You would think after sharing the Target Center with the cats for 14 years, the dogs would have learned this lesson from them by now:
In pro basketball, the draft really matters.
Like, really really matters. Really matters. Really.
Kevin Garnett, Wally Sizzlerbean, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic. In 24 years of existence, the Wolves have made 5 draft picks that have amounted to anything (8 I guess, if you want to include the fact we technically drafted Ray Allen, Brandon Roy, and Ty Lawson...and no, I refuse to accept the idea that Rider was something) Out of fifty-three picks, they got five players.
The Lynx have picked that many just in the last 6 years.
Seimone Augustus (2006), Candice Wiggins (2008), Renee Montgomery (2009), Monica Wright (2010), Maya Moore (2011). You can also count Rebekkah Brunson in that group, whom the Lynx picked in the dispersal draft after the Sacramento Monarchs dissolved.
After sweeping the Dream for the 2013 WNBA championship, the Lynx have now won 2 titles in 3 years. That's 3 more finals appearances and 2 more rings in the last three years than the Wolves have achieved ever. And the 6 players above are the reason why.
The Lynx learned to draft smart. The Wolves still can't figure it out.
Augustus and Moore shouldn't need any introduction. Wright should be in the Sixth Woman conversation for this season. Her 20 point explosion off the bench lifted the Lynx to the game 1 win. And Rebekkah Brunson was literally the only player in the WNBA to average a double-double in the playoffs.
Further, the Lynx have learned how to spend their assets wisely. When the Katie Smith era ended, the Lynx picked up a second first round pick to add to their own to heighten their chances at Augustus. They also picked up a second first rounder in 2011 after trading the #3 pick (Kelsey Griffin) to the Sun, which gave them a better chance at Maya Moore. Neither ended up being necessary...the Lynx nabbed both Augustus and Moore with their own picks...but the effort was 100% the right thing to do.
In 2004, the Lynx made a serious attempt to land hometown hero Lindsay Whalen. They failed. They acquired the #6 pick in the draft, only to watch Whalen go #4, and they vowed never to get caught like that again. And they didn't. They got their act together in the draft, picking Augustus in 06, Wiggins in 08, and Renee Montgomery in 09, and then were finally able to get Whalen by trading Montgomery for her.
Whalen was arguably the best point guard in the WNBA (and is inarguably the best now), and in the all time argument with names like Reese Whitherspoon, Nikki Teasley and Dawn Staley.
(No one can touch Sue Bird though)
Then they picked Monica Wright (who is engaged to Kevin Durant, by the way) and then Maya Moore. And then won a championship.
Candice Wiggins was immensely popular. And she's a really good player (career PER of 16, WS/48 of .160) But she was never a great fit next to Augustus, and become expendable after the team picked Moore. She played the 2, and Augustus played the 2, and they never quite figured out how to be compatible. In Wiggins' rookie season, she came off the bench primarily playing the 2, which forced Augustus into (not entirely happily) playing the 3 for long stretches, where she set (to that date) career lows in scoring and 3pt% as she tried to handle more of a facilitating role. In 2009, Augustus missed all but 6 games to injury, and Wiggins carried the SG role with averages of 13-3-2. The next season, Wiggins missed nearly the whole year and Augustus got back to being the first option. In 2011, the Lynx were able to start Maya Moore at the 3, who was (is) physically much better built for the position. Augustus continued to thrive, but Wiggins crashed and burned...6 points and 2 rebounds a game.
It's not like Wiggins was or is a bad player. She averaged 16-3-3 her rookie year. But she simply didn't have a place on the roster. She played the same position as the team's best player, and wasn't suited for the bench role the Lynx carved out in their system. They needed scoring. She was a jack of all trades. She was coming off the bench as Tayshaun Prince when the team was in need of a Jason Terry.
She was also interrupting the straightforward attack system the Lynx thrived on. 'Sota is at their best when Whalen dominates the ball (Steve Nash style. Not a bad thing) and Augustus and Moore are focused almost exclusively on being scoring options for her. They won in 2011 because they put that system together. They lost in 2012 because the Fever forced them out of it: too much lateral movement, too much sharing the ball (irony) The ball would swing to Wiggins and she would try to do Whalen's job and facilitate instead of score, which would throw off they rhythm Augustus and Moore. The Lynx finally figured out what it was by game 4, but by then it was too late: Wiggins played just 2 minutes that game, but Augustus and Moore combined for just 9-35 shooting, and the Fever closed it out.
