MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Arizona forward Derrick Williams with the second pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night.
Williams averaged 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Wildcats last season and was widely considered the second-best player in the draft behind Duke point guard Kyrie Irving. The Cavs took Irving with the first pick.
Now the question is whether Williams will stay in Minnesota. The Timberwolves tried all week to trade the second pick in hopes of landing a veteran center or shooting guard to help the youngest team in the league.
And the 6-foot-8 Williams has a very similar skill set to a couple of players already on the roster — forwards Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph.
The Timberwolves also had the 20th pick in the first round.
Kahn made the decision without coach Kurt Rambis in the room. The coach was watching the draft from Los Angeles, still not told if he will return for a third season after going 32-132 in his first two years. Yahoo! Sports reported on Wednesday night that Kahn has already decided to fire Rambis, but the Timberwolves have not commented publicly on the situation.
The Timberwolves finished an NBA-worst 17-65 last season, but their long history of bad lottery luck struck again when Cleveland leapfrogged them for the top pick. The Cavs took Irving as expected, leaving the Wolves with a dilemma.
They could take Williams, who seems to be redundant with Beasley, Randolph and Wes Johnson — three tall, very athletic players who can play multiple positions.
Or they could take Turkish center Enes Kanter, who at 6-foot-11 is as an enormous presence in the post and would help balance their roster. But Kanter sat out all of last season after being ruled ineligible at Kentucky, and so there is plenty of mystery surrounding his game.
Ultimately they decided to take Williams, deciding he had too much value, either on their team or as a possible trade chip.
There is some debate as to where Williams will play in the NBA. He played mostly power forward at Arizona, but league observers wonder if he's big enough to defend the power forwards he'll face on a nightly basis in the NBA.
When he worked out for the Timberwolves last week, Williams insisted that he is a small forward in the NBA. He shot almost 57 percent from 3-point range for Arizona last year and has displayed the quickness and ball-handling ability to play the position, on offense at least. The questions would be on defense.
Williams worked out with Beasley and Johnson in Los Angeles this summer, and said last week that he would welcome the idea of starting his pro career in Minnesota. He didn't see the redundant skill sets as an issue.
"I think actually it'd be hard to guard if you had three small forwards on the court at one time," Williams said. "Wes can stretch out the defense. Beasley can stretch out the defense and so can I. Me or Beasley can play the four spot. Either way it's going to be a mismatch if we're both on the court at the same time."
Assistant GM Tony Ronzone said after the workout that he was very impressed by Williams' ball-handling and ability to get to the rim.
When asked if he could play three small forwards — Williams, Johnson and Beasley — together, Ronzone didn't hesitate. He said the days of the dominant low-post center, for the most part, are over and thought the Wolves could play small and possibly move Kevin Love or Randolph to the center on many nights.
"I think he can solidify himself as a true 3 and I think he can play smaller 4s in our league," Ronzone said. "The way the league is going right now, a guy like Anthony Randolph can slide to the five on certain nights. He's just a big body. He's got skills. It's nice to see that."
If Williams does stay in Minnesota, Beasley could be on his way out. After coming to Minnesota from Miami last summer, Beasley averaged 19.2 points and kept his nose clean off the court as well. But a series of ankle injuries in the second half of the season derailed his fast start, and there are still questions about whether they can rely on the 22-year-old to mature into the kind of professional, focused leader the team needs.
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