For all the obsession over advanced metrics and numbers in the NBA, the Timberwolves’ season has boiled down to simple math and one number: five.
That was how many games under .500, at 4-9, the Wolves sank during a murky start to the season before finally trading the volatile Jimmy Butler. They climbed above .500 just once after that, but almost the entire season has been spent a couple games short of the half-good mark.
They’ve been back at five games below .500 a few times — but no worse than that — including now, at 30-35. Chasing those five games was an uphill climb right after the Butler trade; it’s a nearly impossible one now, with just 17 games remaining and the Wolves sitting 6.5 games back of the No. 8 seed.
The year has been filled with dysfunction (early) and disappointment (in general), but it’s been a step short of a disaster. (If the Wolves were in the Eastern Conference, it’s worth noting, they’d still be very much in the playoff race).
Most Wolves seasons, though, reach a point before finality when attention veers toward the future. Sometimes it happens in November. This year, at least, Minnesota made it to March.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick peek ahead to the June NBA draft. The Wolves will likely pick somewhere around the No. 10 spot, depending on how they finish and whether they get any luck in the lottery drawing. Who might be available, and what might the Wolves be after?
*The dream: Zion Williamson, Duke. Well, the Wolves’ chances of winning the lottery (2.3 percent) are much greater than their chances of making the playoffs (0.2 percent) according to Basketball Reference. But this is still a far-fetched dream.
That said, if Minnesota finally got some lottery luck after 30 years of misery and was able to grab Williamson — the freakish Duke athlete considered by some to be this year’s draft’s only can’t-miss player — the franchise’s outlook would change overnight.
*Point guard? If the Wolves move into the top three through the lottery but don’t get the top pick, they might be tempted to take Murray State point guard Ja Morant. But if they are picking 10th or so, there might not be a point guard of the right value. Duke’s Tre Jones — brother of Tyus — is projected by most mock drafts to go in the high teens or low 20s.
*Wing? There are plenty of prospects to choose from at shooting guard/small forward, but would the Wolves really devote a first-round pick to that spot again after taking Josh Okogie last season? They might, depending on their other offseason plans.
If they do, Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver – projected to the Wolves by NBAdraft.net – could be a good fit. So, too, could versatile forward De’Andre Hunter of Virginia.
*Going big? I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of the Wolves pairing Karl-Anthony Towns with a true shot-blocking, rim-protecting big man. They could roll the dice on someone like Oregon’s Bol Bol — son of Manute Bol — who was a top-five draft prospect before injuring his left foot and has since fallen into the range where the Wolves could potentially get him.
Drafting a 7-foot-2 player with foot problems could backfire in a big way, but Bol could also turn out to be a home run if he’s healthy.
After breaking their 13-season playoff drought last year, the Wolves didn’t plan on returning to the lottery so soon. But now that it’s a virtual certainty, they need to make the most of it.