No great secrets were divulged in the 15-minute phone conversation I had with Fred Hoiberg this morning, nor did I expect him to spill the beans about what will happen on Thursday. But he was kind enough to give me the time during his busy schedule and what follows is as close to verbatim as my flying typing fingers would allow. If I were to handicap what he said, I’d say it is a tossup between Mayo and Love if the team stays pat, and that a trade of the #3 down to anywhere between #12-13 isn’t out of the question.
Rake: Rather than give away any strategy or involve ourselves in the sort of guessing games and myriad scenarios that have filled your days lately, why don’t we start with you telling me who you like from this class that you’ve seen, regardless of whether the Wolves will take him at #3 or #31 or whatever. Who will you feel a little proud about if they go on and have a really good NBA career?
Fred Hoiberg: Well after the first two guys-it is pretty clear Rose and Beasley are one-two. But in that next group there are a lot of guys we like-Mayo, Love, Lopez, Gallinari. We just saw Bayliss and Gordon, two guys who get to the free throw line better than anybody in the country, which is something we need to get better at, so those two guys make some sense. There are strengths and weaknesses in all their games, so what you do is try and find who fits best with your team and what you are trying to do. We feel it is a very deep draft and all will be solid NBA players. You can go all the way to 12 or 13 and get a very good player who can possibly start.
R: Which brings up the possibility of a trade, if you can leverage one of those 12 or 13 guys you like and still add another piece.
FH: Yeah as Kevin [McHale] has been saying all week, teams won’t really come out with their best offer until the last minute. Right now nobody has offered anything that is jumping out at us and we have the pick of the litter after the top two so we’re happy with where we are.
R: What areas of the game are you looking to bolster beyond the improvement of the guys on your roster, and how likely can those areas be addressed in this draft?
FH: I think shooting is a priority. Just so the defender is not always sitting in Al Jefferson’s lap. O.J. Mayo will be as good a shooter as anyone in this draft. We saw him in Chicago and he was filling it up. Kevin Love is a legitimate three point shooter as a big and is a great passer. Bayliss is a good shooter. Gordon has a great shot. Gallinari made 23 out of 25 college threes in the workout we saw. It was against a chair, but he missed the first one and then hit 23 of his next 24 and he’s a legitimate 6-10, just a quarter inch shorter than McHale.
Otherwise you just get somebody who is going to fit into your group. Lopez fits our needs because of his size and his wide shoulders. Love does because of his savvy and smarts–he fills gaps defensively and immediately helps our fast break because of his outlet passing and just does so many little things. Mayo averaged 21 points in the toughest league in country last year and has had the spotlight on him since he was growing up in Kentucky.
R: You’ve already done this to some extrent, but let me throw four names out at you and have you respond as if the Wolves just drafted this guy. Describe why you picked him and why he fits in with your ballclub. The first one is Mayo.
FH: I think OJ Mayo when we look back in 5 years we’ll say he was the best shooter in this draft. He has very good range, he is very consistent and he is a guy I don’t think the moment will ever be too big for him because the spotlight has been on him for so long. He defends well and you can play him at both [guard] spots-he’s not a pure point but he can get you into your basic sets.
R: What about Love?
FH: Looking at this draft class I think he is the smartest player. He is a skilled big which is something we need and there are not many in the league right now. His passing ability is just unbelievable–he sees things before they happen and already knows where the ball is going to go before it hits his hands. He is a great rebounder and shoots the ball well, with legit three-point range, so we’d be able to space him around Al.
FH: Lopez probably fills one of our biggest needs which is a legitimate center. He averages almost 20 points per game and did that although he got double-teamed almost every night. We saw him have a big game against Texas. He runs pretty well for his size and is a legitimate 7-1.
R: Finally, Gallinari.
FH: Gallinari grew up as a point guard–two years ago he was a 6-5 point guard and then he shot up 5 inches, so now he’s a small forward with point guard skills. He can go right or left and has great shooting skills. He has the potential to be a star in our league.
R: If you were to make a trade, would it likely involve a more established player and/or a better draft pick?
FH: I think both those scenarios will be there. I don’t think we’ll see the best offers on the table until Thursday. But [then] we’ll probably see different scenarios with draft picks or getting rid of a contract or a [established] player who makes sense for us or all of the above. But if it doesn’t make sense for us we don’t need to do it, we’ll just go out and get the player we want.
R: Because you’re already a young team is it important for the players you pick to be NBA-ready? Is it possible you guys would take a project?
FH: I think the guys we are looking at are all NBA-ready guys, considering that all could step in and play next year.
R: Do all the workouts you guys schedule change your mind ever or just reinforce opinions you had?
FH: More reinforce opinions. You try and put guys in spots where they are uncomfortable to see how they handle it. And if they don’t handle it well, you don’t cross them off but you go back and look at the film and see how they handled those situations [then]. And you do your thorough background checks and you have your sit down interview, which is a very important part of process.
R: Without naming any names, did anyone dramatically screw themselves or improve as a result of this process?
FH: I don’t think so. You’ve got to remember that these guys are flying across the country and doing five or six workouts in six days, and that this is only one performance that you are seeing. But you do get a look and you want to get a look. It is part of the process but not the most important part.
R: I’m figuring that if you don’t land a big man with your first pick, that, given the depth of bigs later in the draft, you will probably get a big with one of your two later picks. Is that a fair assumption?
FH: I would think so unless somebody drops who we feel can’t pass on at 31 or 34. But you’re right [about the depth], there should be somebody there for us.