MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves selected Michigan point guard Trey Burke with the ninth overall pick in the first round of the NBA draft on Thursday night, then shipped him to the Utah Jazz for pick Nos. 14 and 21.
The Jazz took UCLA swingman Shabazz Muhammad at No. 14 for Minnesota, giving the Timberwolves some size on the perimeter that they have been searching for to put next to point guard Ricky Rubio.
The Jazz then took Louisville center Gorgui Dieng at No. 21 for the Wolves.
Muhammad averaged 17.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in his lone season at UCLA. He has the natural scoring instincts that the Wolves have lacked in recent seasons, but also carries with him some questions about his background that may have caused him to fall down the draft board.
A highly touted recruit out of UCLA, he was forced to sit out the first three games at UCLA and repay $1,600 in impermissible benefits after the NCAA and UCLA found that Muhammad accepted travel and lodging during three unofficial visits to Duke and North Carolina. It was also revealed in a story by the Los Angeles Times that he was actually 20 years old, a year older than the age that Muhammad's father had said he was all along.
The Wolves made the trade after watching their most coveted shooting guards — Victor Oladipo of Indiana, Ben McLemore of Kansas and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of Georgia — go off the board ahead of them.
New team President Flip Saunders has made adding perimeter shooting his top priority for a team that was dead last in the NBA in 3-point shooting last season. Muhammad shot 37.7 percent on 3s at UCLA last season, but the Wolves could still be in the market for more shooting with pick Nos. 21 and 26 in the first round. They also have two picks in the second round.
Adding a shot-blocking presence in the paint was another priority for the Wolves with restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic and All-Star Kevin Love not traditional defensive rim protectors. Dieng will certainly help that. He averaged 2.5 blocks and 9.4 rebounds per game for the national champions last season.
Saunders was hired last month to take over for David Kahn, who was fired in large part because of a woeful performance in the draft. Kahn had major misses with Wes Johnson and Jonny Flynn in the top 6 picks and Rubio and Derrick Williams were the only first-round picks that were still on the team after his four-year run ended.
Owner Glen Taylor tapped his confidante Saunders, who was fired in Minnesota in 2005, to bring some more basketball-related acumen back into the front office, and Saunders plunged into this draft with a focus on adding shooters around Rubio and All-Star Kevin Love. The Wolves shot an abysmal 30.5 percent on 3-pointers last season, almost six percentage points below the league average.
Love's return from a twice-broken right hand and the anticipated return of Chase Budinger, who missed much of last season with a knee injury, should help matters. But the Wolves were still in need of a prototypical shooting guard who could defend the bigger guards in the league and knock down 3-pointers at a reliable rate. Last year coach Rick Adelman was forced to play undersized Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard, leaving the Wolves vulnerable on the defensive end and without the scorer's mentality that generally comes at the position on the offensive end.
Saunders was very high on Oladipo and McLemore and made efforts to trade up into the top five to select one of the top two shooting guards in the draft. When those attempts failed, the Wolves initially figured Caldwell-Pope would be there for them at No. 9, but the Detroit Pistons took him at No. 8.
That's when the Wolves went into deal-making mode, grabbing Burke for the Jazz, who were in the market for point guard help.