In professional basketball, more than any other sport, a dive to the bottom attracts almost as much attention as the race to the top. They’re sort of two sides of the same coin.
The NBA is constructed to create a ridiculous number of playoff teams. Getting into the playoffs is such a small deal that the national media focuses almost as much on the teams groveling at the bottom, planting the seeds of future greatness.
So much compelling drama there. So many narratives. So much debate. Sometimes you can’t be sure if a team is tanking or not.
What I love about the Minnesota Timberwolves, as compared to, oh, the Philadelphia 76ers, is that they don’t try to lose. It just happens because they’re persistently incompetent and unlucky. Even when they have superstars like Kevin Garnett or Kevin Love, they can’t put enough complementary pieces around them to win many games.
They have a streak going of 10 losing seasons, compared to nine for Sacramento. Since 1989, when they were born, the T-Wolves have the worst record in the NBA.
But God love ’em, they keep trying. And their fans support them. Considering market size, their average home attendance of 14,528 seems impressive – better than Philadelphia.
This season marked the third time the T-Wolves have been No.1 in pre-draft position, but this is the first time they came out with the No. 1 lottery ball. Good for them. No one could be more deserving. At last the worst team wins.
And it could be the beginning of something better. Barring a trade, the T-Wolves will enter next season with the NBA’s past three No. 1 draft picks.
Andrew Wiggins recently was named Rookie of the Year. He played well defensively and proved more NBA-ready on offense than expected of a 20-year-old. He averaged 16.9 points and 36 minutes as he seized the small-forward position.
The ’Wolves this season were soft inside, but this is where the lottery comes in. The June draft promises to be exceptional for big men, headed by Kentucky’s all-purpose center Karl-Anthony Towns and Duke’s power-scorer Jahlil Okafor. Both are 19 years old and 6-11. Okafor is a more commanding presence now, but Towns is thought to have more upside.
There’s still hope for Anthony Bennett, 6-8, 245 pounds, the NBA’s No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft. He came to Minnesota along with Wiggins in the exchange for Love.
Whomever Minnesota drafts – Okafor’s horrid free-throwing may put Towns on top — will get big-man support in the frontcourt from an improving Gorgui Dieng, 25. At 6-11, 233 pounds, Dieng can score from the low post but also has a midrange jumper. He averaged 9.7 points this season, with 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots.
The backcourt looks solid, if Kevin Martin, 32, continues to play younger.
He averaged 20 points per game this season, shot 39 percent on 3-pointers and 85 percent on free throws. His backup, 30-year-old Gary Neal, averaged a point every two minutes and shot 35 percent on 3’s, 88 percent from the line.
Meanwhile, Ricky Rubio, 24, established himself at point guard. He’s not much of a shooter but passes very well (8.8 assists) and he rebounds (5.7 per game) like a forward.
This is a team with a promising nucleus: The No. 1 in next June’s draft joining Wiggins, Rubio, Dieng, Bennett. There’s versatility here, because they can go big with Wiggins swinging to guard, Bennett shifting to small-forward.
There may not be enough firepower yet to make the playoffs, but there won’t be a long wait. Hey, what’s another year?