By Robert Shaw
Last Thursday night was the NBA draft lottery. The Minnesota Timberwolves scored the first overall pick for the first time since 2015 when they drafted Karl-Anthony Towns.
In 2020, Towns has developed into an offensive powerhouse who might be the greatest shooting big man of all time. HIS CAREER SHOOTING SPLITS ARE 53/39/83. Alongside Towns is D’angelo Russell, the NBA’s youngest All-Star journeyman: 24 years old, five years in the league, four teams, and one All-Star appearance. With the number one pick in an admittedly weak draft, who do you pair with Towns and Russell? The first overall pick should come down to LaMelo Ball, the tall, show-stopping point guard, or Anthony Edwards, the explosive, shot-creating power guard.
From a pure talent perspective, there’s nobody I’m higher on in this draft than Lonzo’s brother and Lavar’s youngest son, LaMelo Ball. LaMelo is 6-foot-7, can pass (6.8 assists per game in Australia’s NBL), handle, and has The IT factorTM that draws fans and teammates alike to him. He shot just 25% on 6.7 three-point attempts per game (I know, gross), but I believe for a few reasons he’ll be an average NBA shooter at worst. For one, some of his three-point percentage problem comes from his shot selection. LaMelo often takes deep threes, but he lacks the shooting touch to justify them—think Damian Lillard’s shot selection with Charles Barkley’s conversion rate (26.6%). This is a product of having the greenest of green lights everywhere he’s ever played, from Chino Hills to Australia and all stops in between. Secondly, while his form isn’t quite UCLA Lonzo broken, it could certainly use some love from a shot doctor. The concerns with his shot mechanics are his elbows flare out and less concerning are his low set point and tendency to fadeaway. Most importantly I believe in him as a worker. (Say what you want about Lavar—and I’ve said plenty—but he raised WORKERS!!!) LaMelo is a player that will put in the time to get better and perfect his craft.
Even after all that LaMelo talk, I think the best player for the Wolves to draft number one is Georgia’s Anthony Edwards. Edwards isn’t far behind LaMelo in the talent department, and is a more natural fit next to Towns and D’Angelo Russell. In most circumstances I’m a take the best player available and figure everything else out later type of guy, but the Timberwolves are in a unique situation. Towns is the franchise player, and LaMelo seems like a very awkward fit with Towns’ best friend and new running-mate, D’Angelo Russell. In a regular situation, trade Russell; A Russell-LaMelo-Towns defensive core is asking for a team to score 200 points. But considering the assets Minnesota gave up to get him (a top-three protected 2021 pick and 2021 second-round pick) along with the fear of upsetting Towns, it’s just not worth the risk for a franchise who’s played a grand total of four playoff games since KG left for Boston.
The Ball/Edwards talent gap isn’t far off. Besides fit, Edwards has a lot going for him. He’s built like a Greek god (6-foot-5, 225 pounds). He’s an explosive scorer who can really pour it on when he’s rolling (ask Michigan State; he dropped 37 on them, including 33 in the second half!) He’s more scorer than shooter, and for someone with his physical build, he can fall in love with the three-ball—a problem considering he converted just 29% on almost eight attempts a game this year at Georgia. Edwards’ jump shot form is structurally sound, and he has the shot-creating ability you look for in a potential franchise building block. So why was his three-point shooting percentage so low? Like LaMelo, the issue is shot selection. Edwards took a lot of pull up threes as well as off the dribble threes. Given a different diet of shots—particularly more catch-and-shoot opportunities that come with not being the focal point of opposing defenses—his three-point percentage should rise.
A major concern with Edwards is his tendency to float through games without making his presence felt. In Minnesota, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing short-term. A Russell and Towns pick-and-roll should create clean catch-and shoot-opportunities for Edwards, as well as the chance for him to attack closeouts and do things like the below video. The dunk in the video below wasn’t against a closeout, but it came off a dribble handoff and got him moving downhill in the half-court. Downhill Edwards is scary.
The Timberwolves were a team that severely lacked wing shot-creation until D’angelo Russell (12 games played with the Timberwolves) and Malik Beasley (14 games) arrived at the trade deadline. With Beasely set to be a restricted free-agent this offseason, if he and the Wolves can’t agree on a dollar amount, Edwards can step in and replace the scoring punch Beasley provided at a much more team friendly price for the next four years.
Overall, Edwards’ offensive pop along with his shot-making potential should be too much for the Wolves to pass up. If you were the Timberwolves how would you handle the number one pick? Ball, Edwards, someone else, or even a trade?