Timberwolves celebrate! And how will the 2015 Draft Lottery reshape the NBA?
The NBA. Where losing more than anyone else could soon lead to winning more than anyone else… in a slightly different field of play.
Although the Minnesota Timberwolves completed a torturous season marred by injuries and inexperience, the squad still managed to glow with a surprising ray of optimism. When NBA teams are heading nowhere, the best solution – it seems – is to go rock bottom before springing back up. The Timberwolves haven’t made it to the NBA playoffs in 10 years and finished with the worst record in the league (16-66) this season.
But in the process of losing so spectacularly, they managed to secure the 2014 number one pick Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love from Cleveland, see the development of another rookie Zach LaVine, and bring back franchise legend Kevin Garnett for some goodwill and leadership. When Wiggins capped off a memorable freshman season with the Rookie of the Year award, it became clear that the team was headed to a bright future.
On Tuesday night, that future became a whole lot brighter.
The worst teams in the league have the highest odds of winning the NBA draft lottery (25 percent), but those odds rarely come to fruition. For the Timberwolves, fortunately, the number one dream was realized as they won the 2015 Draft lottery, and thus, won the rights to pick first in the NBA Draft on June 25th. The Los Angeles Lakers jumped up to number two, the Philadelphia 76ers will pick third, and the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic will wrap up the top five.
Another top selection will give the Timberwolves the third number one pick on their roster, after Wiggins and Bennett, who were both picked by the Cavaliers. Speaking of the Cavaliers, who are currently battling for an NBA title, this year marks their exit from the lottery for the first time in four years; the Cavs had won three of the last four number one picks!
Over the next month, the scouts of every team will work out the top prospects, explore trade options, and make the decision over which young individual to roll the dice with. Scouting young talents is a notoriously inexact science, and there are guaranteed to be a number of busts and surprises every year. But when it’s all said and done, the top selection could come down to two big men from respected college programs: Karl Anthony-Towns from Kentucky or Jahlil Okafor from Duke.
For Minnesota, picking either of those two bigs will give them a solid core to build upon, around the talents of Wiggins, point guard Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, future prospects like LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, the everlasting veteran Garnett, and more.
The Lakers will likely pick the other of the two big men at number two, and for a team that has enjoyed a past and recent history of glittering success, it will be another opportunity to add to a team with legend Kobe Bryant and last year’s injured lottery pick Julius Randle. The 76ers have been on a tank fest for the last several years and Sam Hinkie will probably aim at a young point guard like D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay to his forever-incomplete roster. The New York Knicks are in the same boat as Philadelphia, in that they could use help at almost every position, and they are likely to go for one of those two aforementioned PGs as well.
Getting the draft right is of utmost importance. Through the salary cap and the draft system, the NBA theoretically allows for teams to rebuild, creates an environment when even the worst team can be a contender in a matter of years. The right draft pick can completely change the fortunes of a franchise.
For the Cavaliers, it happened almost instantly, as winning the number one pick last year give LeBron James another reason to return to Cleveland and allowed the Cavs to acquire Kevin Love. Love is hurt now, but LeBron’s return has carried the team back to the Conference Finals less than 12 months after the lottery.
For some other teams, team-building through the draft has been a more patient process: for example, the Oklahoma City Thunder struck lucky in the draft for several consecutive years with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Jeff Green to build one of the league’s most exciting teams over the next few years.
And then, there are teams that have fumbled away their chance to rebuild over and over again, despite always finding themselves in the lottery. The Timberwolves and the Sacramento Kings find themselves in that situation. Could both the teams finally make the right picks and moves to turn potential into reality?
Apart from Towns, Okafor, Russell, and Mudiay, other prospects to keep your eye out for on draft night will include Willie Cauley-Stein, Justin Winslow, and Mario Hezonja. For Indian fans, a late moment in the draft could potentially bring a lot of joy and history: India’s own Satnam Singh Bhamara – the 19-year-old, 7-foot-2 center – declared for the NBA Draft and will be hoping to get picked and become the first Indian-born player in the NBA. For more from Bhamara, listen to his interview on Episode 6 of my Hoopdarshan podcast.
Which rebuilding team will redefine their fortunes? Which young player will be the perfect new fit and take the league by storm? At the NBA draft next month, we will start to get some clarity of the next wave of the league’s future.
Here are the full 2015 Draft Lottery results:
1. Minnesota Timberwolves 2. Los Angeles Lakers 3. Philadelphia 76ers 4. New York Knicks 5. Orlando Magic 6. Sacramento Kings 7. Denver Nuggets 8. Detroit Pistons 9. Charlotte Hornets 10. Miami Heat 11. Indiana Pacers 12. Utah Jazz 13. Phoenix Suns 14. Oklahoma City Thunder.