If the 2019 draft — or at least the top half of it — was the lowlight of Gersson Rosas’ time in the Twin Cities so far, last year’s draft was the highlight. Because the Minnesota Timberwolves had the No. 1-overall pick, it’s easy to think that it was a cushy gig, that Rosas made the decision he had set out to make and it panned out.
Which, I suppose he did. Rosas drafted Anthony Edwards, and he should be commended for it. He didn’t trade the pick and he didn’t muff it either. He saw raw talent personified and went for it. Now the Wolves have Edwards and all of us have a purpose in life.
Okay, that’s hyperbole. But at times that is how it felt this year. So, what could have happened if the Wolves went another direction?
We can all remember that it was a three-player draft at the top: Edwards, James Wiseman, and LaMelo Ball. Due to pressure from media and fans, those are basically the three players the Wolves’ front office could choose from. People can say what they like about Tyrese Haliburton — he’s a damn good player — but if Rosas had taken him and Ant had the rookie year he had next to Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins, it would be bye-bye Gersson, even with Haliburton’s silky jumper.
That leaves two other players on the draft board: a hard-to-pin-down center and an all-seeing passer with a questionable jumper.
Drafting centers is risky, simple as that. If you look at the last 20 years, four of six proper muffs at numero uno have been GMs opting for centers: Kwame Brown in 2001, Andrew Bogut in 2005, Andrea Bargnani in 2006, Anthony Bennett in 2013.
Centers are easy to be excited about and hard to evaluate, not to mention more likely to get hurt. Wiseman may turn into something in the years to come. But for a franchise and a GM who needed hope immediately, Ant is the far better option.
That said, if Rosas were dealing only in hope, LaMelo would have been an easy choice. A basketball-obsessed savant with a celebrity image who would immediately bring flair to a mid-sized market. It would have been justifiable. It still would be. It will take years to truly define who the better player is. But for now, Ant is in my mind.
I was keen on LaMelo last year, but I want to push back on one thing that was part of the LaMelo hype narrative that didn’t sit well with me.
I live in Australia and, at times, I’ll watch some NBL, the league Lamelo played in (and electrified) for a short season. The “he’s played against grown men” thing just didn’t stack up. The NBL isn’t Europe. Sure, there are some talented guys here, but this is a league whose biggest free agent this year is a 30-year-old Matthew Dellavedova.
Dellymania may live on forever, but the NBL is not a perfect place for evaluating NBA talent. Perhaps nowhere is, and that’s what makes the draft such an exercise in educated guesswork in so many ways.
That’s all a long way of saying, Gersson got it right, and we’re all the better off for it. But it didn’t end there.
When you have a No. 1-overall pick, the team is probably bad. This was true of the 2019-20 Wolves, so while nailing that No. 1 is essential, hitting again lower in the draft can make a good draft day great.
Getting Jaden McDaniels at 28 could prove to be the most important positive move that Rosas has made since arriving in Minnesota. It’s not that he’s better than Ant or Karl-Anthony Towns or D’Angelo Russell. It’s that he’s something that came from nothing.
Often, 28th picks get cut or spend seasons in the G-League building up their skills. McDaniels is far from that.
Plenty has been written about him on this site, so I won’t go on.
Summing up last year’s draft: Rosas hit twice when he was only expected to hit once, and even that wasn’t a guarantee. With Leandro Bolmaro in the pipeline, it might have been an even better draft for the Wolves than we thought.
For once, looking down the gullet of Wolves history isn’t so bad, even if there is much yet to be written.