So the Lynx did the smart thing: with Wiggins a poor fit and Mama Taj (center Taj McWilliams-Franklin) retiring, they pulled off a trade that sent a good but expendable player out and brought a good, necessary player (Janelle McCarville) in. They stabilized their post play, got back to their system (Augustus shot 38% in 2012 against the Fever. She shot 60% (!!!!!) last week beating the Dream), and promptly won a second championship.
Augustus, Wiggins, Brunson, Montgomery. Montgomery for Whalen, Wright, Moore, championship.
Wiggins for McCarville, championship.
(And just let me say, I take a good measure of personal gratification in seeing Whalen and Augustus trounce Diana Taurasi in the process. Lord knows she has a rather antagonistic history with our ladies)
And no, it's not a 1-to-1 comparison. Scouting the NCAAW is different than the NCAAM.
But you see how it works, right? The fundamentals are the same. It starts with nothing and just builds in the right direction one step at a time. The Lynx drafted good players and then turned some of those good players into more good players, and we see the end result now. It's not rocket science. It's basic momentum theory: set things up the right way, the result takes care of itself.
Who did the Wolves get for Al Jefferson? Who did they get for Flynn and Wes Johnson? Who can they get for Derrick Williams? The Lynx were so smart they were able to turn Renee Montgomery and Candice Wiggins into Lindsay Whalen, Janelle McCarville and two championships.
The Wolves have gotten what? Kosta Koufos? 'Cap space'? What did Sebastian Telfair get us? Where is Randy Foye? What happened to Theo Ratliff's expiring contract? The fallout of the Lynx parting ways with Katie Smith has been the assembly of the WNBA's best roster and 2 titles in 3 years. The fallout of KG leaving has been arguably the most ridiculously embarrassing era in NBA history. All because the Lynx drafted good players and got good players for their good players; the Wolves did not draft good players and thus got nothing for anything. Less than nothing, in fact. They've had to send something out just to get rid of their nothing.
I can give the Wolves a pass for trading Allen for Marbury, but what would the KG era have been if they had picked Bobby Jackson instead of Paul Grant? Josh Howard instead of Ndudi Ebi? Danny Granger instead of Rashad McCants? What if they had kept KG and taken Joakim Noah? What if they had kept Brandon Roy? In the two of the years the Wolves forfeited picks, they missed Tony Parker and Tayshaun Prince.
We saw what KG's Wolves could be when he had support the first year Sam and Spree were here. People look at that as a brief glimpse of what could have been, but for some reason, don't ever think of it in anger because it's what should have been. It wasn't an anomaly. It wasn't blind luck. It was fully, completely reproducable. They could have had that season for 10 years straight if they had been smart like the Lynx.
More recently and tangibly, we had Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson instead of Steph Curry and Paul George. Rubio, Curry, George, Love, Pekovic. That could have been a real thing.
And even if you do decide Curry can't play points guard or can't co-exist with Rubio, you have the NBA's best shooter as a bargaining chip. Renee Montgomery got us Lindsay Whalen. Who could Steph Curry get us? Hell, the Knicks were practically willing to commit murder for him. They gutted their roster for Melo. They just traded for Andrea Bargnani. What if, instead of trading Jonny Flynn for Brad Miller, the Wolves traded Steph Curry for Danillo Gallinari or Tyson Chandler?
Yes, the Wolves have gotten out of trouble, but they had to buy their way out, and the model isn't sustainable. It costs too much and leaves you back where you started in 3 years. The only way to build a stable skyscraper is from the ground up, and ground level in the NBA is the draft. The Lynx started from there when Katie Smith was traded and they got to the top by being smart and being smarter. The Wolves started there when KG was traded and got nowhere because they were really really stupid.
We go over this again and again every year, but the Wolves just never learn. The draft really really matters. Whether you're picking first or 30th. You have to get it right. The Wolves are out of excuses. They share a building with a team that gets it right every time. The Lynx are literally the best team in the WNBA...the very model of how to run a successful basketball team. If the Wolves can't learn from that, they have only themselves to blame for the results.