The Minnesota Timberwolves have arrived at a fork in the road. They currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference due to a laundry list of reasons that aren’t worth rehashing. The question is: should the Timberwolves be tanking?
Should the Timberwolves be tanking?
At first thought, the answer should be obvious. Any team that is at the bottom of their conference at the end of the season should be looking to maximize their shot at a top draft pick, especially the Timberwolves. They were so bad that the Houston Rockets were able to lose 20 straight games and still be ahead in the standings.
Upon further review, it might not be that simple. The Timberwolves dealt with absences all season long. Karl-Anthony Towns has missed 22 games, D’Angelo Russell has missed 30 games, and Malik Beasley has missed 25 games and counting. Therefore, the record can’t accurately reflect how good or bad the team actually is.
The Utah Jazz learned this the hard way, recently getting swept by the mostly healthy Timberwolves. To be fair, Donovan Mitchell was out and Towns presents unique challenges for Rudy Gobert, but those wins indicate that the Timberwolves are nothing like the teams that surround them in the standings.
The Value of Winning vs. The Draft
It’s well known that the Wolves don’t own their pick this year. The front office gave it to the Golden State Warriors in the Russell trade with only a top-three protection. Even with the horrible record, it’s unlikely the Wolves keep their pick. If they finish with a bottom-three record they only have a 40.1% chance of retaining the pick. If they finish with the fourth- or fifth-worst record their odds fall to 36.6% and 31.6%.
In a year plagued by injuries, a coaching change, and a pandemic, losing on purpose sends all the wrong messages. This roster has a lot of young, impressionable guys. Why risk reinforcing bad habits for a pick you probably won’t get? Coach Finch needs to use the few games he has of the mostly healthy Wolves to gauge the potential of the roster.
Tanking for the pick makes even less sense when looking at Gersson Rosas’ point of view. As the President of Basketball Operations who fully committed to acquiring Russell, turning around and tanking for the pick that he traded away would be a very bad sign. If the Wolves lose this pick, and are equally as bad next season, that opens the door for Towns to request a trade. Meaning that the future of the franchise could be hinging on 40.1%. If this pick doesn’t remain in Minnesota, Rosas and all his supporters will be anxiously waiting to see if the work done so far will prove to be enough.
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