The Timberwolves cruised to a 119-100 win over the Pistons in Detroit on Tuesday. They've won their last two games by a combined 51 points and are climbing up the standings at a time when they have no hope for the playoffs, and could potentially improve their draft odds with a loss.
Those draft odds matter because if they don't land a Top 3 pick, the selection goes to the Golden State Warriors — the Wolves included the draft pick when they traded Andrew Wiggins for D'Angelo Russell.
But what matters more? Winning now or losing to have a better shot at winning in the future?
Our readers shared their thoughts:
Ibd3rd: Win all we can. End our depressing history by playing hard defense at last. Show pride. Build self-respect. This team can compete with most NBA teams now even with one top scorer injured.
Analysis: Perhaps the biggest argument for the Wolves continuing to succeed is that the roster is showing they have the talent to compete next season. The Wolves are 8-5 over their last 13 games with wins over dregs like the Magic and Pistons but also over solid competition like Utah, Golden State and Miami. In that time they rank seventh in the NBA in offensive efficiency (116.1 points per 100 possessions) and 14th in defensive efficiency (112.2) — that's a net efficiency of 3.9 points, the sixth best mark in the Western Conference.
TimKell: The Wolves already have 3 top two draft picks on their roster, 7 players under age 22 and 7 players with less than 2 full years of playing experience in the NBA, That's a lot of raw young talent to develop and those guys are only going to continue to get better over the next 2 or three years. Let the pong balls fall where they may.
Analysis: A crucial element of tanking is trying to accumulate young, star players with high draft picks. But in many ways the Timberwolves have already done that. The current roster features No. 1 picks Anthony Edwards (2020 NBA Draft) and Karl-Anthony Towns (2015). No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell (2015). No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver (2019). No. 19 pick Malik Beasley (2016). No. 20 pick Josh Okogie (2018). And No. 28 pick Jaden mcDaniels (2020).
neildown: We gave up the first to Golden State for a reason—Andrew Wiggins miserable performance while holding down a max deal was a crushing burden that ground this team to a halt. And now we're free of that. We pay the piper, either this year or next. Good. Get on with it.
Analysis: Lost in the discussion of tanking or not tanking is the fact that trading Wiggins, and his five-year, $147.7 million contract, meant giving up a draft pick and there is always inherent risk involved in that decision. Still, the fact that Wiggins is posting career highs in field goal percentage (47.6) and three-point percentage (37.7) during his first full season with Golden State — and will play in the postseason — probably doesn't help fans feelings about the trade.
Insighter: Yes, absolutely — the Wolves should be tanking. It makes no sense for MN to be among the bottom-2 teams in the NBA most of the season and then rally the last month of the year to end up 5th-6th worst, thereby almost ensuring they'll hand their #1 pick to Golden State. When you eye a chance for a possible franchise player in Cunningham or Suggs, you put yourself in a position for it.
Analysis: The franchise-altering hope of incoming star college players like Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga via Minnehaha Academy) or Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State) is always tough to deny. And it's especially tough when you consider that for the bulk of the season the Wolves were the worst team in the NBA. On March 3, the team was 7-29 and had a 31⁄2 game lead on the Pistons for the worst record in the NBA, now since April 20 they are 7-4, tied for the ninth best record in the league. But an opposing point of view might come from the Phoenix Suns, who barely made the NBA bubble last season and won eight straight seemingly meaningless games. And while they finished 34-39 and didn't make the playoffs, this year they are the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
arby58: If losing the rest of their games gave them certainty that they would get a 'top three' draft pick, sure. However, even the worst record gives you only a 40% chance of getting a pick in the top three - meaning you have a better chance of falling out than 'falling in.' Even with their current record, the Wolves still have over a 30% chance of getting one of the top three picks. Given the uncertainty, better for your team to keep working on playing well together.
Analysis: One of the most vital arguments that can be made is that the Timberwolves aren't hurting their draft odds all that much, win or lose. The NBA changed their lottery format starting with the 2019 draft to help limit the incentive to tank, which is exactly what we are seeing this season with the Wolves. And Wolves fans should understand this concept well, last season the team finished 19-45, the third worst record in the NBA, 41⁄2 games better than the Warriors and 1⁄2 game better than the Cavs. Their reward? The No. 1 pick in the draft, Edwards. And going back to Phoenix last season, the Suns finished the year with the 14th worst record in the league after their string of wins, and they were rewarded with the No. 10 pick in the draft.
jalans: So you're going to bench Ant when he's going for Rookie of the Year?
Analysis: If you are truly a fan of Timberwolves basketball, this statement might end the discussion. It is hard to remember a time that the Wolves played with as much joy as they have of late, and Edwards is a primary cause. In 34 games since March he is averaging 23.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game. The only other player in the NBA who can say that? Russell Westbrook. Who could possibly want to shut that down?