For a brief Timberwolves moment, Jazz had 3.8% chance of Top-4 draft pick

Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports /

Ah, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA Draft Lottery are going to cause heartburn for fans over the course of the next seven years. While I’m not one to second guess the fact that the Minnesota Timberwolves taking chances and rolling the dice to improve the roster, I am also not going to be the guy who defends the risk-taking efforts against the ire and frustration of the fans who have been down this road all too often before.

With a record of 31-32 and just 19 games left to play in the 2022-23 NBA season, the Timberwolves can do no better than 50-32 and no worse than 31-51. But this team is on a three-game losing streak and has invested more energy in rationalizing and making excuses than powering through and winning close games.

We know that the Minnesota Timberwolves quickly bargained their future with the Utah Jazz for present-day talent. It was a risky move by a new Timberwolves front office brain trust that wanted to make a splash in the NBA that the league would not easily forget. At the time, we offered one simple tweak that could have yielded much better results for the team. Instead, we find the Timberwolves tied to the Utah Jazz for the foreseeable future.

The Utah Jazz in NBA lottery discussions will anger Timberwolves fans

The Utah Jazz will hold the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round draft picks in the 2023, 2025, 2027, and 2029 NBA Drafts. If the Timberwolves win games, so what? Those picks are no more valuable than early second-round picks. But that was a gamble that the Minnesota Timberwolves were happy to take.

Right now, as of February 28, 2023, the Utah Jazz will hold a 3.8 percent chance of landing a Top-4 NBA Draft pick, and a 0.8 percent chance of emerging with the Top pick of the 2023 NBA Draft. That is not thanks to their own pick, but rather the fact that the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick is projected to land as the 13th overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, and therefore qualifies to be included in the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery.

It would have not been difficult for the Timberwolves to insist upon even the lightest of protections for their first-round draft picks. Even a Top-1 protection would have allowed the Timberwolves to hold the golden ticket if the unthinkable happens, and the Timberwolves land a top pick in an NBA lottery over the next seven seasons.

Timberwolves could be a huge benefactor to Jazz in the 2023 NBA Draft

The trick is, as the Minnesota Timberwolves slump lengthens, the odds of a top pick in the 2023 NBA Draft rise exponentially. If the Timberwolves slide to below a record of .450 success, the chances of a Top-4 NBA Draft pick rise to nearly one in three. The odds for a Top pick in the draft rise to 7.5 percent. Of course, the Utah Jazz, and not the Minnesota Timberwolves, benefit.

How many losses create those odds? Just six more losses. That’s certainly within the probability of a team that has lost three games against beatable opponents and must now run a gauntlet against tougher teams who are pushing for the NBA playoffs.

The Timberwolves rallied to defeat the LA Clippers, return to 32-32 and moved their draft pick out of the NBA Lottery. For now, at least.

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The Timberwolves need to win more games, Not just to preserve their hopes for an NBA Playoff berth, but to avoid the stigma of being a team that was played once more in a huge trade with Danny Ainge. At the time, it appeared that the Timberwolves had a solid plan and roster in place. But Karl-Anthony Towns’ injury and the lack of chemistry with PG D’Angelo Russell scrapped those plans.  Now, the Timberwolves must fight to keep a disappointing season from becoming a true tragedy.