The 3 Major Timberwolves Lottery Scenarios
The end of the 20-21 NBA regular season has arrived and so begins the annual anxiety and nervousness as Wolves fans await the NBA Draft Lottery on June 22nd. This season’s lottery carries additional weight with the Wolves owing their pick to the Golden State Warriors if it lands anywhere outside the top 3 slots. Timberwolves games are completed for the year, so it is time to examine the 3 major scenarios that could occur for the Wolves, their odds of happening, and how Wolves fans may feel about them.
Scenario #1: “Winning the Lottery” 27.6% Odds
The Timberwolves win one of the top 3 spots in the draft and keep their pick.
Despite competing hard and winning some games down the stretch which cost them some lottery balls, the Wolves still have a 27.6% chance to keep their pick in the 2021 draft. What an incredible gift this would be. Whether the pick is 1, 2, or 3 it seems as though the Wolves would get an opportunity to draft a future star with this selection and add a high-end young player to add to their burgeoning core.
I like to think about it using an analogy of an enormous cruise ship turning around (stay with me here). The ship was headed in the wrong direction after the 19–20 season and after a couple months of the 20–21 season it was going full throttle the wrong way. Well, the hiring of Chris Finch and development of some of the young players slowed the ship down completely and began to slowly turn it around. Securing the buy-in of max contract players like KAT and DLo hastened the ship’s slow turn, and the finishing kick by Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels has pointed the bow of the ship in the correct direction and fired up the engines. The course is set, and we have our heading, but keeping this pick would add rocket boosters to the back of this ship.
It is difficult to overstate how significant this would be for the long term viability and sustainability of a contending team here in Minnesota. Right now, the Wolves have a couple of max contract players entering the prime of their careers, 2 up and coming rookie stars, and a host of other young and intriguing players. Adding a 2021 top 3 pick to the team or to use in a trade opens up an enormous amount of options for this team’s future. If they use the pick they will have a cost-controlled young talent that they can count on being on the team for the next decade, or they can use the pick as a cornerstone asset to acquire a current star and immediately boost the team’s talent. If the Wolves are lucky enough to keep the pick I am in the camp that says keeping the pick is the best idea, so who can the Wolves target with this selection?
Using Tyler Metcalf’s (@tmetcalf11 on Twitter) Draft Guide we can hone in on who the Wolves could add. If they do snag the #1 pick (9% odds) the safe bet would say that Cade Cunningham will be the selection. I am no draft analyst, but I cannot imagine adding a 6’8″ point guard who can shoot and defend is a BAD idea. These are the types of players that championship teams are built around; big wing creators that can score and defend players all over the positional spectrum. Cunningham could be incredibly valuable to the Wolves as a guy who can set up elite scorers like Towns, Russell, and Edwards, or they can use their gravity to get him open for 3pt. attempts. I do not subscribe to the “too many cooks in the kitchen” theory as it relates to having too many ball handlers. The Wolves should strive to have as many versatile ball handlers on the team as possible. If #1 is won, do not overthink it. Cade is the guy.
Maybe the Wolves end up with the #2 pick. In some drafts that would not be nearly as enticing, but this year’s 2nd ranked prospect, Evan Mobley, would likely be at the top of big boards in any other season. The legitimately 7’0″ center from USC was a dominant force on defense while protecting the rim, and was able to switch on to guards to defend on the perimeter as well as any college big man in recent memory. Offensively he displays excellent touch, ball handling, and footwork around the rim combined with a still developing jump shot. Does that sound like a big man that would work in the modern day NBA? Absolutely! Another plus for Mobley is that Wolves fans have been clamoring for another big man to play next to Towns to help him defend the paint and rebound. Well how about a 7’0″ pterodactyl that can deter opponents at the rim and use his long arms to vacuum up rebounds on offense and defense. With the 2nd pick, it may be tempting to take one of the elite guards that are available, but Mobley is too good of a prospect to pass up.
Finally, the 3rd option in this scenario for the Wolves would be winning the 3rd pick in the draft. They would likely get the option to draft a Minnesota kid in Jalen Suggs. He is a 6’4″ guard and was the best player on the 2nd best team in college basketball at Gonzaga. Suggs is best known for his well-rounded game as a tenacious defender, offensive floor general, and fierce competitor who is going to provide 100% effort every single night. What were some of the Wolves biggest issues during this past season? Defensive intensity and perimeter defense. Suggs would nearly immediately solve both of those issues while bringing an athletic and smart offensive game. Once again, he’s a Minnesota kid, so that would be fun!
The final added bonus to the 27.6% chance of keeping this pick is how it likely diminishes the asset value that is still owed to Golden State. If they keep it this year, the Wolves will send their unprotected 2022 pick to Golden State. No matter what happens, the Wolves are going to aim to be much better next year than they were this season. They may even have the juice to push for the playoffs. Suddenly they could owe a mid 1st round pick to the Warriors and that entire trade looks a whole lot better. In almost every sense of the imagination, keeping this pick would be a major turning point for the franchise.
Scenario #2: “Sending Pick 6–10” 62.8% Odds
The Timberwolves do not win one of the top 3 picks and end up sending a pick between 6–10 to Golden State.
A quick straw poll of Wolves fans would likely show that they would be just fine for this to be the outcome. Additionally there is about a 50% chance that the pick falls at 7 or 8, with the 7th pick being the most likely. That essentially boils down the DLo/Wiggins swap to be Andrew Wiggins/7th pick/36th pick for D’Angelo Russell. It is not great value for the Wolves, but it certainly does not look like it will be “franchise-ruining.” Throw in the added benefit of DLo’s positional importance, friendship with Karl-Anthony Towns, and fit with Anthony Edwards and that trade looks to be just fine from a Wolves perspective.
So what are the Wolves realistically giving up if this most likely outcome happens. There are some intriguing prospects in the 6–10 range according to Tyler Metcalf’s Draft Guide, but it is littered with high upside projects or older prospects with a lower ceiling but could contribute sooner. If Golden State keeps the pick, I would imagine they target the latter option to find an immediate contributor.
They took their upside swing with James Wiseman last season, so this year they could look to improve their depth. A player like Davion Mitchell from Baylor could be a perfect fit for them. He is a high-energy defensive guard who drives hard to the rim and showed a solid shooting stroke. That sounds like a player that fits with Steph and Draymond. He will be 23 by the start of next season and would immediately help the team. Tre Mann is another multi-season college player who has a mature game for a guard, and could be a 2nd unit PG on day 1.
While I believe Golden State is unlikely to use the pick on another project, there are a couple of developmental players with high upsides that they could select between picks 6–10. Moses Moody, Ziaire Williams, and Jaden Springer are solid options that could start in the G League or play a few minutes off the bench to begin a developmental track, but in all likelihood they will not be contributors to winning basketball for a year or two. The Warriors know that better than most teams as they were much better this season without their raw rookie James Wiseman on the court.
The final option for Golden State would be to package the pick in a trade for a veteran. The issue here is that the 6–10 range of prospects does not seem to be highly regarded among draft analysts, so the value that the pick could bring back is relatively muted. Could a package of the 7th pick in 2021, James Wiseman, and Andrew Wiggins bring back a star? I doubt it. There are not many stars available in trades, and many other teams could beat that offer. Additionally, Wiggins has been pretty good this year so would that returning player really make them much better? Golden State does not have many other tradeable contracts if one assumes that Steph, Draymond, and Klay are off the table, so it is fairly difficult to imagine a trade package with the 7th or 8th pick that makes the Warriors appreciably better right now.
General NBA fans would find this scenario boring. It likely limits the action that could follow this pick. Both fanbases will feel OK about it, and people will move on. NBA fans want the drama of one of the teams clearly winning or losing the deal, but Wolves fans are going to breathe a sigh of relief that this whole debacle is behind us. On June 22nd when the lottery balls drop and put the Wolves in the 7th or 8th pick, we will feel just fine and move on with our lives.
Scenario #3: “Doomsday” 9.6% Odds
The Timberwolves technically “win” the 4th pick in the draft, thus sending the 4th pick to Golden State.
Gross. I feel a pit in my stomach thinking about this scenario. The Wolves did well to drastically mitigate the odds of this happening by winning games. During the 1st half of the season as the Wolves were in last place, they had nearly a 60% chance to hand Golden State the 4th or 5th pick. Through their improvement on the court and in the standings, the Wolves have only a 9.6% chance to surrender the 4th pick, and completely eliminated the chance to send the 5th pick away. Along with creating good vibes and improving the view of the team, playing the season out competitively got close to completely eliminating the “Doomsday” scenario.
Golden State Warriors fans are likely hoping and wishing and dreaming about these 9.6% odds to land the 4th pick. This is largely considered a draft with 4 hyper elite prospects, so they want to make sure they get in on the fun. If the draft goes as Tyler Metcalf’s guide predicts they will be able to draft Jalen Green who is billed as an athlete on par with Anthony Edwards but with a more polished scoring touch. That’s…. probably a good player! At least in the future. Even if he is not ready to contribute positively to a playoff team next season, Golden State would have to feel good about moving towards the future with an ultra young core of James Wiseman and Jalen Green who will round into form just as the Curry / Green / Thompson triumvirate are aging out. That could potentially extend their run of fielding good/ great teams by a decade.
Another option that could be even scarier for the league than the Warriors simply drafting Jalen Green would be using the pick in a trade package for a star player. While the 7th or 8th pick may not bring much of a return, front offices around the league may be much more enticed by the 4th pick and the ability to snag a potential future franchise player like Jalen Green or Suggs. Suddenly the trade package of Wiggins, Wiseman, and that 4th pick looks a whole lot more enticing to a team looking to rebuild. Maybe Toronto would be interested in parting with Siakam to acquire the 4th pick, or Indiana would give up Sabonis to return that trade package. Suddenly those conversations are on the table giving Golden State the ability to boost themselves right back into title contention.
Overall sending the Warriors the 4th pick in this year’s draft shouldn’t be any different than sending a pick between 6–10 as it has the same effect on the Wolves ability (or inability) to maneuver their roster either way. Many fans do not care where the pick ends up, they just care whether or not the Wolves get the pick. That is completely rational and probably the healthy way to think about it, but I would not be able to help feeling more disappointed if Golden State ends up with such a valuable asset. They are a team that the Wolves eventually hope to compete with for playoff positioning after all, so it makes sense to hope they receive less valuable assets. The good news is that this is the least likely outcome, and the Wolves have 3x the percentage to keep their pick as they do to hand over the 4th pick. Let’s just hope this scenario turns out to be a mute point with a 90% chance that this does not happen.