Net Profit: Wolves make overnight trades and end up with two picks in the first round

The Timberwolves started draft night with one first-round pick. They ended up with two.

President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly went down and up in the draft Thursday, swinging four separate deals while making his first draft with the Wolves an eventful one.

When the Wolves came in at number 19 overall on the clock, they treated the Grizzlies to go back and take Memphis’ 22nd and 29th picks — but they weren’t done yet.

The Wolves held the first of those picks and selected Auburn center Walker Kessler at number 22, but before they could pick at number 29, Connelly struck a deal with Houston for number 26 and selected Duke’s Wendell Moore.

The Wolves’ busy design room liked how the night had unfolded before them and thought they could get two quality players they targeted by going back. Connelly said trade talks got off to a slow start, but around numbers 8 and 9, trade calls started to get more “actionable.” He attributed his front office to managing the chaos.

“That room did such a great job of predicting what we thought it might be. It gave us some flexibility because we were in a pretty good position of land,” said Connelly. “…Those guys were surgical. I’m just the stupid guy trying to run it all.”

The Wolves exited from number 19 and also sent a runoff for 2023 as part of the Memphis deal. In the trade with Houston, which had previously taken over number 26 from Dallas, the Wolves shared number 29 and two future second-round picks.

The coin of the second round was in flux everywhere. The Wolves traded back from No. 40 to No. 45 with Charlotte and grabbed a 2023 second-rounder that belongs to the Knicks. At number 45, they brought in Josh Minott from Memphis, an upward prospect the Wolves liked. They then traded number 48 to Indiana for a future runoff and money and kept their number 50 pick to select Matteo Spagnolo, a guard from Italy who will stay there for the time being and not join the Wolves right away, Connelly said.

Connelly was unable to comment specifically on the Wolves or Minott’s first-rounders, as their trades had not yet been finalized. He spoke generally about how the conscripts might fit more in the future than immediately.

“We were looking for personality types. We were looking for guys that we can grow with in the long run,” Connelly said. “We don’t want to expect too much from their ability to contribute right away. When you have a team that has been as successful as we have been, it’s hard to put that on your shoulders.”

With their first pick, the Wolves went for size and a potential rim protector in Kessler, which was a big part of Auburn’s season in which the Tigers earned a No. 2 place in the NCAA tournament. Kessler was the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year.

The Wolves could use a rim guard and size on the frontcourt and they got a few in Kessler, who was known for his shot-blocking ability. He hit an eye-watering 4.6 shots per game in his only season with Auburn after the transfer from North Carolina.

Last season, the Wolves played a defensive plan that required the center of Karl-Anthony Towns to be on the perimeter to cover screens and guard players along the perimeter. Players would then scramble behind Towns to guard the rim. Kessler could help them guard the edge if he can contribute right away.

Connelly said a priority for the Wolves this offseason has been to add rebound to their roster after finishing last season as the third-worst team in defensive rebound percentage. Kessler averaged 8.1 rebounds per game and 11.4 points. He shot 61% from the field, but shot only 20% on 1.5 three-point attempts per game. But where Kessler fits next season, if at all, is a question mark.

In Moore, the Wolves get a wing that blossomed into his third season at Duke after struggling in his first two. Moore averaged 13.4 points by helping Duke reach the Final Four. He improved his three-point shooting from 30% to 41% from his sophomore to junior season.

Moore received high marks from design reviewers for his ability to play on and off the ball and his ability to score with the dribble. He was also a solid defender who could guard multiple positions. The Wolves are betting that Moore can continue to make progress from his junior year while, according to some analysts, he can overcome a lack of athletic ability.

“I think we’ve gotten better,” Connelly said. “I’m not going to have unfair expectations of what they’re going to do on the pitch. Most rookies don’t have a huge impact, but I think if you add the kind of people we’ve added, I think the organization got better.”

The second-round picks will be development projects for the Wolves as Minott averaged 6.6 points during his lone season in Memphis, mostly from the bench. Minott has athletic ability to play in the NBA but should probably work on his shot. Spagnolo scored an average of 12.2 points when he played for Vanoli Cremona in Italy’s Lega A. The Wolves have also signed Champlin Park’s Theo John to their summer league team, according to an Athletic report.

In the beginning, the concept was quiet regarding trades as the first 10 picks all stayed with the teams that selected them. The Wolves did not sit idly by, as the trades began shortly after. However, point guard D’Angelo Russell, whose status was the subject of the trade rumor mill later, was still on the list with the Wolves as the draft progressed on Thursday, the first significant window for off-season trading.

Connelly came into the night expecting his staff to argue and discuss choices and strategy. He said he got what he wanted.

“Are you kidding? I’ve had a few beers already, I’m so sick of it,” Connelly said. “…No shortage of arguing, which is great. No shortage of debate. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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