The Minnesota Timberwolves hold the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft after — literally! — last week. Now Gersson Rosas, Minnesota’s president of basketball operations, has one of the most consequential decisions to make in the franchise’s history about the franchise’s future.
Already, the team is brimming with young star power between D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. But the timeline on which the team hopes to capitalize on that talent is now, not later, setting up the team’s impending decision about what to do with its pick all the more fascinating.
Should the Timberwolves keep it and bet on LaMelo Ball or James Wiseman or Anthony Edwards? Should they trade down and gain more draft capital? Should they trade it entirely to acquire a player who can best help them in their bid to win immediately?
Here are their best options, ranked from I would definitely do this to uhm, good luck, along with their best draft options should they stand pat.
1. Keep the pick and take ….
Put yourself in Minnesota’s shoes and picture what you’d do. You want to make your stars happy with someone who can help win now. But you also don’t want to neglect your position entirely by passing up a potential star, even if said star is not ready to help the team win now. Rock, meet hard place.
If you keep the pick, then for Minnesota, here is who you draft:
1. LaMelo Ball — Russell being a point guard probably leads most to believe Minnesota won’t go this direction, but the seemingly duplicate nature of drafting a point guard when you already have one of Russell’s caliber isn’t a wrong approach. We should normalize this. Most teams generally try to avoid positional overlap but shouldn’t. Ball is a playmaking force with elite court vision, and despite the skinny frame and shooting troubles overseas, there’s a chance he emerges from this draft class as a superstar. Passing on that because you already have a point guard would be unwise and could set your franchise back years.
2. Anthony Edwards — He’s a 6-foot-5 wing who can jump out of the gym but also knows how to create his own offense and, theoretically, can be a two-way force in time. But at Georgia the offense he created was mostly inefficient, and his defensive mentality suggests that he’s got a long ways to go to becoming a polished player on both ends. If Minnesota wants to find the best fit, however, a wing who can play off Towns and Russell like Edwards can makes the most positional sense.
3. James Wiseman — Why draft a center when you have one of the best centers in the NBA already on your roster? Because James Wiseman might just be generationally great, and Minnesota may conclude it’s worth it. He’s 7-1 with a 7-6 wingspan who looks like a dominant defensive player who can anchor the back end of a defense. It’s unclear if he’ll fit with Towns or not in the frontcourt — and willingly putting two 7-footers on your roster goes against the way the NBA is moving — but perhaps you just take the talent and figure the fit questions out on the fly.
“I wouldn’t rule out any player for us,” Rosas said last week discussing the draft and potential positional overlap. “For us, the reality is in this league, you don’t get a chance to pick your elite superstar players and the way we look at the draft is a focus of getting the best talent available. Some of my experiences personally, some of the coaches experiences but you get the best talent that you can and you make it work.”
2. Trade the pick, get another piece
In a three-team deal in 2014, the Timberwolves traded Kevin Love to the Cavs in return for Andrew Wiggins, who was that year’s No. 1 pick, along with Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. (The 76ers also received Miami’s 2015 first-round pick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved.) The premise of the deal for Minnesota: Reset. For the Cavs, however: Win now.
Six years later, the Wolves are in a similar (albeit not identical) position as the Cavs were then. They want to ensure Karl-Anthony Towns is happy (and stays happy), and that the Russell-Towns duo does not get squandered.
They could find suitors in this draft to take the bait because this draft is not particularly deep in terms of potential star power. Scouts view Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman as the top three prospects, with a clear dropoff at No. 4 and beyond. So would, say, the Atlanta Hawks have a package compelling enough to move up to No. 1, so they could select Anthony Edwards as a side-piece for Trae Young? Does Chicago have any pieces it can reasonably offer to make the pick worth Minnesota’s while? Would any team even want to shed assets — be it a current player or draft picks — to get this year’s No. 1 pick?
I suspect Rosas and his staff will be fishing around to find the answer to that question but if there’s a third banana out there that’s available to pair with Russell and Towns in exchange for the pick (and perhaps some incentives thrown in), that might be the play for Minnesota. As optimistic as I am about Edwards or Wiseman being capable of helping this team in its current construction (and about Ball’s long-term potential), none are sure things like what you’d be able to likely draw out of a bigger trade package.
3. Trade down, get more capital
Would the Knicks or Bulls be willing to move up the board and pay a premium for it? The list of teams who have traded out of the No. 1 spot in NBA history is a short one for a reason: It costs a pretty penny to do so. And unless there’s a sure thing at the top it seems unlikely.
Moreover, if there was a sure thing at No. 1, Minnesota would almost certainly just keep the pick and use it to bolster its roster. You could trade down and get quality role players out of this draft, but does that even align with Minnesota’s view of drafting? (That may depend on how much they’re compensated for their troubles, I’d say.) Regardless, this is the type of bold move that’s bold for a reason: it could completely backfire if the No. 1 pick becomes a star or if trading down upsets the balance of happiness in Minneapolis. It may be a viable strategy, but in this draft, it should be the final consideration when you have a chance to swing for the fences.