The Timberwolves went into the 2022-23 season knowing they would not have a 2023 first round draft pick as a result of the Rudy Gobert trade.
And still the scars of drafts (and lotteries) past were evident as the year went on.
Wolves fans accustomed to far more misfortune than fortune in the draft — even with some correction in recent years — focused their anxiety on a mathematically unlikely proposition:
That Minnesota would miss the playoffs, turning what was owed to Utah into a lottery pick. And that the presumed slim, 1-2% chance the pick would turn into the No. 1 overall selection would naturally happen.
None of that transpired, of course. The Wolves slogged through an uneven season but managed to secure the No. 8 seed by winning their second play-in game against Oklahoma City. And even if they had fallen into the lottery, none of the longshot teams moved up this year when the drawing was held Tuesday.
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But as I talked about on Thursday's Daily Delivery podcast, the Spurs' lottery victory still made me think about the Wolves and the context of what luck can do for a franchise.
The Spurs earned the No. 1 overall pick for the third time in their history. The other times, in 1987 and 1997, the consensus made their picks easy: David Robinson and Tim Duncan, respectively, were clear choices who laid the foundation for five NBA titles.
The only year the Spurs missed the playoffs between 1989 and 2019 and were eligible for the lottery was 1997, when Robinson was injured and they won the right to pick Duncan.
Being able to pick two Hall of Famers in your only two cracks at the No. 1 pick is extremely lucky — as is winning the lottery for a third time and now having a chance to take generational talent Victor Wembanyama, the most anticipated No. 1 choice, perhaps, since LeBron James in 2003.
Contrast that with the Timberwolves. I won't do a full recounting of the misery — I did it through 2019 here — but until they won the lottery in 2020 they had never moved up in 22 tries. They had moved down 12 times, famously losing out in 1992 on Shaquille O'Neal and in 2011 on Kyrie Irving among other occasions.
Both times they won the lottery, in 2015 and 2020, there was not a clear-cut No. 1. There was at least some debate between Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor in 2015 (the Wolves picked wisely) and between Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball in 2020 (the Wolves, again, did well).
Towns is a very good player but he is unlikely to be a Hall of Famer. Edwards still has that potential but he has a few notches to climb to be on that path.
Just winning the No. 1 pick in the lottery is great. When you win the lottery is even better. The Spurs are a prime example of that.