Based on the NBA standings as of now, the Timberwolves stand a very good chance to finish with the fifth-worst record in the league. Indeed, Basketball Reference puts their pre-lottery odds of being in that No. 5 spot at 84 percent. The lottery, though, means a lot can happen.
The Wolves’ most likely outcome will be to pick fifth, but they really could finish anywhere between 1-8, except for No. 4, assuming they finish the year in that fifth position (teams can only jump into the top three, and teams can only fall three spots from their expected slot).
As such, there are a wide variety of players that could end up being on the Wolves’ radar. Here is a look at seven of them who are playing in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament — a sort of guide to watching the tourney if you pay more attention to the pro game and specifically the Wolves.
*Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke: At 6-10, 196 pounds, Ingram is long and thin for a small forward. But the freshman is also extremely athletic and can shoot the ball — entering the NCAA tournament hitting 41.3 percent of his three-pointers, with 74 makes on the season. The Wolves would likely have to jump into the top 3 to have a shot at Ingram, a projected one-and-done player. Duke survived a scare in Thursday’s opening round against UNC Wilmington to advance to the round of 32 Saturday.
*Jaylen Brown, SF, Cal: At 6-7, 221 pounds, Brown has a more developed NBA body than Ingram even though he, too, is a freshman. He’s more of a slasher and rim finisher than Ingram but must improve his shot. It’s hard to say if his skill set fits what the Wolves need, but he might be available in that 3-8 range. Cal plays Hawaii at 1 p.m. Friday.
*Jamal Murray, SG, Kentucky: Another freshman who just turned 19 and, like Andrew Wiggins, hails from Canada. Murray, 6-5, projects as a combo guard who is comfortable handling the ball. He can shoot the 3 and doesn’t appear to have a lot of holes in his game. Again, the question for the Wolves would be is Murray too much of a duplication of a player they already have in Zach LaVine? Murray projects as a top-5 pick, so he might not be there when the Wolves pick anyway. Kentucky plays late Thursday, 8:40 p.m. vs. Stony Brook.
*Kris Dunn, PG, Providence: Dunn has good size and strength (6-4, 220) for a point guard, but for as good as he is he didn’t improve much from last year to this year. A junior who could be there when the Wolves pick, Dunn would be an interesting choice. Much of it would depend on what the Wolves think of Ricky Rubio’s long-term future with the team. Providence faces USC at 8:50 p.m. Thursday.
*Jakob Poeltl, PF/C, Utah: A 7-footer who can block shots and rebound, Poeltl would be an intriguing name depending on where the Wolves end up picking. The end of this season has shown the Wolves have precious little depth among big men, and Poeltl could be a valuable addition even though he lacks offensive polish. Utah faces Fresno State at 6:27 p.m. Thursday.
*Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma: Hield shot 46.4 percent from three-point range in the regular season and averaged 25 points, making him a player to watch this season — and a player to keep an eye on as the draft approaches. He’s athletic, and his 6-9 wingspan belies his 6-4 height. But he might be undersized and exploitable on defense at the NBA level. Oklahoma plays Cal-State Bakersfield at 3 p.m. Friday.
*Denzel Valentine, SG/SF, Michigan State: The senior is just an all-around excellent basketball player with a high hoops IQ. Draft experts are all over the map with him, though, because he doesn’t project as an elite athlete. He feels to me like a player a lot of teams will end up regretting not picking, but he also could be too “safe” of a pick for the Wolves to take as high as they will end up. Michigan State, a trendy pick to go all the way, plays Middle Tennessee State at 1:45 p.m. Friday.