You'll hear it on every talk show and every nightly sportscast, at every table in every sports bar: The Wolves are perpetually, hopelessly unlucky. They got jobbed again by the lottery gods, or the NBA conspiracy, which is apparently dedicated to landing the huge San Antonio market in the NBA Finals.

It is time for the whining to stop, and for the Wolves to do what so many teams before them have done -- stiff-arm the excuses about bad luck and make a smarter pick than their competitors.

We learned Tuesday that the Wolves will select third in the upcoming draft. This was not the best or worst of possibilities, just the biggest possible tease.

As the crowd at NBA City restaurant screamed at the possibility of the Wolves landing one of the top two picks, as the lottery show went to commercial and the tension built, you had to figure the Wolves would land the third pick.

They did, and virtually everyone with a mic or mouse says this dooms them to another mediocre or disastrous pick, because we all know that there are only two franchise players in this draft -- Memphis guard Derrick Rose and Kansas State forward Michael Beasley.

I prefer Beasley. Most prefer Rose. Here's what we have in common: We're all probably wrong.

That's what history tells us, and those who ignore history are bound to take Paul Grant again.

Yes, Beasley and Rose look like the best college basketball has to offer. We have talked ourselves into believing they are sure things, but there is a problem with this presumption: We are making final judgments on 19-year-old kids who have excelled, considering the current state of college basketball, against other 19-year-old kids.

We don't have any idea how they'll handle money, fame or a Bruce Bowen cheap shot. We don't know whether they'll be Mike Jordan or Mike Dunleavy.

If you think it sounds silly to compare perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time with another Duke bust, consider that Jordan and Dunleavy were both taken with the third pick in the draft.

It doesn't require a lot of research to expose the errors of conventional wisdom. The best player taken in the 2006 draft was, to date, Brandon Roy. He went sixth, to the Wolves -- who then traded him to Portland.

The two best players taken in the 2005 draft were Deron Williams and Chris Paul. They went 3 and 4, behind Andrew Bogut and Marvin Williams. In 2004, Orlando took Dwight Howard first.

Andre Iguodala or Al Jefferson are as good as anyone else in that draft, and they went ninth and 15th.

In 2003, Cleveland selected LeBron James first. Dwyane Wade might be the second-best pick in that draft, and he went fifth. David West went 18th. Josh Howard went 29th, three picks after ... oh, never mind.

From 1995 through 2006, the best player in the draft was taken with the first pick only four times -- Tim Duncan in 1997, Elton Brand in 1999, James in 2003 and Dwight Howard in 2004.

You don't need the first pick in the draft to win. The four key Pistons have been former Timberwolves backup point guard Chauncey Billups, who has played for five teams; head case Rasheed Wallace, who has played for four; Richard Hamilton, a seventh pick now with his second team, and Tayshaun Prince, a 23rd pick. If you build a winning culture and acquire undervalued players, you can succeed.

Wolves exec Kevin McHale didn't whine. "I'm very happy with third," he said. "I personally feel it's a very good draft ... We have eight players in this draft we really like."

He was sitting in the Wolves coaches' office. On the flat-panel TV in the corner, Kevin Garnett was scoring the first four points of the Eastern Conference finals. Garnett was taken with the fifth pick in the draft.

"It's supposedly a two-man draft," McHale said. "I love being third."

I would have preferred to see Beasley playing in Target Center, but history says the Wolves can land a star at No. 3. Their luck is what they make of it.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP.