This may come as a bit of a shock, but there are a lot of things that the Minnesota Timberwolves have done wrong in the 33 years since basketball returned to the Twin Cities. I probably don’t need to rehash all of the foolish stuff this organization has done over the years, but a lot of the pain and poor judgement over the decades revolves around the NBA Draft.
There’s been a few fleeting moments in which sanity prevails and the Wolves front office gets things right: Kevin Garnett in 1995, swapping O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love in 2008, and taking Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards first overall in 2015 and 2020, respectively. But for every good pick, there are two franchise crippling blunders right behind it: The Ray Allen for Stephon Marbury swap in 1996, not having a first-round pick for four years because Kevin McHale needed Joe Smith, the Brandon Roy for Randy Foye swap in 2006, and David Kahn taking back-to-back point guards not named Steph Curry in 2009.
The NBA Draft has become a house of horrors for fans of a team that’s been in the lottery 12 times since they shipped Garnett to Boston in 2007. But the 2020 draft class is leading this year’s playoff push, and it could go down as one of the best in NBA history if Edwards and Jaden McDaniels continue their development.
Let me take you back to a time most of us would like to forget. November 2020, COVID was still raging across most of the world, the Presidential Election results were pending, and the Timberwolves had a choice to make. Who would they take with the first overall pick in one of the wonkiest NBA Drafts in history? COVID blew up the second half of the 2020 NBA season, shuttering operations for four months and moving the NBA Playoffs to the bubble at Disney World. It also drastically changed the way teams scouted draft-eligible prospects.
With the world shut down, it was impossible to scout in person, which was super unhelpful for a franchise with a rocky draft history making a choice that would reverberate through the next 20 years of team success or failure. No pressure. It also didn’t help that the elite prospects in the class had unique skill sets and took different paths to the draft. You had LaMelo Ball of the reality TV Balls doing his thing in Australia. James Wiseman played only three games in college thanks to recruiting violations. And Edwards, a wrecking ball who ran hot and cold for a 16-16 Georgia squad that wasn’t going to the NCAA Tournament regardless of a shutdown. (Oh, and French phenom Killian Hayes if you listen to the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor).
We’re three years in, and there’s still an argument about whether healthy Ball is better than Anthony Edwards. Tyrese Haliburton, the 12th pick in 2020, also makes his own case for best player in the draft. But it’s looking like the Wolves actually made the right pick as Edwards ascends to superstar status before our eyes. But as great as Ant’s potential is, it’s the other player the Wolves got in the first round that could take the 2020 Draft from really good to one of the best in history.
Technically, the Timberwolves selected Aleksej Pokusevski with the 17th pick and Daniel Oturu with pick 33. However, through a series of deals they ended up with McDaniels, whom the Los Angeles Lakers originally selected 28th overall, and Leandro Bolmaro who the New York Knicks took 23rd. The Wolves already moved on from Bolmaro, sending him to Utah in the Rudy Gobert deal. Therefore, the 2020 haul we’ll discuss boils down to Edwards and McDaniels.
The greater NBA community knows that Edwards is a young star with transcendent talent who could one day be one of the better number-one overall picks ever. But the national media and non-Timberwolves sickos are just finding out how good McDaniels already is and how good he can be down the road. Getting these two in the same draft class might be one of the best things the Timberwolves have ever done and it could (hopefully) set the foundation for a successful run across the next 10 to 15 years. If everything breaks right, it could also go down as one of the greatest draft classes in NBA history.
A lot will have to happen for the latter to come to fruition. Edwards will have to become an all-timer, leading the Wolves to a championship. Meanwhile, McDaniels will need to keep improving on both ends of the court. Let’s take a look at some of the best draft classes in the history of the NBA to see if the smother brothers could one day make up for Minnesota’s past sins.
The gold standard for one team absolutely dominating a single draft is the Boston Celtics in 1956. The Beantown Boys had yet to become the juggernaut we all know them as now, but that was all about to change. Led by Red Auerbach, the Celtics took local Holy Cross standout Tommy Heinsohn with the first overall pick. That alone is a great pick. Heinsohn had a Hall-of-Fame career in his own right.
With the second pick in the draft, the St. Louis Hawks got an absolute steal by selecting some kid from the University of San Francisco, Bill Russell. That’s a great pick and had they kept it, maybe the Hawks would have won 11 championships. Unfortunately, they traded Russell to the Celtics for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley, two Hall of Farmers in their own right (look them up, kids). Heinsohn and Russell might be the best draft class themselves. But Boston went back for one more Hall of Famer, drafting Russell’s college teammate K.C. Jones in the second round.
Together, the trio of 1956 draftees won seven straight championships. They became the core of the greatest dynasty in NBA history, along with Sam Jones who was drafted in 1957, and Bob Cousy. Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels will quite literally have to become Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen 2.0 to come anywhere near that legacy. It’s a little unfair to compare the two eras; the draft was wildly different in 1956 than it is now, and there were only eight teams drafting back then.
There are a couple of other examples of great draft classes: The Milwaukee Bucks selected Kareem Abdul-Jabbar first overall in 1969 and Bob Dandridge in the fourth round the same year. They went on to win a championship together in Milwaukee in 1971. More recently, the Portland Trail Blazers acquired LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy in the same draft in 2006, the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson first and fourth respectively in 2011, and two years ago the Magic drafted both Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner in the lottery. (Still a work in progress).
It’s hard to hit on one player in a single draft. But it’s nearly impossible to get two good-to-great players in the same year. It’s too early to tell how Edwards and McDaniels will be remembered in history. However, if they keep progressing the way they have over their first three years, 2020 might be one of the greatest draft classes in NBA history.