While the Minnesota Timberwolves entered the 2017-2018 with a newly acquired superstar and lofty expectations for the first time in recent memory, they also possessed the possibility of two first-round picks in the upcoming June NBA Draft.
The other first-rounder, sent from the Jazz to the Wolves in exchange for Ricky Rubio, was actually Oklahoma City’s first-round pick that was originally sent to Utah in another 2015 “blockbuster trade,” this one involving Reggie Jackson, Enes Kanter, and others. Overall, the fate of both picks would be determined over the length of the six-month regular season.
Fast-forward 82 games, and while the ownership of each pick was cleared up—Minnesota’s pick was sent to Atlanta and the OKC pick (by way of Utah) was sent to Minnesota—the order of those picks was still murky. Because of numerous ties in the regular season standings, multiple tiebreakers were required to determine if the Hawks pick (from Minnesota) would be 18th or 19th, while the OKC pick (from Utah) could fall anywhere from 20th to 23rd.
Over the past weekend, those tiebreakers were finally determined:
First tiebreaker: Oklahoma City Thunder gets the #20 pick (pick conveyed to Minnesota). Utah Jazz #21. New Orleans Pelicans #22 (pick conveyed to Chicago). #23 Indiana Pacers— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 13, 2018
Second tiebreaker result: San Antonio Spurs #18, Minnesota Timberwolves #19 (pick conveyed to Atlanta)— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 13, 2018
In the end, the Wolves “lost” the tiebreaker with San Antonio (meaning their pick to Atlanta dropped from 18th to 19th), while OKC “won” the four-way tiebreaker, meaning the Wolves would draft 20th instead of 21st, 22nd, or 23rd.
While draft talk isn’t a hot button topic right now among Wolves fans, the settling of these tiebreakers is still significant for a couple reasons. For one, the Wolves no longer owe any future first-round picks to any teams, which is a relief in itself. Secondly, the Wolves received the best possible outcome of these coin flips, landing the 20th pick in what appears to be another deep and talented June draft.
What exactly will the 20th pick net the Wolves in return? That remains to be seen. The history of the 20th pick isn’t necessarily pretty, with players like Evan Fournier, Tony Snell, Jameer Nelson, and Zach Randolph highlighting the best selections at that spot. While none of those names necessarily jump off the page, it should also be noted that in just the last 5 years, guys like Kyle Kumza (27), Tyus Jones (24), Rodney Hood (23), Clint Capela (25), Gorgui Dieng (21), and Rudy Gobert (27) were all late first-round picks that could have been acquired at #20.
Speaking of Gorgui Dieng, the first-round pick from OKC could also be used by Minnesota to possibly dump a bad contract (like the remaining three years of Dieng’s 4-year/$62.8 million deal) and free up cap space as President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau (not to be confused with Head Coach Tom Thibodeau) continues to construct a roster around his cornerstone players.
Moving on from Gorgui would not only provide the Wolves with financial breathing room, but would also free up playing time for the Wolves 2017 first-round pick Justin Patton, who (one would think) will have a significant role off the bench next season. However, using a first-round pick (especially one that was acquired in the trade of the beloved Rubio) just to dump another solid (yet expensive and ill-fitting) player seems like extremely poor asset management.
With the 20th pick in the upcoming draft projected to sign a contract worth roughly 4-years/$9.5 million, the opportunity to add cheap, young talent seems like a no-brainer (especially to a roster that may very soon have three ginormous contracts on the books). Would Thibs play that rookie more than four minutes in their rookie season? Probably not, but just having the ability to add depth to a somewhat depleted and quickly aging bench seems like a scenario that is too good to pass up.
We will see what transaction activity June brings, but for now, it appears the Wolves luck continues to turn as Minnesota shifts #AllEyesNorth towards the 2018 NBA playoffs.