were comfortable with him. I do believe this: If you look at the history of players that have been Player of the Year in high school, all those guys have been pretty good players in the NBA … Here’s a guy that sat out the beginning of the year, came in and still ended up being a pretty dominant player in the PAC-12.
“No matter what, he’s going to be able to score.”
Muhammad received news of his fate from a hotel room adjacent to the Barclays Center in New York, then hopped across the street to shake hands with Stern before the Jazz made the 21st selection.
At Saunders’ direction, that ended up being Dieng.
The Big East Defensive Player of the Year last season and a native of Senegal, Dieng blocked 2.6 shots per game during his three-year collegiate career. He moves well for a guy his size, per scouting reports, and was equally strong on the glass, with nine rebounds per game during both his sophomore and junior campaigns.
He’s likely destined initially to back up Nikola Pekovic, who is a restricted free agent this offseason.
“We wanted to get somebody who could protect the rim, and that’s what he did at Louisville,” Saunders said of Dieng. “I think he’s more ready to play than (other centers in the draft) because of his skills, his passing ability. He has an NBA skill, and that NBA skill is that he can guard.”
Dieng didn’t work out for the Timberwolves, but was at the NBA pre-draft combine.
In the second round, Minnesota took N.C. State guard Lorenzo Brown with the 52nd overall pick and Montenegrin forward Bojan Dubljevic at 59.