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Timberwolves trade down, select Auburn center Walker Kessler

Wolves pick Duke's Wendell Moore at No. 26

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Auburn
Texas A&M Aggies guard Marcus Williams (1) has his shot blocked by Auburn Tigers forward Walker Kessler (13) during the first half Feb. 12, 2022, at Auburn Arena.
John Reed / USA Today Sports
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Tim Connelly wheeled and dealed in his first NBA Draft as Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations. In the end, Connelly turned was was one first-round pick — No. 19 — into the reigning national defensive player of the year and a two-way wing out of Duke.

Minnesota nabbed Auburn center Walker Kessler at No. 22, and Duke wing Wendell Moore at No. 26 on a busy first night of real action as Timberwolves’ basketball boss in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

The Timberwolves had two clear weaknesses bite them in key moments of their first-round playoff loss to Memphis: They weren’t big enough and they couldn’t rebound. Kessler can perhaps serve as a piece of duct tape for those holes.

At 7-foot-1, 245 pounds, Kessler is an imposing defensive presence in the paint. He led all of Division I basketball with 155 blocked shots en route to claiming national defensive player of the year honors. The big, who will be 21 years old next month, averaged 11.4 points and 8.1 rebounds this season as a sophomore for the Tigers. He showed the nimbleness necessary to defend at all levels and also was a strong finisher around the rim.

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Minnesota spent the offseason publicly pumping up the 4th-year guard
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In some ways, it seems early for such proclamations. The Timberwolves haven’t been to the second round of the NBA playoffs since 2004. This spring marked the first playoff experience for a number of key players on the roster, who are still in the infant stages of their careers. Going from that to championship is quite a leap.

The selection of Kessler suggests Minnesota is serious about its willingness to play Karl-Anthony Towns at power forward, at least at times. Towns has operated in that type of role alongside certain other Wolves forwards in the past but rarely alongside a true center such as Kessler.

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The pick is a pivot from the Gersson Rosas regime, in which Towns was rarely placed alongside even a legitimate power forward.

Playing Towns at power forward takes defensive pressure off the all-star forward in certain matchups and could shore up Minnesota’s rebounding issues.

At the same time, centers often come along slowly in the NBA, so Kessler’s true impact may not be felt immediately. It seems unlikely he’ll start at center as a rookie, but he does seem like a good bet to serve as the Wolves’ backup center, likely with some minutes played next to Towns.

Minnesota acquired the pick by trading its No. 19 pick, along with a future second-round pick, to Memphis in exchange for picks No. 22 and No. 29 in Thursday’s draft. The Wolves then moved No. 29 to Houston in exchange for No. 26 and a pair of future second-round picks. Minnesota entered the night with a healthy allotment of picks in the cupboard, which allowed the team to be aggressive to grab a couple players from a range of the draft in which the Wolves and other teams felt there was depth.

NBA: Draft
Walker Kessler (Auburn) shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number twenty-two overall pick by the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Kessler was traded to the Timberwolves later that evening.
Brad Penner / USA Today Sports

Moore was a three-year player at Duke, with his 3-point percentage rising each year to where he shot 41 percent from deep as a junior. He also averaged 5.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists, displaying some play-making chops. Moore is a well-rounded player who is an apt defender and could contribute early in his NBA career.

And in a league where wings win, the Wolves were able to add a depth piece behind the likes of Jaden McDaniels and Anthony Edwards — the latter was working out at the team facility during the draft Thursday.

The selections of both Kessler and Moore show a commitment for Minnesota to the defensive end, adding to a roster that largely featured offense-first players as recently as last season.

Briefly

Breck grad David Roddy was selected No. 23 overall by Memphis, making him the second Minnesotan drafted in the first round, behind Chet Holmgren, who went No. 2 overall to Oklahoma City.

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