The Minnesota Timberwolves tipped off as a franchise in 1989, and the first few seasons saw a lot of struggles. Their fortune would turn around in the mid 1990’s after the team drafted Kevin Garnett, and they became a perennial playoff team for nearly a decade. Once Garnett departed for Boston, Minnesota saw their franchise struggle once again, and they have yet to make it to an NBA Finals.
These days, the Timberwolves are talked about as one of the more exciting young teams with a lot of potential, and a lot of that has to do with their draft picks. We’ve seen stars like Karl-Anthony Towns and Ricky Rubio drafted high that are still with the team. Minnesota is still struggling as they are toward the bottom of the standings in the Western Conference again, but the potential is still there.
Looking back at their first round draft selections, it’s interesting to see where the Timberwolves could have been. They had their chance at drafting superstars, but ended up going in a different direction with the team behind them taking advantage. Let’s see what could have been for the Timberwolves as we re-draft their last 15 first round picks.
15 Buddy Hield (2016)
Original Pick: Kris Dunn
In the most recent NBA Draft, the Timberwolves held the fifth overall selection and used it on point guard Kris Dunn out of Providence. The early returns haven’t been great, as Dunn is only averaging 3.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in a little over 16 minutes per game. Although declaring busts this early is typically frowned upon, Dunn has been very disappointing so far as a top five pick.
So far, a much better pick would have been the shooting guard out of Oklahoma, Buddy Hield. Hield was famously involved in the DeMarcus Cousins trade earlier in the season, and the future looks bright. Hield is averaging nearly 10 points per game so far with 3.0 rebounds, and has upped his scoring since coming to Sacramento.
14 Karl-Anthony Towns (2015)
Original Pick: Karl-Anthony Towns
Heading into the 2015 NBA Draft, the Timberwolves were fortunate enough to land the top overall pick. With plenty of big stars entering the draft, Minnesota took what appeared to be the safest pick by scooping up Karl-Anthony Towns from Kentucky. So far, it’s certainly safe to say that the Timberwolves made the right call with this selection, so they wouldn’t change a thing.
Towns won the 2015-16 Rookie of the Year Award by scoring 18.3 points and hauling in 10.5 rebounds per game. Those numbers have been even better in his second season, and figure to only improve over the next several seasons. If he keeps up the progress, we could see Towns averaging 30 points and 15 rebounds per game, and a shot at a future MVP title.
13 Zach LaVine (2014)
Original Pick: Zach LaVine
Before they could make the top overall selection in 2015, the Timberwolves had to wait until the 13th spot before turning in their card. This time around, the Timberwolves selected UCLA freshman Zach LaVine. LaVine was solid in his rookie season, making the All-Rookie Team with 10.1 points and 3.6 assists per game. LaVine would improve in his second year, and was on his way to stardom in the 2016-17 season.
LaVine had been averaging nearly 19 points per game until tearing his ACL more than halfway through the season. Even with the injury concerns, the Timberwolves realize that they made the right pick in this spot. The next few picks were T.J. Warren, Adreian Payne and Jusuf Nurkic. They have had their moments, but LaVine has shown the most promise out of the group.
12 Rudy Gobert (2013)
Original Pick: Andre Roberson
In the 2013 NBA Draft, the Timberwolves held a pair of first round picks. The second pick came with the 26th overall selection, which they used on Andre Roberson from Colorado. After drafting Roberson, the Timberwolves shipped him to Golden State (though he would get turned around and sent to Oklahoma City). The Timberwolves only received a second round pick in 2014 and cash considerations for the trade.
Roberson has improved, but doesn’t figure to be a star in the NBA. The Timberwolves, though looking for cash at that point, could have held their selection and picked Rudy Gobert instead. Gobert was the next pick after Roberson, and has emerged as a talented big man. So far in the 2016-17 season, Gobert has averaged 13.5 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.
