“What Just Happened?”

Well, I’m glad everyone made it out alive, and I hope everyone realizes what they witnessed.

The 2011 NBA Draft became nothing more than a platform for the Minnesota Timberwolves and their endless volley of draft picks that flew in every direction possible. Confusing doesn’t begin to describe the situation as picks, rights, names, and faces were all shuffled, leaving most of us in a thick cloud of dust not knowing what the hell just happened. But something did happen. Something improbable. Minnesota got better. (Maybe.)

Of course, the bulk of their improvement is due to their uncontroversial selection of Derrick Williams. He was the safe pick, and very well could be the right one. I’ve never been too enamored with his game, and if there’s one thing that defines my perception of him, it’s doubt.

I doubt his position, kind of. I was weary of his ability to play at the small forward spot, but the problem is not nearly as glaring as the situation Marcus Morris put himself in. There are still questions to be answered though. He’s talked about being more comfortable in the perimeter, but does that take away from one of his best qualities (drawing fouls) as a player? Can he be an effective slasher without exceptional footspeed at the NBA level? As a prospect, Blake Griffin was a power forward who could spend time at center. Physically, compared to Griffin, they are remarkably similar. An inch in height and three pounds separate their combine measurements, and both players play with about the same maximum vertical height (taking into consideration height, max vertical, and standing reach).

Both are fantastic athletes, but what sets Griffin apart is the hyper-fluidity of his movements, the extent of which Williams can’t quite match. Williams’ dunks with a running start off two feet are positively Blake-esque, but not so exceptional elsewhere. Granted, his offensive repertoire is more well-rounded at this point in their respective careers, but Williams lacks Griffin’s creativity and prodigy. It’s an unfair comparison, but one to keep in mind. Griffin has maximized his gifts to become a true power forward. With distinct similarities, shouldn’t Williams be doing the same?

Defensively, Griffin hasn’t yet become a plus defender either. However, unlike Williams next season, he has very good weakside help. But he hasn’t spelled out his doom just yet. Williams doesn’t have a freakish wingspan, but it’s above average and when combined with his strength, it should be enough to guard most small forwards in the league. If he proves to be adequate, everything is rosy. His offensive prowess would surely lessen the blow of lackluster defense. But things tend to go wrong in Minnesota. And if Derrick Williams wakes up and sees Michael Beasley staring back at him in the mirror, the Wolves are back to where they started.

For the last few months, I haven’t been able to type his name without checking Google to make sure I didn’t get his last name wrong. It’s a name that just sounds too familiar — the first name shares likeness with one of the biggest superstars in the league today in Derrick Rose, and the last name with Deron Williams, which happens to sound nearly identical to Derrick Williams. What’s in a name? Nothing and everything. But it’s what people hear before they see the skills. It’s the carrier of adoring praise and overwhelming burdens. And I fear that if Derrick Williams isn’t a very good player, I’ll be looking at his name on a statsheet one day wishing he was someone else.

Of course, that was only in the first 20 minutes of the draft. Then over the course of three hours, the Wolves made sure to take as many steps as possible to acquire three future draft picks.  It started with trading formerly coveted guard Jonny Flynn, which came off as a startling admission from GM David Kahn that he is indeed aware of his errors, and not just a man far removed from reality. And that’s a start. It really is.

So Flynn and the No. 20 pick were traded to the Houston Rockets and became Brad Miller, No. 23 and No. 38. Then No. 23 became No. 28 and No. 43. Then No. 28 became No. 31.  No. 31 became cash, and remember No. 38? It changed its mind and limped its way back to Houston.

If that’s too convoluted — and it’s it is entirely too convoluted — the tangible additions to next season’s Wolves are Brad Miller and the No. 43. Brad Miller recently had microfracture surgery and he’s old. As for the No. 43? Well…

After three years of toil in Ben Howland’s system, the chains and shackles are off for Malcolm Lee. In three years at UCLA, Lee watched as the hype turned to scrutiny, which ultimately turned to ambivalence. He went from being a high-flying act in high school to a no-frills off-guard at UCLA. There was nothing spectacular about his college campaign, but what he developed should show immediately during training camp. At 6’5″ and a lean 200 pounds, Lee has enough size to guard both backcourt positions, a noteworthy skill he possessed back in high school that only got better by his junior year. He is an NBA-caliber defender right now with long arms and quick feet. Strength has always been an issue with Lee, but he’s taken a lot of time to tone and build muscle in his upper body, evidenced by his 17 reps in the bench pressing portion of the Pre-Draft Combine — only two less than fellow rookie teammate Derrick Williams, who recorded the highest number of reps in the combine, and easily outweighs Lee by at least 50 pounds.

Offensively at UCLA, Lee scored off the ball on dribble handoffs and diving into the paint. While he still needs to work on his strength to finish near the rim at the NBA level, Lee is extremely athletic and has great body control, which should help with the learning curve. In workout interviews, Lee specifically mentioned his desire to learn the ins and outs of the pick and roll, seeing himself as a point guard. With Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour perfectly capable at the 1, that might not be imperative, but Lee can create for himself and others, something that’s been missing on the roster for years. Most importantly, Lee finds himself transplanted from a slow and methodical UCLA team to one of the fastest teams in the league. But if UCLA teaches anything to its NBA prospects, it’s how to adapt. Though it’s not hard to adapt to an environment that was once your domain.

Is Lee a perfect fit? No, but how many players on the team are? Outside of Rubio and Kevin Love who are the pure in their positions, the Wolves are a band of players who would probably be better off playing a different position.

“I can assure you it won’t fit perfectly.”

– David Kahn saying obvious things during the post-draft press conference

Damn right it won’t. Kahn is heavily banking on the power of versatility, but at some point, some semblance of a hierarchy has to be established. But I guess that’s for another time. There’s no room for negativity killing this post-draft euphoria, and no room for projecting the likelihood of Kahn trading Lee for a veteran just for the sake of getting older. Because as it stands right now, the Minnesota Timberwolves got better after the draft. Of course, on draft night it felt like watching a million torpedoes launching in different directions threatening to destroy everything, but somehow they didn’t. Somehow, in the end, the Timberwolves were unscathed.

…An improvement as only David Kahn could produce.

(Just so it’s clear, I’ve taken the liberty of ignoring the whole ‘Ta(n/r)guy Ngombo is actually a really old dude’ situation. He was never going to step on the court, so I thought of it as an entertaining sideshow/non-event.)

Seth Carstens