The Minnesota Timberwolves won the 2020 NBA draft lottery, much to the delight of draft rep D’Angelo Russell and a very loud bird that happened to be sitting near his porch. Early reports are that it was a Western scrub jay. Fitting, because this year’s 19-45 Minnesota squad was primarily composed of Western scrubs.
The top pick gives them an obvious chance to improve—but it won’t be an easy decision. Normally, it’s very clear who should go no. 1. Last year, it was obviously Zion Williamson, and the year before that, it was obviously Luka Doncic. (Wait …) But in this year’s draft, there’s no consensus. Anthony Edwards is generally considered the best player, but during Thursday night’s telecast, ESPN’s Jay Bilas described Edwards by saying, “The only questions about his game are his efficiency, decision-making, shot selection, and his defense.” Other than that, though, he’s great. The Ringer’s draft guide lists Killian Hayes as the top player, but not the most likely top pick. James Wiseman used to be considered the no. 1 top pick, and the player you’ve probably heard the most about is LaMelo Ball.
Of course, the recent Timberwolves have made a pretty strong argument against the concept of going all in on no. 1 picks. Minnesota had the top pick in the 2014 draft (Andrew Wiggins) and the top pick in the 2015 draft (Karl-Anthony Towns) for the last five years. For one year, they even had the no. 1 pick from the 2013 draft on their roster too (Anthony Bennett), but it’s best we don’t talk about that. This glut of highly selected young talent has added up to exactly one playoff berth, in 2018, when the Wolves were the no. 8 seed and won a single game. Earlier this year, they pressed reset and traded Wiggins for Russell.
The top pick seems equally exciting and troubling for Minnesota. On the one hand, it’s impossible not to be excited about a core of Russell, Towns, and whichever pick they make in October. On the other hand, we’re already yelling about whether Minnesota should draft the best player available, or find the player who best complements Towns and Russell. If the Wolves swing and miss, they’re in for a repeat of the Wiggins-Towns era—and the possibility for a miss is higher this year than most.
Let’s look at some more takeaways from lottery night …
Hey, Another Good Thing Happened to the Warriors
I’m a fan of having the no. 2 pick. People will laugh at you for drafting Andrew Wiggins first, but they might not even remember that you drafted Jabari Parker second. Somebody else is making the tough pick for you.
Sure, the Warriors didn’t get the top pick after having the worst record during the regular season. But I think we can all agree that the Warriors are not basketball’s worst team—they have Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. (And Andrew Wiggins! Who could forget?) Having the worst record in basketball doesn’t make you all that likely to get the top pick, either. Under the new lottery odds, the team with the worst record has a 14 percent chance at the top pick, a 13.4 percent chance at the no. 2 pick, and a 72.6 percent chance of a worse pick than that. So no. 2 is a win for them. Golden State missed the playoffs because Curry and Thompson were injured. It was the first season Golden State had missed the playoffs since the first step of its dynasty eight years ago, and it will probably be the last time it misses the postseason for quite some time. The Warriors will either emerge with a young star to pair with their prime All-Stars, or use the pick as a trade chip to add a ready-made player.
Plus, let’s not forget that the Timberwolves landing the no. 1 pick helps the Warriors. Golden State received Minnesota’s 2021 first-round draft pick when trading away Russell. The pick is top-three protected; Minnesota will probably be good enough next year to avoid ending up in the same position, but I bet it will still end up in the lottery. Even the bad things that happen to Golden State are actually good.
Finally, Some Luck for Charlotte
Some people believe draft lotteries are rigged, and when people say that, they generally point to the surprise teams that overcome long odds to win the top pick. But I’d point to the existence of the Charlotte Hornets—the NBA’s newest and perhaps most easily forgotten team. Since their expansion year in 2004, the Hornets had never moved up in the draft lottery order. They’re so easily forgotten because they never seem to land good picks, which means they miss the playoffs almost every year, which means they go back in the lottery, where they once again get snubbed by the ping-pong balls. It’s a vicious cycle.
Despite missing the playoffs 13 times in 16 seasons, the Hornets had never gotten a lotto bump—until Thursday. Even when they had the worst winning percentage in NBA history in 2012, they were bumped down from no. 1 to no. 2, missing out on Anthony Davis and instead getting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. (Insert a YIKES of appropriate size here.)
Finally, the balls bounced Charlotte’s way this year. They’ll get to pick third, a number that probably resonates with team chairman Michael Jordan. It puts them in perfect position to take LaMelo Ball—whose dad, of course, said he could beat MJ one-on-one and seems to think LaMelo is an MJ-adjacent talent. That will certainly make the Hornets a lot less forgettable.
The Knicks Fell Again
Four teams fell at least two spots in the lottery as the Hornets and Bulls jumped into the top four, allowing us to laugh at their sadness: The Cavs fell three spots to no. 5, while the Hawks, Pistons, and Knicks each fell two. But you can’t rake in big RTs with Cavs, Hawks, or Pistons jokes. You gotta go for that pure uncut Knicks misery.
It’s the second straight year in which the Knicks have fallen two spots—last year, they had the worst record in the league, but wound up with the third pick. This year, they had the sixth-worst record and will pick eighth. But that doesn’t seem so brutal in a draft that has more depth than top-tier talent. There will be talent available. Now the Knicks just have to draft someone better than Kevin Knox. (To be fair, that’s pretty much everybody.)
Can We Just Do This Like The NHL Next Time?
A few weeks ago, I watched the NHL draft lottery, during which my beloved New York Rangers received the no. 1 pick. (I don’t know much about hockey, but … I need an emotional outlet, considering the aforementioned Knicks fandom.) This year’s NHL draft lottery was different from the others: After a bunch of format changes due to the pandemic, eight teams received even odds for the no. 1 pick. So they just threw eight ping-pong balls with team logos on them into a feeder and whichever logo showed up at the end got the top pick:
It was beautiful. We even got to see the Toronto Maple Leafs’ ping-pong ball ding off the pipe and bounce out, a franchise impacted by sheer luck right in front of our eyes.
John Tavares Leafs' lottery ball— Corwin (@corwinmc) August 10, 2020
Hitting the post on an open net pic.twitter.com/TvyTTXidW6
The NBA needs to do the same. I’m sure it would have to change the format of the draft lottery to make it work, and I’m sure it would make the process somewhat unfair, but I don’t care. Enough of the behind-the-scenes process administered by Ernst & Young accountants in suits. I need to see the ping-pong balls bounce live. I’m done with deputy commissioner Mark Tatum opening predetermined envelopes. I need to see him pluck a logo-emblazoned ball out of a hopper and tell us whose franchise just had their fate altered.