11 C.J. McCollum (2013)
Original Pick: Trey Burke
Before the Timberwolves overlooked the next player that was drafted, they had already done so earlier in the first round. The Timberwolves also held the ninth overall selection, and took point guard Trey Burke from Michigan, then traded him to Utah. Burke is now with the Wizards, and has averaged 10.6 points and 3.7 assists per game in his first four seasons. The right pick here would have been C.J. McCollum, the 10th overall selection.
McCollum has been a star over the past two seasons, scoring more than 20 points per game with some decent rebounding and assisting thrown in. It took a couple of seasons for McCollum to emerge, but the Timberwolves undoubtedly would have selected him had they known his development was coming.
10 Jonas Valanciunas (2011)
Original Pick: Derrick Williams
The Timberwolves did not have a selection in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft, so we skip back to 2011. Minnesota was hoping that they would land the top spot in the lottery, but that pick wound up with Cleveland as they selected Kyrie Irving. Minnesota had to settle for the second overall pick, and selected Derrick Williams from Arizona.
Williams would spend less than three seasons with the Timberwolves before being traded, and he averaged 10.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in his time with Minnesota. His numbers have actually gotten worse in the time since being traded away. If the Timberwolves were looking for a more prominent big man, they should have selected Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas was the fifth overall pick by Toronto, and has averaged 11.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in his young career that should still be improving. Enes Kanter also would have been a more solid option.
9 Hassan Whiteside (2010)
Original Pick: Lazar Hayward
2010 is another one of those seasons where the Timberwolves actually held multiple first round picks in the NBA Draft. The second pick was at the very end of the first round, with the 30th overall selection. Minnesota actually made a trade with Washington to acquire this pick, and it was Marquette forward Lazar Hayward that eventually made it to Minnesota.
Hayward did not last long in the NBA, spending two seasons with Minnesota and one with Oklahoma City. Overall, he averaged just 2.9 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game. Minnesota would have been much better off by taking Hassan Whiteside, who was selected just three spots later. Whiteside has averaged 13.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game in his career that includes two seasons of limited playing time.
8 DeMarcus Cousins (2010)
Original Pick: Wesley Johnson
Earlier in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft, the Timberwolves held the fourth overall selection. With the pick, they acquired Wesley Johnson, a small forward from Syracuse. Johnson would spend two seasons with Minnesota, averaging 7.7 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. While Johnson isn’t the worst bust in NBA history, the Timberwolves made a huge mistake in this draft.
The next spot in the draft was Sacramento’s at fifth overall. The Kings would use that selection on DeMarcus Cousins. Minnesota certainly could have used a three-time All Star that has averaged 21.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in his career. Other names that were available in the top 10 include Gordon Hayward and Paul George, meaning the Timberwolves almost had to try and mess it up.
7 Wayne Ellington (2009)
Original Pick: Wayne Ellington
Minnesota was incredibly busy in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft, as they were involved in four different selections. The final one of the round was the 28th spot that Minnesota acquired from Boston. The Timberwolves used that pick on Wayne Ellington, and he spent less than three full seasons with the team. In his career, Ellington has averaged 7.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.
At that point, there really weren’t that many strong players available on the board. With that said, the Timberwolves actually made the right call here. There were notable players such as Patty Mills that were selected later, but it would have been a huge reach for the Timberwolves. With no other realistic options, this is the most surprising pick that you wouldn’t change.
6 Jeff Teague (2009)
Original Pick: Ty Lawson
The third pick that the Timberwolves held in the 2009 NBA Draft was the 18th overall spot that the Timberwolves acquired from Miami. With the selection, they drafted Ty Lawson and sent him to Denver in a trade. For a couple of years, it looked like the Timberwolves made a mistake by not hanging on to Lawson, but his numbers have taken a big dip in the past couple of seasons. Still, he is averaging 12.6 points and 6.0 assists per game in his career.
