Almost a decade has passed since the Timberwolves recorded a winning season. That was in 2005 when the team finished ninth in the West. To put it in perspective, Tiger Woods won two major championships that year and Ben Wallace graced the cover of NBA 2k5. Despite their terrible record over the past few years, Minnesota possesses the number one pick of the 2015 NBA Draft. It seems that general manager Milt Newton has paid close attention to the Spurs and Thunder model of success through the draft.
The Timberwolves could be the next Western Conference powerhouse to experience success through the draft, following in the footsteps of the Spurs in the late 1990s and the Thunder in the mid 2000s.
The Spurs were a consistent playoff team before drafting future hall of famer Tim Duncan in 1997. Despite relative success with “The Admiral”, David Robinson, and Sean Elliot, San Antonio could not get over the hump.
With the addition of head coach Gregg Popovich in 1996 and Duncan in 1997, the Spurs finally won their first championship in 1999. They also drafted Manu Ginobili with the 57th in 1999 and Tony Parker with the 28th pick in 2001.
Popovich and that core group of players now known as the “Big 3” have won four championships together and helped the Spurs become the model franchise in the NBA.
Although the Thunder have yet to achieve the same success as the Spurs, their ascension to the top of the Western Conference before last season also came through the draft.
The Seattle Supersonics drafted superstar Kevin Durant with the second pick in the 2007 draft. The following year, GM Sam Presti solidified a promising group of future studs by drafting Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, and then MVP runner-up James Harden in 2009.
That group led the Thunder to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Miami Heat. Although the departure of James Harden broke up the Thunder’s core group of young players, their model of success relied almost solely on three strong, consecutive drafts.
Minnesota also has the ability to create a solid young nucleus of really good players through the draft. They already have two former number one picks in Andrew Wiggins, who won rookie of the year, and Anthony Bennett, who has had a rough start, but is only 22 years old.
Bennett also has the opportunity to learn from Kevin Garnett, one of the top-5 power forwards ever, along with experienced head coach Flip Saunders and Sam Mitchell, who won the 2007 coach of the year in Toronto, where he also developed Chris Bosh.Nikola Pekovic. Photo courtesy of WikiCommons.
The Timberwolves’ roster also includes Kevin Martin, a solid scorer, Ricky Rubio, one of the best distributors in the league, slam dunk champion Zach LaVine and center Nikola Pekovic, who averaged almost 13 points and eight rebounds last season.
The Wolves can’t really go wrong in the draft. If they have major concerns about Rubio’s health, they could draft a guard like Emmanuel Mudiay or D’Angelo Russell, but there’s a good chance they will go big with Karl Anthony-Towns.
Towns offers a more complete package than former Duke center Jahlil Okafor. He plays offense and defense equally well and is a bit more athletic. While Okafor dazzles on the offensive end, he is a severe liability on defense, especially in pick-and-rolls, which every team in the league heavily relies on.
Regardless of who they draft, Minnesota is setting themselves up for Western Conference success in the next three or four years. Patience is the key. It took the Thunder two years to reach the playoffs after drafting Durant. The Timberwolves will probably be a bad team next year, but it’s equally likely they’ll get another high first round pick to supplement their growing core of young players.