A Series of Unfortunate Events

May 20 2010

Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

- Andy Dufresne

I love the Minnesota Timberwolves. I also love what Andy said to Red up there. It stands to reason then that I love the NBA draft. Even a chronically disappointing franchise like the Timberwolves can hope for a savior-type talent through the draft because every lottery team has a shot at the top pick.

I was discussing the recent draft lottery results (in which the Timberwolves ended up with the 4th overall pick) with my friend, and he made the comment, “How did we go from 2nd to 4th? We can’t even lose right.” That got me thinking. For a team as familiar with the draft lottery as the Timberwolves, it didn’t seem like there were ever any celebrations; simply put, the Timberwolves never seem to be power brokers in the draft, and that is reflected in the fact that they have never picked higher than 3rd overall.

First, a quick introduction to how the draft lottery works. Every non-playoff team has a shot at getting one of the top 3 picks in the draft. The more losses, the bigger the chance. In the event of a tie in records, a coin flip determines which team gets priority (and a slightly higher probability). The probability weights have changed over the years (see here if you are really interested), but the fundamental concept has not. In every draft, unless a team “wins” one of the top 3 picks, they are assigned their pick according to the reverse order of finish in the standings.

Pink ties are just a small part of what makes Timberwolves drafts great

I took a closer look at every Timberwolves opportunity in the draft lottery, only to find that the Timberwolves have never moved up in the draft. As in, they have never done better in 20 years of existence under the lottery system. They have had 14 chances in the lottery since their inception, and they have never been able to improve on their expected draft position.

* The Timberwolves had possession of the Nets pick as a result of the Marbury-Cassell-Brandon trade

The Timberwolves, in their 14 lottery chances, have been expected to get an average draft position of 4.79. In reality, they got an average draft position of 5.79, a full pick lower. This includes the year they had New Jersey’s pick. In this entire span, the only time that you could characterize the Wolves as having even a moderately successful draft lottery experience was in 2008, when they won the 3rd pick while having the 3rd most ping pong balls.

The 2008 draft actually brings up another point about the Wolves draft history, in that they have been incredibly unlucky in their placements. Three times they have gotten the 3rd pick in a 2-player draft (1992 with Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning, 2008 with Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, and 2010 with John Wall and Evan Turner). In all three cases (esp. 1992), the Timberwolves did the best they could with the hand dealt, despite the fact that their draft position represented a huge drop-off in talent.

Call me crazy, but I think I want the guy on the left

Finally, the Timberwolves have compounded the issue themselves by making poor decisions in the draft. There has certainly been analysis done on the poor drafting decisions (let us not revisit the logic of drafting Wally Z immediately before Rip Hamilton, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion, and Jason Terry), but it’s still worth pointing out that outside of 1995, the organization has not drafted a player that would be even be considered for an All-NBA team. They’ve seemingly succeeded at outsmarting themselves a few times (Marbury over Allen and Foye over Roy to name a few examples).

The Timberwolves did not win the 2010 NBA Draft Lottery. In fact, they’ve been so incredibly unlucky that playing the draft lottery has not helped their expected situation one time. The team will be in the Draft Lottery again next year. DraftExpress currently says it’ll be 6-8 forward Harrison Barnes (note: I am not at all excited about this guy; in general, unless you are drafting Lebron James, I think it’s a bad idea to draft any position outside of Point Guard or Center at the number one overall).

As a rational person, I can’t help but think that the long string of unsuccessful attempts will eventually even out. But, we are talking about the Timberwolves here - their fearless leaders have tended to inspire a lot of fear over the years.

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Topics: Basketball

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