The Timberwolves will choose anywhere from No. 1 through No. 4 in the June draft, with the order to be determined during the May 19 draft lottery. The consensus among draft experts is that big men Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky and Jahlil Okafor of Duke will be the first two picks, in some order. The consensus among Wolves fatalists is that Minnesota will wind up picking third or fourth despite having the league’s worst record and the best lottery odds.
Team president and head coach Flip Saunders said Monday that it doesn’t really matter. He said he expects to get an impact player at any of the top four spots because this year’s draft “is that good.”
He also had an interesting take on the top of the draft itself.
“It’s a pretty top-heavy draft really compared maybe to some of these past years,” Saunders said. “What you have to do at that point is take the best player available and not be as concerned with what position he [plays]. Usually teams that have made major mistakes in this league have drafted for position high rather than drafting who the best player was.”
I wondered if there are particular cautionary tales when it comes to drafts in which centers were chosen 1-2. Going back a little over three decades, there are four instances in which that happened. While there is no consensus, there are lessons to be learned.
1984: Hakeem Olajuwon went No. 1 to Houston, while Sam Bowie went No. 2 to Portland. This is the ultimate “what if” since Michael Jordan went No. 3 to the Bulls and the rest is history. I don’t imagine there’s a Jordanesque guard in this year’s draft, but you never know. What we do know is Olajuwon is a Hall of Famer and Bowie was … well … not.
1992: Shaquille O’Neal went No. 1 to Orlando, while Alonzo Mourning went No. 2 to Charlotte. Both ended up being stars. The Wolves, who had the best lottery odds going in, ended up picking No. 3 and received Christian Laettner. Oof.
2001: Kwame Brown went No. 1 to Washington, while Tyson Chandler went No. 2 to the Bulls (via the Clippers). Brown was largely a bust; Chandler has had a very good pro career. Both teams probably wish they would have taken Pau Gasol (No. 3) or Joe Johnson (No. 10).
2004: Dwight Howard went No. 1 to Orlando, Emeka Okafor No. 2 to Charlotte. Howard is a future Hall of Famer; Okafor had a decent NBA career. The best wings/guards Charlotte could have taken were Ben Gordon (No. 3), Devin Harris (No. 5), Luol Deng (No. 7) or Andre Iguodala (No. 9).
Long story short: If the Wolves get one of the top two picks, they could get a franchise-changing big man. But they shouldn’t feel locked into taking a center, regardless of who the consensus pick is.