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What is a Top Pick Worth?

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Breaking down the trade value of the Wolves potential pick.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA draft has been a welcome distraction from the current hellscape that we all are living in. Of course, we have no idea when the NBA draft may be, or even where the Wolves are going to pick, but we do know that the Wolves are going to most likely land somewhere 1-6 depending upon how the draft lottery shakes out.

This draft is incredibly wide-open, as there is no consensus on the top pick or even a semblance of an ordered top ten. The draft seems light on star potential, but heavy on players that could theoretically fill-out to become ideal role players.

That makes the draft a tricky proposition for the Wolves, who are a relatively young team and are building with that timeline in mind, but are in dire need of established talent and have less space for an unproven rookie to grow in a high-usage role.

With that in mind, along with the fact that the Wolves also have a pick likely conveying from Brooklyn in the high teens, the Wolves may shop their top pick. It’s unclear what the Wolves could get back in such a trade, which is made more complicated by the weak draft class and the presence of another team, the Golden State Warriors, who are also going to be looking to move their top pick. There is a very real possibility that the Warriors and Wolves could land picks 1 and 2 and both aim to trade back or out of the draft.

But to get a better idea of what type of return the Wolves could be aiming for, we can look back at past draft trades involving picks where the Wolves could land. Since 2010:

  • 2014 - Pelicans trade 6th pick Nerlens Noel and protected 2014 pick to 76ers for Jrue Holiday and 42nd pick
  • 2017 - Boston trades 1st pick, which became Markelle Fultz, to 76ers for 3rd pick, which became Jayson Tatum, and a 2018/2019 First Found Pick
  • 2018 - Atlanta trades 3rd pick Luka Doncic to Dallas for the 5th pick Trade Young and a 2019 First Round Pick
  • 2019 - New Orleans trades 4th pick De’Andre Hunter, pick 57, Solomon Hill, and a conditional 2023 second round pick to Atlanta for pick 8th Jaxson Hayes, 17th pick Nickeil Alexander-Walker, pick 35, and a protected 2020 first round.
  • 2019 - Phoenix trades pick 6 Jarrett Culver to Minnesota for Pick 11 Cameron Johnson and Dario Saric.

Looking over these trades, it is clear that trading a top draft pick does not happen very often. With just top five picks, most trades occur when teams are highly coveting specific players that they have identified as superstars, such as Luka Doncic and Markelle Fultz, and are spending future assets to take these players. Moving beyond the fifth pick, trades of the 6th pick, as well as 7th - 9th, are more often value trades, with teams trading back to pick up more draft capital that is often within the same draft.

Currently, both options seem unlikely for the Wolves. Unless a team falls in love with Anthony Edwards or James Wiseman, there do not appear to be many teams that would trade up for a top pick. Even if that does happen, the Wolves will run the risk of the Warriors undercutting them if the lottery places the Warriors in front of the Wolves. There are also no other lottery teams with additional draft capital to package together in order to move up. The Wolves and the Knicks are the only lottery teams with multiple first round picks and the Knicks other pick is coming from the Clippers, which is currently slated as pick 27. As next year’s draft is perceived to be significantly stronger, teams may be more hesitant to spend future assets to move up in a weaker draft.

This may limit the Wolves trade market and highlights how heavily dependent the Wolves are for the lottery to shake out in their favor. Ideally, they will land in the top three, but ahead of the Warriors, while the more desperate teams such as the Knicks, Pistons, Bulls, and Hornets fail to move up. If this does happen, then the Wolves could potentially find a strong trade market with one of these teams to trade back from 1 or 2 to 5-8, drafting a player such as Devin Vassel and acquiring future draft capital.

The other option is that the Wolves pursue a move akin to the Pelicans 2014 trade for Jrue Holiday. The Wolves and the mid-2010s Pelicans are unfortunately linked by their desperate attempts to build around an All-Star big with middling success. However, the Pelicans were fortunate to find a player the caliber of Jrue Holiday on the market from a team in the 76ers that was beginning the infamous process and tearing down its roster. It’s hard to find a parallel situation in today’s NBA, and even with the teams that are likely to start over, such as the Pistons, it does not appear that there is a match between the draft capital and available players.

This picture will become clearer after the draft lottery, whenever that may be, but it will certainly be exciting to watch how the Wolves attempt to maneuver this summer to get the team ready for a playoff push whenever the next NBA season starts.