On Monday night, the Twins will choose a player with the No. 20 overall pick in the MLB draft. It will be years until we know if he becomes a major league contributor, which is one of the reasons it’s hard to get too worked up about the baseball draft.
In a couple weeks, however, the Timberwolves also will have the chance to select a player with the No. 20 overall pick. In the NBA, that player can become an immediate and vital contributor.
And for the Timberwolves, those immediate contributions could be especially vital, even if that’s a lot to ask from a 20th overall pick.
The reason? The Timberwolves have a salary problem, and it’s only going to get worse. Namely, they have very few key contributors who are young and cheap.
Wait, you might say. Isn’t that impossible? What about Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns? Weren’t we just talking about the bright future of an incredibly young team not long ago?
We were, but … Wiggins just finished his fourth year and his massive contract extension kicks in for the upcoming season. Towns is a year behind Wiggins, and he figures to sign his massive extension in the coming months, a deal that would kick in for the 2019-2020 season.
A Jimmy Butler extension would start the same year as Towns’ new deal, and those three players — if they’re all still here — would gobble up a ton of cap space.
If I’m the Wolves, I absolutely would do last year’s draft night Butler trade 100 times out of 100 with the benefit of hindsight.
The downside of that deal with the Bulls, though, was giving up cost-controlled assets: Kris Dunn (No. 5 overall in 2016) and Lauri Markkanen (No. 7 in 2017) along with Zach LaVine, who is probably headed for a big payday this summer.
Losing those two lottery picks, who each had several years of controlled salaries under the NBA’s system, combined with the injury to last year’s No. 16 pick Justin Patton that limited him to just one appearance, meant the Wolves last season got virtually no production from either of their last two draft classes.
Again, Butler is the main reason the Wolves jumped from 31 to 47 wins and made the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04. So this isn’t a criticism of the trade.
But the Wolves need some low-cost help next season and beyond. That’s where the No. 20 pick comes into play.
Minnesota needs an NBA-ready contributor, preferably a wing who can shoot three-pointers and defend, with that pick. My preference is Creighton’s Khyri Thomas, an underrated guard who figures to get picked in the high teens or later.
What they can’t afford is to trade the pick for a veteran or to miss with their selection — running the risk, considering Patton is still dealing with his initial injury, of having a roster with little or no production from three consecutive draft classes.
Even on a team with strong veteran contributors, that model doesn’t figure to be a way to sustain success in the long-term.