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How the Timberwolves Hit the Anthony Edwards Jackpot

Drafting Anthony Edwards will surely be one of the most pivotal moments in Timberwolves history, especially considering everything that took place before the then-18-year-old arrived in the Twin Cities.

2020 NBA Draft Photo by Courtesy of Anthony Edwards/NBAE via Getty Images

Multiple things had to happen in order for the Minnesota Timberwolves to secure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and select a player that would change the franchise’s trajectory for the best.

From 2019 first-round pick Jarrett Culver struggling in his rookie season, acquiring D’Angelo Russell in a move that ended the Andrew Wiggins era, trading away Robert Covington in a wildly complex, four-team, 12-player deal, and Karl-Anthony Towns playing just 35 games due to various injuries all contributed to the Wolves having an increased chance to phone in the first selection of the draft.

Joy from winning the draft lottery instantly transformed to angst, as picking the best of three highly-touted prospects became an immensely important task. LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman were the most likely candidates, with no real read on who would have their name called first until moments before the draft.

In extremely un-Timberwolves-y fashion, they made the best possible choice.

Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

From the Beginning

It’s late June of 2019 and then Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas has traded up in the NBA Draft in hopes of selecting now Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Darius Garland. When Garland went No. 5 overall, he settled for Texas Tech forward Jarrett Culver with the No. 6 overall pick. Culver showed out for the Red Raiders in the team’s road to the national championship game, which was coincidentally held in the city Culver would soon call his home.

Joining him in Minnesota’s rookie class is a center from LSU named Naz Reid and guard Jaylen Nowell, who played at the University of Washington and was named Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2019.

The group enters as the first series of moves from Rosas and the new regime, one that provides a glimpse into what’s to come both on the court and in terms of subsequent front office moves.

Minnesota Timberwolves Introduce Jarrett Culver, Jaylen Nowell, & Naz Reid Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Road to No. 1 ... in the Draft

Culver’s Growing Pains

Culver started his rookie campaign by scoring 12 points through his first four games, shooting 26% from the field. Despite the slow start from their prized rookie the Wolves had won three of those four games, signaling the beginning of what surely would be a successful season.

Ryan Saunders was beginning his first full season as head coach, winning 17 of 42 games after taking over for Tom Thibodeau the season prior. Seemingly already on the hot seat as the new front office kept him on board despite not being “their guy,” his work was cut out for him.

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

As of Dec. 1, Saunders and the Wolves sat seventh in the West with a 10-8 record. Unfortunately, they’d only win another nine games the rest of the way, finishing with a record of 19-45 at the time the NBA was shutdown due to the pandemic.

(Editor’s Note: I knew it was bad, but my goodness.)

Karl-Anthony Towns Injuries

A combination of knee and wrist injuries limited Towns to just 35 games, a key component of the team’s struggles given that the Wolves didn’t have much offensive firepower beyond him.

The former Kentucky Wildcat was coming off a season in which he earned his second career All-Star selection and averaged 24 points per contest. He had missed just five games in his first four NBA seasons, making his extended absence in 2019-20 that much more enlightening. This team clearly went as Towns did, and without him, they didn’t go anywhere but down.

Roster Movement

Andrew Wiggins was forced to shoulder the load while Towns was out — an almost unreasonable set of expectations placed on the sixth-year forward. Despite solid numbers across his previous five seasons, the former No. 1 overall pick hadn’t quite elevated to the level Timberwolves fans had quite hoped. With that came trade discussions, and the idea of moving Wiggins became reality when he was traded to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for 2015 No. 2 overall pick and personal friend of Towns, D’Angelo Russell.

D’Angelo Russell Arrives at Airport in Minneapolis Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Minnesota acquired Russell in exchange for Wiggins, a protected 2021 first-round pick (which eventually became Jonathan Kuminga) and a 2021 second-round pick. The Wolves also received Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans. Rosas had coveted the Ohio State product for some time, and after opting not to draft a point guard, the Wolves now had not just any point guard, but “that point guard.”

The Russell trade wasn’t the end for Rosas, as the Timberwolves acquired Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangómez, and Jarred Vanderbilt from the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 4 ahead of the trade deadline. In the four-team trade, Minnesota sent out Keita Bates-Diop, Shabazz Napier, and Noah Vonleh.

