Of the major U.S. pro sports leagues trying to figure out how and when to return to playing once the coronavirus pandemic allows, the NBA and NHL would seem to have the most urgency.
Those two were near the finish line of their regular season, chugging toward the playoffs, when play was halted with about a month to go in both cases. It’s one thing to play a truncated regular season, which MLB and MLS are probably headed toward, in whatever form they take. The NFL, meanwhile, can sit back and let things play out while formulating scenarios for the fall.
It’s quite another to have your postseason threatened, leaving a far more significant hole on the competitive ledger and in the record book.
The NBA, with a season/offseason churn that never really seems to end, feels particularly up against the clock in trying to balance all considerations. Rush things too much, and there could be very serious health consequences. Push things too far out, and there won’t really be an offseason as teams scramble to get ready for 2020-21 and camps that open at the start of October.
Of those two scenarios, the first is far more risky. The smart money for any league would seem to be erring on the side of caution and best practices, which would seem to mean this for the NBA: A very truncated finish to the regular season, or perhaps none at all, before skipping ahead to a playoff field that was largely set already outside of the low seeds in the West. (The NHL has already acknowledged as much).
“The [league] is looking at every and any avenue to continue this season,” Wolves President Gersson Rosas said on a video conference call Tuesday. “We’re all understanding of the realities that we’re living day in and day out, that a typical standard schedule, or a typical start and end of season has changed for all of us and has changed into the future. I know all the efforts, all the resources are [going into] finishing this season in some shape or form.”
So: While acknowledging that what we don’t know about how all this will play out on countless fronts could fill a book, there are some things what we can speculate about in a few hundred words.
How the season finishes from a playoff seeding standpoint means nothing to the Timberwolves. Of more interest to them is any further chance to evaluate a heavily remade roster. And short of that, looking to next season and beyond is of vital importance — which is where the 2020 draft and its assorted complications come into play.
But for the sake of simplicity, let’s say the NBA skips straight to the playoffs. And let’s say the lottery odds and draft order are frozen in time right now and stand as the final results. Let’s even say the NBA (unlike the NHL, which has already postponed its draft) moves ahead with plans to have its draft in late June.
What would that mean for the Wolves? Well, it would certainly mean some complications in scouting given that teams can’t have in-person workouts or in-person interviews with prospects and lost the ability to scout them in the NCAA Tournament.
Those challenges will be in play for every team, but how the Wolves navigate them will be crucial. That’s because if you look at their collective draft capital based on where they stand right now, it could be a mighty haul for them.
Per Tankathon, the Wolves have the third-worst record in the NBA. The three worst teams have the same lottery odds: 14% of getting the top pick, 52.1% of getting a top four pick. They also would get Brooklyn’s first-round pick — lottery-protected — with the Nets just barely making the playoffs.
Even if the Wolves just stayed put at No. 3 — not moving up or down when the lottery happened — they would as of now have the No. 3, No. 16 (from Brooklyn) and No. 33 (early second round) picks.
Tankathon says that gives the Wolves the best draft capital of any team by a large margin — a “value” of 136 points using a complicated formula, while the next-closest team is at 106.
Who the Wolves might take in those slots is a question for another time. But in the midst of uncertainty, it’s always good to remember there is some hope for the future.