The Timberwolves started NBA draft night with one first-round pick. They ended it with two.
Tim Connelly’s first big moves as Timberwolves president were trades after all.
As the Wolves came up on the clock at No. 19 overall, they swung a deal with the Grizzlies to move back in the draft and take Memphis’ 22nd and 29th picks.
The Wolves selected Auburn’s 7-foot center Walker Kessler at No. 22 and traded the 29th pick, and future seconds, to Houston for the 26th pick to take Duke guard Wendell Moore, although Moore was drafted by Dallas as part of a trade between the Mavericks and Rockets that is not yet official.
Minnesota traded out of No. 19 after selecting Wake Forest forward Jake LaRavia for the Grizzlies. The Wolves were also sending a future second-round pick to the Grizzlies as part of the deal. A source said it was a 2023 second-round pick.
With their first pick the Wolves went for size and a potential rim protector in Kessler, who was a big part of Auburn’s season. The Tigers earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and Kessler was the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year.
The 6-5 Moore played three seasons at Duke, averaging 13.8 points as a junior last season.
The Wolves could use a rim protector and size in the frontcourt and they got both in Kessler, who was known for his ability to protect the rim and block shots. He swatted an eye-popping 4.6 shots per game in his lone season at Auburn after transferring from North Carolina.
Last season the Wolves played a defensive scheme that required center Karl-Anthony Towns to be on the perimeter to hedge screens and guard players along the perimeter. Players would then scramble behind Towns to guard the rim. Kessler could help them protect the rim if he can contribute right away.
Connelly said a priority for the Wolves this offseason was to add rebounding to their roster after finishing last season as the third-worst team in terms of defensive rebounding percentage. Kessler averaged 8.1 rebounds per game along with 11.4 points. He shot 61% from the field but shot just 20% on 1.5 three-point attempts per game.
There were some surprises early in the draft as Paolo Banchero of Duke went No. 1 to the Magic after it seemed Jabari Smith of Auburn was headed there in most mock drafts. The Houston Rockets selected Smith at No. 3 after Chet Holmgren went to Oklahoma City. Purdue’s Jaden Ivey slipped to the Pistons at No. 5, another surprise move, as the Kings took Iowa’s Keegan Murray.
The early part of the draft was devoid of significant trades that involved established players, with the top 10 teams each keeping their picks. There was some movement in the teens as Detroit and Oklahoma City made trades to jump back into the lottery.
The Wolves didn’t sit idly by as the trades began, though point guard D’Angelo Russell, who has had reports swirling about his status of late, remained on the roster as the draft went along Thursday, the first significant window for trading in the off-season.
Relationships between front offices aren’t a prerequisite to make trades in the NBA, but they can certainly help. Along those lines, the Wolves recently added Memphis’ Steve Senior as an assistant general manager before they hired Connelly and Senior’s relationship with his old team could have helped in making the deal.