The Minnesota Timberwovles faced critical drafts from 1996-1998. If they would have been able to hit on one of those picks, things would look way different.
The Minnesota Timberwolves made the perfect pick in the 1995 NBA draft. In selecting Kevin Garnett they solidified the face of their franchise for the next twelve years.
But what followed after that were some very questionable draft day moves. Imagine if Minnesota had been able to hit on a few picks and helped surround Garnett with more talent.
Let’s take a look and see what could have happened if Minnesota nailed their draft choices in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
In 1996, the Timberwolves actually made the right pick. They selected Ray Allen fifth overall.
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Only they immediately swapped him for Georgia Tech freshman Stephon Marbury. There are a multitude of different players that they could have selected at the number five spot, including Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Jermaine O’Neal.
But let’s be realistic, Kobe was trying to force his way to the Lakers, Steve Nash was regarded as a borderline top 20 player, and they had just drafted a power forward out of high school the year before. So Ray Allen is still the correct move.
As you can see below, it appears that Marbury had the better rookie season. In truth, Allen still ended up with about one more win share. This would actually have no effect on any playoff or draft standings for the Timberwolves that year.
The next year, Minnesota drafted center Paul Grant with the 20th pick and small forward Gordon Malone with the 43rd pick.
Grant would go on to play twelve games in his NBA career. While Malone never even played an NBA game. The correct picks would have been to take small forward Stephen Jackson with the 20th pick and point guard Alvin Williams with the 43rd pick.
Although Jackson didn’t make it to the NBA for three years, he would go on to have a better career than any player that the Wolves had a shot at drafting.
Alvin Williams, a career backup, would at least be able to help their bench unit.
The second year comparison of Marbury and Allen is still pretty similar:
Allen finished with about two more win shares.
This would have moved the Timberwolves up one playoff spot to the sixth seed and woudl have resulted in them playing the Lakers instead of the SuperSonics, but still resulting in a first round exit.
In the 1998 draft, the Wolves selected Rasho Nesterovic with the 17th pick and Andrae Patterson with the 46th pick.
Although Nesterovic would go on to have a decent NBA career, Patterson only played in 40 games and was out of the league after two years.
The correct picks would have been to take Rashard Lewis with the 20th pick and Brad Miller with the 46th pick. This gives Minnesota a legitimate three-player frontcourt. Miller and Lewis would provide outstanding floor spacing next to Garnett as well. Giving Minnesota the ability to develop an offense that would have been well ahead of its time.
Additionally, with Garnett and two draft picks invested in big men MAYBE Minnesota wouldn’t make the terrible Joe Smith signing that would go on to cost the Wolves their 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006 draft picks.
Our own Brian Sampson wrote his own “What If” piece wondering what would happen if the Wolves never made that terrible move.
This is where our scenario has many different paths we could go down.
What we do know is that the Timberwolves made the playoffs every year from 1997 to 2004. It’s easy to hypothesize that if they had just made a few correct draft choices a couple of those playoff births could have ended in a title.