The best option that the Timberwolves could have had, though, was keeping their pick and using it on Jeff Teague. Teague was the 19th overall selection by the Hawks, which was the very next pick. Teague has since averaged 12.5 points and 5.5 assists per game in his career. Over the past four seasons, though, he has averaged more than 15 points per game.
5 DeMar DeRozan (2009)
Original Pick: Jonny Flynn
We now head even farther up the draft board in the 2009 NBA Draft to see that the Minnesota Timberwolves really could have had something special. The team held the fifth and sixth overall picks, and the sixth pick was used to pick up Jonny Flynn. Flynn looked like he was on his way to stardom after a strong rookie season, but he then underwent hip surgery and was never the same player, spending just three seasons in the league.
The two names that are going to pop up for Timberwolves fans are really going to hurt. The sixth spot could have been used to draft DeMar DeRozan, who was drafted by the Raptors with the ninth pick and is still on the team. DeRozan has been an All Star three times in his career, and 2016-17 has been his best one yet as he has averaged 27 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
4 Stephen Curry (2009)
Original Pick: Ricky Rubio
With the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Timberwolves went international to acquire Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio. Rubio did not make his debut with the team until the 2011-12 season, and is still on the squad. The numbers haven’t been bad for Rubio as he has averaged 10.1 points and 8.4 assists per game in his career, and all of his seasons have been incredibly close to his career averages.
It wasn’t the worst pick the Timberwolves have had by a longshot, but it could have been better. The seventh overall pick in that draft was Stephen Curry, who was still available when the Timberwolves had their two consecutive picks. We know about Curry’s accolades, and it’s amazing to think that the Timberwolves could have had both Curry and DeRozan. Combine that with Wayne Ellington and Jeff Teague, and this team could have been a legendary one.
3 Russell Westbrook (2008)
Original Pick: O.J. Mayo
Finally getting out of the 2009 NBA Draft, we head to 2008 when the Timberwolves found themselves in the lottery once again. Minnesota landed the third pick in the draft, and selected O.J. Mayo out of USC. Mayo would then be drafted that night to Memphis with Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker and Greg Buckner. Since then, Mayo has averaged 13.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
However, the Timberwolves got the better end of the trade as they acquired fifth overall pick Kevin Love and three other players. While the move worked out since Love made three All Star teams in Minnesota while scoring 19.2 points with 12.2 rebounds per game, the Timberwolves had a better option still. Russell Westbrook could have been a Timberwolf as he was the fourth overall pick. So far, Westbrook has averaged 22.5 points, 7.9 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game.
2 Joakim Noah (2007)
Original Pick: Corey Brewer
Before having to pick between the triumvirate of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo, the options were a bit more limited in 2007. In this draft, the Timberwolves held the seventh overall selection, and used that pick on Florida forward Corey Brewer. At 31 years old, Brewer is still in the league and has had two stints with Minnesota. While he was with the Timberwolves, Brewer averaged 9.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.
The Brewer pick wasn’t an absolute disaster, but it could have been a bit better, and the Timberwolves could have acquired a player from the same school. Joakim Noah was available since he was the 10th overall pick. Noah has been a two-time All Star that has averaged 9.0 points and 9.4 rebounds in his career. Not a huge upgrade, but an upgrade nonetheless.
1 J.J. Redick (2006)
Original Pick: Brandon Roy
The final pick on the list comes from the 2006 NBA Draft, when the Timberwolves held the sixth overall selection. Minnesota would end up selecting Brandon Roy, and then sent him to Portland in exchange for Randy Foye. Foye would spend three seasons in Minnesota, and put up some solid numbers. He averaged 13.0 points, 3.7 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game as a member of the Timberwolves.
Minnesota actually got the best years of Foye’s career, while Brandon Roy would become a three-time All Star before injuries, playing his final five games for the Timberwolves of all teams before calling it quits. Foye would see his numbers drop after leaving Minnesota, so knowing what they know now, the Timberwolves should have selected J.J. Redick, the 11th overall pick. Redick is still in the league, and is still averaging nearly 15 points per game.