With the dust still very much settling from Thursday’s lottery—and the draft still (at least) two months away as the NBA determines a course of action for next season—it could be awhile before we get more concrete information with regard to what will happen on draft night. Our initial post-lottery mock draft projected out all 60 picks, and there’s quite a bit of intrigue now surrounding how things might go down. For now, let’s tackle the biggest questions.
Who does Minnesota take No. 1?
When the lottery ended, I immediately pencilled in Anthony Edwards as the top choice for the Timberwolves. While it’s certainly not a done deal this early in the process, it would be fair to say that, based on conversations I’ve had around the league, the prevailing thought around the right now is that Minnesota takes him there. This will probably disappoint anyone convinced that LaMelo Ball’s upside should take precedence above all other factors at No. 1; I don’t think anyone thinks the Timberwolves should launch a big-ball revolution by pairing Karl-Anthony Towns with James Wiseman. Maybe the Timberwolves find a suitable trade for the top pick and move back in the draft—and if they want to leap into the playoff race, maybe they explore that, however hasty it may be—but at this point, staying put would seem to be a perfectly fine decision.
Edwards has been viewed as a strong candidate to go No. 1 all season (he’s been the top guy on our rankings the entire time), and although he has his warts, he’s probably going to score the ball effectively and has the physical capacity to be a high-impact on-ball defender, with terrific strength, balance, and lateral agility. The questions with Edwards mostly surround the mental aspects of his game: his shot selection will have to be much better to portend efficiency, he can appear lackadaisical and disengaged from the game at times, and the visible want factor comes and goes on defense. Contextually, it’s essential to remember that he reclassified up a year to play at Georgia, and that he played ball at a small Atlanta-area high school and on the Under Armour AAU circuit. The sense I get from digging into it is that he simply didn’t have much development structure at an early age. I’ve said this before and will probably write it several more times—solving Edwards involves making a judgment on whether his struggles stem more from inexperience or poor on-court feel, and then determining how much you think he’ll improve in those areas.
Moreover, when you look at this from an optics standpoint, the decision is fairly clear. The Timberwolves are extremely invested in D’Angelo Russell, who is a ball-dominant point guard, and who is close friends with franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns, whose contentment is the crux of Minnesota’s chances at turning this around. Minnesota fiended after Russell for a long time and gave up a 2021 first-round pick with light protections to get him at the trade deadline. You can argue that’s a sunk cost, that Ball is the highest-upside talent, and that the Wolves should take him and figure it out anyway. But his fit with Russell, given Ball’s shooting struggles and the fact that neither puts much pressure on the rim, is questionable. Risking the possibility of undoing much of the past year’s work reshuffling the roster to try and integrate a player who is a dubious match in several respects would be a huge gamble for Minnesota’s front office. Edwards, on the other hand, is a much simpler solution.
What can the Warriors get for No. 2?
It’s not worth beating around the bush on this—Golden State is going to shop this pick to try and maximize its chances of winning next season. James Wiseman and Obi Toppin are thought to be the best fits if the Warriors keep it. That said, no rookie is going to be the missing piece on a contender. This isn’t to say they won’t stay put, but the Warriors know who they are, and know that a healthy Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green deserve the best possible chance to contend for a title. They’ll explore all their options first.
The question of what the Warriors can actually get using the No. 2 pick is an interesting one. I’ve written this several times dating back to the Andrew Wiggins trade at the deadline, but their preferable move might be attaching this pick (and potentially the 2021 Minnesota first-rounder) to Wiggins’ contract for another max-level player. Alas, you look around the league and it’s hard to see a gettable star, even with both picks attached—Wiggins’ trade value seems to have cratered, and taking that long-term money may not be worth the price of admission here. Would the Warriors offer Wiggins and No. 2 to the Pistons for say, Blake Griffin and No. 7? Whether Griffin will be healthy enough to make that worth remotely considering is a different question, but that type of framework might be as good as it gets.
Alternatively, the Warriors do have the $17 million trade exception they created in the Andre Iguodala trade. They could dangle their pick, move back in the draft, and simply absorb a desirable player’s contract in that type of deal. It’s not as sexy, but also less complicated, and they could sorely use veteran depth to support their roster. The lukewarm interest in Wiggins makes this type of structure more realistic. Of course, this all kind of hinges on creating a market for No. 2, which would seem to be the right to draft Ball or Wiseman. Which brings us to…
What happens to LaMelo Ball?
Ball is a divisive prospect, but undeniably holds intriguing upside. If Minnesota goes with Edwards, there’s a clear opportunity for interested parties to move up in the draft and target Ball. Glancing down the lottery, the Bulls, Pistons and Knicks would seem to be the logical fits. Surely, the Warriors will hope to engage those parties (assuming interest) and create a trade market at No. 2, but their ability to do that is probably contingent on a few things.
First of all, it’s worth noting that I’ve already heard some skepticism that the Hornets would take Ball at No. 3. In a vacuum, I think he makes a lot of sense in Charlotte. But that pick would be contingent on ownership signing off, and knowing what we know about Michael Jordan, there’s certainly reason to be skeptical. The perception is that drafting Ball will come with inevitable distractions. If the Hornets see viable alternatives—and either James Wiseman or Obi Toppin figures be on the board at No. 3—it’s feasible that they pass.
Working downward in the lottery, Chicago then holds some of the keys at No. 4. If he’s there, the Bulls could simply take Ball and figure it out, with Coby White presumably sliding into the sixth man role he may be best-suited for anyway. But it’s not a totally clear-cut choice, and if they’re lukewarm on Ball, they can try and move back. Chicago is thought to have real interest in Deni Avdija, who figures to be available to them there. If the Knicks and Pistons want Ball badly enough, this could be another trade-up juncture. But the other team I’ve heard linked to Avdija is Cleveland, who pick at No. 5—so if the Bulls were to try move back to, say, No. 7 or No. 8, he may not be there.
Regardless, it’s still way early, and given we may have to wait three more months until the draft, it’s not worth speculating much more than this. The LaMelo market could certainly be a driving force in how the lottery itself shakes out. But the good news for Ball is that due to the specificity of his skill set, he’s all but certain to land on a team that really needs his playmaking, and can invest in him accordingly. It just may not be at No. 1.