Beasley and Vanderbilt had struggled to find a spot in the Nuggets’ rotation, with a bulked up roster that provided few opportunity for the two. In Beasley’s first game with the Wolves, he exploded for seven 3-pointers and a career-high 23 points. As a team, the Timberwolves set a franchise record by hitting 26 triples and finished with 142 points.

Scoring 24 of their 142 points was Jordan McLaughlin, an undrafted, undersized point guard from USC who was getting some run due to a Russell injury. He added 11 assists to his final stat line, and, most impressively, not a single turnover.

McLaughlin flashed his steady hand and maturity while orchestrating, earning him a second two-way deal with Minnesota and eventually a multi-year deal.

Beasley proved to be an offensive standout for the remainder of the season, averaging 20 points per game and shooting a blistering 42% from beyond the arc. His impact on the defensive end was detrimental, however, but his shooting and scoring gave the offense quite the boost. Beasley parlayed his play into a four-year, $60 million extension that summer.

Vanderbilt, another Nuggets draft pick who couldn’t quite crack the Denver rotation, was given a chance in Minnesota. He only played two games in 2019-20, but the next season Vanderbilt began his rise to become one of the most active, disruptive defenders in the league.

Amid roster movement around Towns in the 2019-20 season there was one constant — Josh Okogie. The Georgia Tech product led the team in minutes played that season, harassing opposing offenses for a grand total of 1,547 minutes in his second NBA season.

Never quite the offensive presence fans and front office had hoped, Okogie’s hustle and heart was never in doubt. Whether it was guarding James Harden or the opposing team’s power forward, JO was up for the task. In a year with incredible amounts of instability, Okogie acted as a steadying, consistent presence.

The LSU center, Reid, entered the 2019-20 season at a weight of 255 pounds and held a body fat percentage of 14%. Other draftees rarely even approached double-digit percentages.

“Big Jelly” played in just 30 games with the Timberwolves, spending plenty of time down in Iowa with the team’s G League affiliate (with McLaughlin). Simply the speed with which he played was enough to warrant an extended look at Reid, as the next season he played 70 games and continued to flash his fast-paced play.

The Toronto Raptors took on the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Scotiabank arena. Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The Franchise-Altering Decision

In one of the more turbulent pre-draft times in franchise history, the question of who to select with the No. 1 overall pick lingered well into late June.

LaMelo Ball brought immense talent as a playmaker in addition to prototypical size, but a flurry of question marks remained during that summer. He was playing professionally in Lithuania, something that wasn’t easy to gauge for draft and talent evaluators. The defense wasn’t quite there as it so often isn’t with young, prized prospects, but could he hold his own on that end against the world’s best? Would he fit alongside Russell in a talented playmaking group with limited defensive capabilities?

James Wiseman flashed incredible talent for someone so big. He played in just three games with the Memphis Tigers, but averaged nearly 20 points and 11 rebounds. His fit alongside Towns was in question, but could this be too much talent to pass on despite Wiseman saying he didn’t want the Wolves to draft him?

Anthony Edwards was a wildcard, and he was viewed as such. His size and athleticism were tauntingly eye-catching, but lack of high-end competition and team success during his time in high school and at the University of Georgia made evaluators ponder his ability to drive winning at the highest level.

Auburn University vs University of Georgia Set Number: X163134 TK1

Essentially every doubt or question about Edwards faded to nothing after a short amount of time in the NBA (as it did for Ball, as well). Sure, the defense wasn’t good, but, that’s how it goes. He was 19 during his rookie season.

Since the second half of his rookie season, he’s skyrocketed to superstardom and placed himself among the very best in the Association right now.

The athleticism mentioned in draft profiles turned into highlight-reel slams over defenders and awe-inspiring blocks, while the worry about his defense turned into surprise as he became a shutdown one-on-one defender.

His intensity and commitment to the game is evident for any viewer, as it’s clear he’s the heartbeat of a top-8 team in the West at just 21 years of age.

He’s never shied away from any task, any defender or any team, all while playing the game with a joy and infectious attitude.

Edwards’ talent and personality are so sensational that you marvel at it and ask yourself, ‘how did we get so lucky that we can watch this guy play basketball?