Outside of chatter that flared up briefly a week ago about a second “bubble” for the eight teams not invited to Orlando, there hasn’t been a lot of NBA news lately that is relevant to the Timberwolves.
Minnesota was 19-45 when the NBA shut down March 11 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with only playoff-contending teams invited to the planned bubble restart in Florida the Wolves have largely been relegated to future planning.
Part of that planning involves the NBA draft — now slated for mid-October — and at least in one regard there is some intrigue for Wolves fans about what happens in Orlando.
As part of the flurry of deadline deals made in February, the Wolves will get Brooklyn’s first-round pick if the Nets make the playoffs. That seemed like close to a foregone conclusion when the season shut down; the Nets were the No. 7 seed in the East and were six games ahead of No. 9 Washington with 18 games left to play for both teams. Basketball Reference pegged the Nets with a 95% chance to make the postseason.
Since then, however, two major things have happened:
*The NBA announced its restart plans, which neither skipped straight to the playoffs nor kept a strict 1-8 seeding to make the playoffs in each conference . Instead, the restart plan called for each team to play eight games to conclude the regular season.
If the No. 9 seed in a conference is within 3.5 games of the No. 8 seed after those games are played, the two teams will have a play-in to determine who makes the playoffs. That play-in is tilted toward the No. 8 seed; the teams would play a maximum of two games, with the No. 8 seed needing to win just once while the No. 9 seed needed to win twice to claim the final spot.
Confusing? Yeah, a little. But it probably wouldn’t matter that much and the Nets would still be set to cruise into the playoffs. Except …
*The Nets’ roster has been completely decimated. Kyrie Irving opted out of the restart because of injury. Kevin Durant was already injured all year. But the Nets traveled to the Orlando bubble this week also without starters Spencer Dinwiddie and Taurean Prince, who each tested positive for the virus and will sit out the restart. DeAndre Jordan and Wilson Chandler previously opted out because of coronavirus.
The health of players is FAR more important than draft picks, and Dinwiddie in particular has been experiencing significant symptoms related to the virus.
But in basketball terms, all those absences will leave the Nets very depleted. Irving and Dinwiddie combined to average 48 points per game this season and were easily the Nets’ top two scorers.
Will that be enough for the Wizards — the only East team outside the top 8 to be invited to Orlando — to knock the Nets out of the playoffs?
Well … probably not. First, they’d have to jump the No. 8-seeded Magic, who are a half-game behind the Nets. And then they’d have to make up three games in the standings spanning just eight total games played for each team — with every game against teams with a better record than the Wizards, who at 24-40 are the worst of the 22 teams in the bubble. And they’d have to do it while dealing with their own roster depletion, with star Bradley Beal recently opting out of the restart (and joining the already injured John Wall).
And even if they managed to do all those things, the Wizards would then have to win a play-in series against the Nets — needing to win, in all likelihood, twice while the Nets needed to win just once.
Plus, even if you think the Nets have a strong incentive to try to tank and miss the playoffs at this point and keep their draft pick … well, what incentive do the Wizards have to try to make the playoffs, only to hurt their draft position while setting up for a lopsided first-round loss to the Bucks?
Long story short: It seems like the Wolves are still in good shape to grab that Nets pick, even if the ground is a little shakier than it once was. Still, if you need something to look forward to: Pay attention on Aug. 2, in Game 2 of the restart, when the Wizards face the Nets.
The pick would still convey as a lottery-protected first-rounder in 2021 if the Nets somehow don’t make the playoffs, but it figures to be a relatively high pick this year if the Nets make the playoffs on the fringe whereas it could be a much lower first-round pick in 2021 once the Nets are at full strength with Durant, Irving and co.
If you’re a Wolves fan, you’re a Nets fan starting in a few weeks.