November 12, 2020

Here’s What the Timberwolves Should Do with the No. 1 Pick

The Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in an exciting, yet precarious position. They are the rare team that possesses the No. 1 draft pick but are also ready to compete for the playoffs next season. Thanks to a core built around Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, Minnesota doesn’t want to be in the lottery next season. 

The 2020 draft has a consensus top 3 in guards LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and center James Wiseman. Due to their perceived similar skill levels and a murky pre-draft process, no prospect has publicly separated themselves from the pack. To add to the intrigue, the Wolves already have cornerstones at guard and center. It’s a welcome development that we don’t truly know what happens on draft night, an event where the first selection is usually obvious before becoming official.

Let’s take a look at the Wolves’ current options, and which course of action they should pursue.

Who Should the Wolves Select?

It’s safe to say this is president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas’ chief task over the last few months. As the saying goes, a team should always pick the best player available, but in this draft, there’s no consensus on who that player is. Also, if the Wolves make this pick themselves, they are likely picking a player who overlaps with Russell or Towns.

Let's zoom in on Ball — no, this isn't a Jeffrey Toobin joke — who profiles as an exciting young guard with exhilarating playmaking skills, limited range and choppy decision making that will likely have his coach pulling his hair out. Ball joined a growing list of top prospects over the years who have elected to forgo college basketball to play overseas. While playing in a more professional setting is undoubtedly a plus, there is also less exposure, and the inability to see a player matched up with his peers. Ball’s 6-foot-7 frame is towering for the position, and he averaged 17 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the Australian NBL. Ball’s skill set is similar to Russell’s, and while overlapping strengths can be a positive for NBA teams, it’s never a good idea to double down on a weakness. Both Ball and Russell are subpar defenders, and meshing them together would be like tying both hands behind your back on defense. Nevertheless, Ball possesses preternatural skills that are rarely found in NBA players, and the Wolves may have to bite the bullet and figure out the rest later.

As for Edwards, he theoretically is the cleanest roster fit next to Russell and Towns. Minnesota has a cadre of talented wings in scoring plug Malik Beasley, defensive stopper Josh Okogie and last year’s No. 6 overall pick Jarrett Culver. Edwards has the potential to be miles better than all of them thanks to his tremendous athleticism and ability to get tough buckets. Shooting 40.8% from the field, Edwards has plenty of room for improvement, but most college wings struggle with that issue, especially ones asked to carry their offenses as a freshman. A trio of Russell, Edwards and Towns poses the best fit, and the Wolves could easily move that direction.

Finally, there’s Wiseman, the sole big man of the bunch. He barely played at Memphis due to outdated eligibility issues, but he displayed an elite ability to crash the glass on both ends and efficiently put up points. Like all big men his age, his post game is still in its developmental stage, but there are promising signs. The only issue for the Wolves is they already have one of the best bigs in the league in Towns. In today’s fast-paced, bombs-away style, heavily investing in a twin towers lineup may not be the best idea, especially considering Wiseman’s paint-bound game. At the same time, Wiseman has all the tools to excel as a new-age big man: he runs the floor hard, is a menace on defense and shoots 70% from the free throw line, which is a good indicator he should be a serviceable shooter when he eventually expands his range. The prospect of having two do-it-all big men who can not only keep up in the modern league, but dominate it, has to be a scintillating thought in Rosas’ mind.

Who Could the Wolves Trade For?

There is definitely a possibility the Wolves trade this pick. There’s no obvious option for them, and if they can extract enough value, they might be better off trading for a young star to accelerate their chances of making the playoffs this season. Towns has entered his second contract with the team, and the clock is always ticking.

There will never be a plethora of established NBA superstars available for trade, but there are a few players the Wolves should consider calling about. The most obvious choice is Phoenix’s Devin Booker. Booker is coming off a fantastic season, averaging 26.6 points, 6.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds. As a sweet-shooting two-guard with the ability to facilitate, every team in the league would be lucky to have him. There are also very few indications outside of some unverified reports floating around the internet that Booker is looking to nudge his way out of Phoenix. If that ever happens, the Wolves have the juiciest asset a team could offer: the No. 1 pick in the draft. And don’t forget: Towns, Russell and Booker are all very close. Do you think they haven’t at least discussed eventually playing together?

There is another star guard who could likely be had for the right price in Washington's Bradley Beal. Beal has given no indications he wants to be traded; in fact, he signed an extension just last year. But if the Wizards decide they don’t have enough ammo to compete this season, they could pounce on a deal that nets them the No. 1 pick. For the Wolves, Beal would presumably have a Booker-like impact: secondary playmaking and elite scoring.

If we want to get crazy, Rosas could call his former colleague Rafael Stone, who now heads the Houston Rockets, and see if there’s interest in blowing the whole operation up by trading James Harden for the No. 1 pick. This move may be inadvisable for both teams considering Harden’s advancing age and massive contract would dry up any flexibility the Wolves had, but it’s worth discussing here. The Rockets are up against the tax and only have six reliable rotation players under contract. Do they decide it’s time to move on? I doubt it, but the idea is certainly fascinating.

Who Could the Wolves Trade Back With?

If there’s no obvious superstar-for-a-draft-pick deal, the Wolves could elect to move a few spots back while picking up an extra asset in return. A few teams stick out as potential partners.

One is the Charlotte Hornets. While the smokescreen, mystery wrapped in a riddle, don’t believe-anything-you-hear pre-draft process can’t be trusted, one report sticks out, from Bleacher Report.

Wasserman reports that the Hornets “want Wiseman badly”, which makes a ton of sense considering their roster composition. Would Charlotte bite at trading No. 3 and a future asset in order to move up two spots? At No. 4, you also have the Chicago Bulls, who may be willing to torpedo the Wendell Carter-Lauri Markkanen experiment and send one of them for the chance to draft their top player in the draft? And what about the Atlanta Hawks? Would they be willing to part with one of their young wings in Kevin Huerter or DeAndre Hunter to pick up Wiseman or Edwards? 

It’s clear if Rosas wants to move off the pick, there will be a pack of teams interested. 

Here's What the Wolves Should Do

Barring a Woj Bomb-style trade for Booker, the Wolves should stand pat and take the best player available in their eyes. Whoever that player is, they need to trust their scouting department and make sure that pick is given all the resources they need to succeed. I believe all three of Ball, Edwards and Wiseman are going to enjoy long and successful careers, but for the Wolves’ current situation, I think eschewing traditional thought and drafting Wiseman would be awesome. He projects as a beast on defense and his shooting form is clean enough to confidently assume he will be a serviceable 3-point shooter later in his career. 

Towns’ multifaceted skill set allows the Wolves to draft a big man who can hopefully strengthen a porous defense and not interfere with Towns on offense. But since KAT is a great shooter and driver, he should be able to make a Wiseman combo work. Which teams would be able to match up with these behemoths?

Zigging while the rest of the league zags is always a bold move, but pairing Wiseman with Towns wouldn't be as much of a space-clogging issue as people think because Towns isn’t just a big man; he’s a 6-foot-11 dude who plays like a wing.

The Wolves should build their modern version of the twin towers and watch the magic unfold.

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration