Almost from the moment the Timberwolves got the top pick in Wednesday’s NBA draft, President Gersson Rosas has tried to temper the expectations that go along with such an asset.
“We’re not praying this guy is a franchise piece,” Rosas said the day after the Wolves won the lottery. “We’re not praying that this guy is our No. 1 player.”
Rosas’ point was that the Wolves already have their top franchise players in center Karl-Anthony Towns and guard D’Angelo Russell.
But there’s no denying that what happens Wednesday will be franchise-altering for the Wolves — one way or the other. There are still multiple paths the Wolves may take with this pick. They may trade it, potentially to move down in the draft or for an established player or some combination of both.
But they may stick with the pick. While this draft doesn’t have a no-doubt No. 1 pick like Zion Williamson a year ago, there seems to be a consensus top three — Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, center James Wiseman, who played only three games at Memphis, and LaMelo Ball, who played in Australia a year ago and is the brother of Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball.
In his comments after the lottery, Rosas also made sure to say the Wolves were going to draft the best player available, regardless of how he fit on the roster. Take the best player and make it work.
“It’s not something where you pick a guy, you plug a hole and you move forward,” Rosas said. “You pick a guy, you build an organization, you build a program, and it takes time.”
Here’s how these three players may help (or not) in that process.
The case for Edwards
Of the three at the top of the draft, Edwards — a 6-5 guard — makes the most sense as a fit with the current Wolves roster. He’s a guard who can play off Russell, and according to ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, Edwards is the “most talented player in the draft.” Bilas, though, conceded that Edwards has some question marks.
“He should be an outstanding defender and he has not been because he doesn’t do it all the time,” Bilas said. “But talent-wise I have him at the top of the heap. … You just don’t find players that have that kind of frame, skill and athleticism all combined.”
Matt Babcock, a draft analyst who’s also a former agent (and whose late uncle Rob was an executive for the Wolves for several years), said Edwards is “built like an NFL linebacker.”
“He possesses high-level strength and overall athleticism,” Babcock said. “He can be highly effective with the ball in his hands, and at times shows superstar potential.”
But Babcock cautioned that Edwards is not a finished product.
He doesn’t always play hard and his decision-making can be very questionable at times,” Babcock said. “He very well may be the best player to come out of this draft class, but due to his immaturity as a player, there is a decent amount of risk.”
Edwards, who said he worked out with the Wolves, shot just 29% from three-point range in his one season at Georgia, but there is the possibility that with improved shot selection and the spaced-out nature of the NBA, he will improve that at the next level.
Edwards is well aware of the criticisms he faces, especially as it relates to his defense.
“A lot of people don’t think I play defense, but I feel like I’m a really good defensive player,” Edwards said.
Edwards also made an astute observation for someone only 19 years old, and perhaps this affects his energy level on the floor.
“I feel like my eating habits are going to be the hardest thing,” Edwards said. “The easiest thing is just going to be [adjusting] basketball-wise. It’s just basketball.”
The case for Ball
Ball, who had a private workout with the Wolves last week according to ESPN, said on a conference call in September with reporters that he could see himself fitting in with the Wolves.
But in another answer he described how he sees himself fulfilling his potential in the NBA.
“I feel like I can be successful in any situation …” Ball said. “But I would like to have the ball and do stuff like that because I feel the point guard needs the ball to make plays.”
Russell is also the kind of guard who likes to have the ball in his hands a lot, and so it would seem Ball and Russell might be a stylistic clash. Rosas would counter that he was in Houston when Chris Paul and James Harden had success as two ball dominant guards; however, that partnership didn’t end on the best of terms, with Paul getting a trade out of town.
That being said, many analysts have the 6-7 Ball as the top prospect. If the Wolves truly believe he is the top talent, then Rosas will have his chance to prove he can make any situation work.
Why would the Wolves invest in another point guard? It’s because of Ball’s playmaking ability.
“Ball has terrific size for a point guard, he has the ball on a string, and has a knack to make spectacular plays for himself and his teammates,” Babcock said.
Bilas said Ball has an “uncanny” ability to pass, but there are question marks around his shooting ability. He shot 25% from three-point range in Australia.
“He’s got a bit of an odd release and it’s a very low release point when he lets it go, so that’s got to improve,” Bilas said.
Added Babcock: “His shot selection can be horrendous at times and he constantly tries to make highlight plays rather than just playing simple and efficient basketball.”
But the highlight-worthy plays stand out when you look up clips of Ball on YouTube, and it’s easy to see why a team might fall in love with his talent.
“His upside and star potential is clear cut,” Babcock said.
Or maybe Wiseman?
Of the three, Wiseman feels like the player with the longest odds to end up on the Wolves. A 7-1 center, he may not even want to come here; an ESPN report surfaced recently that Wiseman would rather not go to the Wolves, who already have an athletic big man in Towns as their anchor.
Where Wiseman may end up providing value is if another team covets him enough to trade up to No. 1. The Hornets have reported interest in moving up from No. 3.
Even though Wiseman played just three games at Memphis, his ability is evident.
“Wiseman is big, but he can move well,” Babcock said. “He’s extremely athletic for a player his size, and he also has an underrated skill set. My confidence level that he will be a good starting center in the NBA is high, and I would not be surprised if he ended up being a very good NBA center.”
Bilas said if this group of players were in the draft five or 10 years ago he might rank Wiseman as his top prospect instead of Edwards.
“Wiseman is like a 7-1 Chris Bosh-type player and I think he’s going to be able to stretch his range out to NBA three-point range,” Bilas said. “With his mobility and the way he can run and the kind of talent he is, his size would’ve made a huge difference. But the game has changed.”
There is less of an emphasis on having a center. The Wolves have a unique one in Towns, and having two might prove redundant in a smaller, quicker era of basketball.
It’s an idea Rosas has fully embraced, and his next significant choice as Wolves president will go a long way to determining how far the Wolves make it in this era.