The Minnesota Timberwolves remain at the bottom of the conference, still a half-game behind the Houston Rockets. Many Wolves fans have been complacent because they want the highest possible odds at a top-3 pick, but keeping that top-3 pick isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Here’s a look at the lottery odds, courtesy of Tankathon:
The team with the worst record in the NBA gets a 40.1% chance at a top-3 pick. This means that no matter how many games the Wolves lose, the odds are that they do not keep their pick. Therefore, Minnesota’s mindset should shift toward the other side: preventing the Golden State Warriors from picking in the top 5.
By all accounts, this is a five-player draft:
Two through four seem to be the most malleable in mock drafts and draft boards, but those five players top the board everywhere I’ve looked, and each one is seen as a franchise-altering player. Minnesota’s front office would never reveal their hand, but giving up the fourth or fifth pick in this year’s incredibly talented draft class could be a disaster. It is still possible to mitigate these damages, though.
Even if the Timberwolves move to second in lottery odds, the Golden State’s chances at getting a top-5 pick plummets from 59.1% to 39.8%. If they can climb into third, the Warriors’ chances at a top-5 pick drop to 26.8%. If the Wolves have the third “best” lottery odds, not only do their chances at keeping a top-3 pick remain at 40.1%, but Golden State will then have a higher chance at the sixth or seventh pick (33%) than they do of staying in the top five (26.8%).
This third pick seems to be the sweet spot. The Timberwolves would have to pass the Detroit Pistons, who are currently 2.5 games ahead. And with only 16 games left in the season, it’s not going to be easy to pass them. The Pistons are on pace for 21 wins this season, and FiveThirtyEight projects them to have 23. Therefore, the Wolves (14 wins) need to win about half (eight) of their remaining games for a chance at the third lottery spot.
But what if the Wolves slip further down the lottery odds?
FiveThirtyEight projects the Orlando Magic to have 23 wins, the Oklahoma City Thunder to have 24 wins, and the Cleveland Cavaliers to win 26 games this season, but this doesn’t factor in tanking. Orlando blew it up and traded their three best players. OKC is in super-tank mode with Aleksej Pokusevski, Théo Maledon, and Moses Brown in their regular starting lineups (they haven’t lost a game by less than 10 since March). And no one has any idea what the Cavs are trying to do this year.
Even if the Timberwolves drop all the way past these teams to sixth in lottery odds, they will still have a 27.6% chance at keeping a top-3 pick, and Golden State will only have a 9.6% chance at a top-5 pick. That means the Timberwolves would be almost three times more likely to keep their pick than the Warriors would be to get Jonathan Kuminga or one of the Jalens.
For the Wolves to have the best chance at “winning” the D’Angelo Russell trade, they need to start winning as much as they can as soon as possible. I hope they decide to play the odds rather than try their luck once again because, let’s face it, this is Minnesota sports (for now).