JON KRAWCZYNSKI,AP Basketball Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For a draft that has widely been panned as lacking star power at the top, the one strength of the 2013 class appears to be at shooting guard.
From Kansas sharpshooter Ben McLemore, who could go No. 1, to Ricky Ledo, who is trying to convince executives to take a chance on him after academic issues kept him from playing at Providence last year, the draft is full of scoring guards with size and the ability to play at both ends.
“I really think there’s six or seven quality (shooting guards),” Timberwolves President Flip Saunders said on Thursday after his team worked out several of them. “I really believe that the 2 spot probably has the most depth of any spot in the draft. There’s more guys there that have the ability to get taken, and pretty high probably.”
That’s a very good thing for Saunders’ team.
The Wolves hold the ninth and 26th picks in the first round in next month’s draft. They desperately need a shooting guard with some size to pair alongside point guard Ricky Rubio in the backcourt. Last season injuries forced coach Rick Adelman to play undersized Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea heavy minutes at shooting guard, which put them at a severe disadvantage on defense against some of the bigger guards in the league.
Minnesota was also one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league, so the need to get bigger and more accurate from the perimeter at that spot remain the biggest priorities for a team that has missed the playoffs for nine straight seasons.
“Barea and Luke are 6-foot players and having to guard guys like Kobe Bryant and those guys, what you want is you want to get 2-guard who has size and can shoot the ball,” Saunders said.
The Wolves held a group workout on Thursday that included shooting guards Tim Hardaway Jr. of Michigan, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of Georgia, Allen Crabbe of California and Ledo. Big men Mouphtaou Yarou of Villanova and Gregory Echenique of Villanova also participated.
McLemore and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo are widely regarded as the top two shooting guards in the draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be considering McLemore, Kentucky center Nerlens Noel and Georgetown forward Otto Porter with the No. 1 pick, and Oladipo figures to be gone in the first five picks. Several of the players in Minneapolis on Thursday are jockeying for position to be the third one off the board.
“We’re all fighting for it,” said Caldwell-Pope, a versatile scorer who was one of the top players in the SEC. “There’s a lot of shooting guards in this draft. We all competing against one another. We’ve just got to come out, show that we’ve improved and try to move up.”
Combo guard C.J. McCollum of Lehigh, swingman Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA and San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin all could be called in the first 20-25 picks.
Hardaway, whose father was a star point guard in the NBA, is making a strong push to get into the first round. Many scouts believe he had one of the best showings at the NBA’s draft combine in Chicago, with a smooth shooting stroke and impressive athleticism helping him stand out. He punctuated his workout on Thursday with a soaring windmill dunk, proving that his under-the-rim playing father didn’t teach him everything he knows.
“It’s just a great opportunity to go up against these guys like Pope, Ledo and Crabbe,” Hardaway said. “We’re out there just competing and just having fun.”
Ledo may be one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft. The 6-foot-6 guard was a highly sought-after recruit before signing with Providence. But he was academically ineligible and never played a game. He still decided to declare for the draft and now is using these workouts to make up for the lack of game tape.
“I definitely want to show that I belong, that I can compete and play along with anyone,” Ledo said.
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