Kevin McKale and the Timberwolves made two risky, yet intriguing selections in the NBA Draft. In the first round they took Arizona signee Ndudi Ebi, a high school player with great upside. With their second pick they took former Wildcat recruit and hometown hero Rick Rickert. Both players have good athleticism and potential, but both also have some huge deficiencies that must be overcome.
The irony is that both players made commitments to Lute Olson and reneged on them. Rickert verballed to Arizona and then let his father and friends bully him into playing for the Gophers instead. Rickert had a roller coaster career at Minnesota. He was the Big-10's top freshman two years ago, but spent much of last season in Coach Dan Monson's doghouse. The Cats may have won out in the end. They got Isaiah Fox, a player who has been a solid contributor and a great character guy, whether he was starting or playing just five minutes a game. While Rickert is fighting to remain on an NBA roster, Fox will be playing his junior and senior seasons for the Cats.
Ebi's situation was worse in many ways. Ebi was a top-5 recruit who said since day one that he wanted to experience college. He sold the Wildcat coaching staff on his desire to make an impact on the college game. The Cats spent a lot of time and energy into his recruitment and it seemed to pay off when Ebi shunned Duke and Texas and chose Arizona. He signed a letter of intent and on signing day again stressed how much he wanted to come to college. Even after the loss to Kansas in the NCAA Olson stressed in his end of year press conference that they fully expected Ebi to be a Wildcat.
Then LeBron James happened. Ebi had long been infatuated with the top prep player, the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft. Ebi matched up with James at the McDonald's All-Star game. Ebi actually D'ed up on James and proved to be somewhat effective. Ebi, the top prep shotblocker, showed his ability to handle the ball and play on the perimeter. Ebi had the bug.
Ebi put his name in the NBA Draft and told the Wildcat coaches that he would only stay in the draft if he were a sure-fire Lottery pick. Soon it was if he was top-20. By the end of May most suspected that if Ebi was a first round lock he would stay. By June 19th it was clear that he wanted the NBA. Even an 11th hour call to the Wildcat coaches informing them that he was likely pulling his name out did not set their minds at ease. At 2:15, 15 minutes after the deadline to withdraw, Ebi called Josh Pastner to tell him that he was still in the draft.
Now the last two players to spurn Olson are teammates, but T-Wolves fans have to wonder why? Both of these picks are very curious, because they do nothing to address needs.
The T-Wolves need help now. They have a good team that just isn't talented enough to get past the first round. Kevin Garnett is one of the top-5 players in NBA, but he alone can't get Minnesota past the opening series. This year they had the Lakers on the ropes, but could not finish LA off. Garnett has signed a long-term extension, but wants the front office to add help. The problem is that neither Ebi or Rickert is ready to contribute right away. What the T-Wolves did is grab to players who in future years would be high draft picks, but who are at least a year or more away from contributing. Ebi may have been a top-5 player in the next two years, but as of now he is an 18-year old kid who needs to add 40 pounds of muscle.
What's even stranger is that neither player fills a need. Minnesota needs big bodies on the inside and guards. Essentially Ebi and Rickert are the exact same players as current T-Wolves Garnett and Joe Smith. They are both tall, thin, athletic players. Maybe they want to trade Smith or one of the rookies down the line, but if they want to help keep Garnett happy why not draft immediate help? When they drafted Ebi Luke Walton, Josh Howard, Travis Hansen and Jason Kapono were all available. At the point they grabbed Rickert their choices were much more limited, so it isn't as curious.
Another strange aspect is the fact that Ebi is Minnesota's first first rounder since 1999. Due to penalties from the illegal signing of Smith, the NBA stripped Minnesota of a number of first round picks. They lessened the penalty and gave them back their pick in this draft, but they will again miss the pick next season. Sure getting a future top-5 player two years early is intriguing, but I would think that keeping the franchise player happy would be more important.
In the end the T-Wolves' draft can't be graded for a few years. The potential is there, but will Garnett be happy getting help in three years? Tune in then…
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