Wolves looking to strike it rich
By Andy Greder St. Paul Pioneer Press For the Timberwolves, the best lottery odds for the NBA draft have produced the worst luck. That doesn't bode well for Tuesday. After finishing 16-66, Minnesota has a 25 percent chance of netting the top over...
By Andy Greder
St. Paul Pioneer Press
For the Timberwolves, the best lottery odds for the NBA draft have produced the worst luck. That doesn’t bode well for Tuesday.
After finishing 16-66, Minnesota has a 25 percent chance of netting the top overall pick in the June 25 NBA Draft, better than any other team. The prize likely would be one of two standout post players: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns.
But entering their 11th straight lottery, the Timberwolves have had traditionally lousy luck, never winning the top pick and, In fact, never improving on their odds-on spot.
In 1991-92, the third-year Minnesota franchise went 15-67. Needing a cornerstone player, they held the greatest odds of getting the top pick, a 16.7 percent chance. Yet instead of netting Shaquille O’Neal or Alonzo Mourning, the Wolves slid to third pick and took Duke’s Christian Laettner.
Minnesota’s losing ways continued for five more seasons.
Wolves coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said last month he’s confident the team will get a building block whether they pick first or fourth, the lowest they could fall. But with center Nikola Pekovic averaging 48.5 games a season because of injuries, the team could use a reliable post presence.
“If Minnesota ends up with the first pick, there is going to be a long, healthy debate about both Towns and Okafor, and it will take a few weeks to sort itself out,” said ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla.
While the merits of each player will be debated for the next four weeks, Fraschilla already has his favorite.
“Towns probably has the edge to me right now because he’s the grand slam, and Okafor is just the home run,” Fraschilla said.
Because the NBA has increased the odds of the worst teams winning the top pick since 1992, the Wolves have a 25 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick on Tuesday. From there, it becomes a 21.5 percent chance at the No. 2 pick, 17.8 percent for No. 3 and 35.7 percent of falling to fourth.
Then there’s the 100 percent history of the Wolves never improving their guaranteed spot - 18 for 18 either maintaining or dropping in lottery position. They have stayed at the same spot eight times and slid 10 times.
No slip hurt more than 1992. O’Neal became a 15-time all-star and four-time NBA champ. Mourning made the all-star team seven times and took home one NBA title. Laettner, meanwhile, lasted three seasons in Minnesota before being traded to Atlanta, where he made the only all-star appearance of his nomadic 13-year career.
If the Wolves get the first or second pick, they will have two very different players to select from: the offensively gifted Okafor and the defensively stout Towns.
“In Okafor, you have a guy who’s limitations right now may be on the defensive end, but you are talking about a very skilled young offensive player at 6-11, who I think in his early 20s will be unguardable,” Fraschilla said.
“Towns is not as ready-made as Okafor may be offensively, but he has tantalizing shot-blocking potential. He is developing into a low-post scorer.”
Offensively, the 6-11 Towns could join the growing ranks of big men with shooting range.
“There’s something that was not seen this year (at Kentucky) that many that have watched him since he was 16 know that he can do: step away from the basket and shoot 3s,” Fraschilla said.
Meanwhile, Okafor’s post-up game would be a rarity in a league that has spread the floor more with smaller players.
“When I watch (Memphis’) Marc Gasol play, and guys like that, I still think there is room for a guy like Okafor,” Fraschilla said.
Outside of Okafor and Towns, Fraschilla has four other players in his “first tier” of prospects: Point guards D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, Latvian Kristaps Porzingas and Croatian Mario Hezonja.
“The (Wolves) are going to have a lot of options presented to themselves if they’re anywhere in the top three or four picks,” Fraschilla said.
The last time Minnesota had a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery, Cleveland, with a 2.8 percent chance, won the top pick and chose Duke’s Kyrie Irving. The Wolves took Arizona’s Derrick Williams at No. 2 and traded him to Sacramento in November 2013 after an underwhelming start to his career.
Irving, meanwhile, is in Cleveland playing with LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals.
The below list includes NBA-tabulated odds to earn the first overall pick, followed by odds to get a top-three selection, for all lottery teams.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves: 25 percent-64.3 percent
2. New York Knicks: 19.9 percent-55.8 percent
3. Philadelphia 76ers: 15.6 percent-46.9 percent
4. Los Angeles Lakers: 11.9 percent-37.8 percent
5. Orlando Magic: 8.8 percent-29.1 percent
6. Sacramento Kings: 6.3 percent-21.5 percent
7. Denver Nuggets: 4.3 percent-15.0 percent
8. Detroit Pistons: 2.8 percent-9.9 percent
9. Charlotte Hornets: 1.7 percent-6.1 percent
10. Miami Heat: 1.1 percent-4.0 percent
11. Indiana Pacers: 0.7 percent-2.5 percent
12. Utah Jazz: 0.8 percent-2.9 percent
13. Phoenix Suns: 0.6 percent-2.2 percent
14. Oklahoma City Thunder: 0.5 percent-1.8 percent