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Top Five: Worst Timberwolves First Round Picks

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A (sometimes) painful look back at Minnesota's biggest flops in the NBA Draft.

Finding Ndudi Ebi is almost as hard to do on the internet as it was to do on an NBA basketball court (picture via <a href="http://steveandfilbertshow.blogspot.com/">Nick's Sports Blog</a>)
Finding Ndudi Ebi is almost as hard to do on the internet as it was to do on an NBA basketball court (picture via Nick's Sports Blog)

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been in existence since 1989.  The 2009-2010 campaign marked their 21st in the NBA since their inception, and they've spent the better part of that being. . .well, not very good.  This season will mark the 13th time in their existence that they've participated in the NBA's draft lottery.  Ironically, the lottery has been especially cruel to the Wolves. . .in those 13 trips to the lottery, including this year, they have stayed at the same draft spot as their record dictated six times, and have gotten worse seven times.  For you math wizards out there, that means that not one time have the Minnesota Timberwolves actually improved their draft position via the lottery.  I don't believe there are many teams out there that can make that claim.

Now, you don't get to be this bad without completely bombing on some first round draft choices, and the Wolves have had plenty of those over the course of the last 21 years. So, with the NBA Draft coming up this Thursday, let's take a look back. . .painful though it might be. . .at the Minnesota Timberwolves' biggest flops in the NBA Draft.

1) Joe Smith

Now, I know what you're saying. . ."Wait a minute, Chris. . .Joe Smith wasn't drafted by the Timberwolves at all!  He was taken #1 overall back in 1995 by the Golden State Warriors."

This is true. . .technically. However, from a Timberwolves' standpoint, he was Minnesota's first-round draft choice in 2001.  And 2002.  And 2003.  And 2005. Yes, because Kevin McHale thought it would be an absolutely genius move to circumvent the salary cap for a guy that averaged about 10 points a game as a member of the Timberwolves, the Wolves were docked four first-round draft choices by NBA commissioner David Stern. The NBA, apparently, doesn't screw around with this kind of thing. . .witness the NFL, where the Denver Broncos violated the salary cap numerous times during the years they won two Super Bowls (1996-1998), and were penalized the hefty price of a third-round draft choice. A draft choice. One. Singular.  In the third round.  In 2005, no less.

So, for being a member of the Wolves for the low, low cost of four first-round draft choices and setting the franchise back who knows how many years, Joe Smith gets the distinction of being the worst first-round draft choice in Timberwolves' history. Congratulations to you, sir.

2) Paul Grant

In the 1997 Draft, the Wolves were looking for another guy to man the front line next to budding superstar Kevin Garnett.  They had the 20th overall selection in the first round, and they used it to select a seven-foot tall power forward/center out of the University of Wisconsin by the name of Paul Grant. Does that name sound familiar?  Well, it probably shouldn't. Why do I say that?

I say that because Paul Grant's Minnesota Timberwolves' career consisted of all of four games played, eight total minutes, and two whole points scored on 1-of-4 shooting. That's right. . .a guy that was drafted in the first round by the Timberwolves and was paid handsomely for his services scored two more points in his Minnesota career than 99.9% of the people reading this scored in their Minnesota careers.  In his entire NBA career, Grant played in a total of 16 games, experiencing an inexplicable 10-game renaissance with the Utah Jazz in 2003-2004.  He averaged 1.8 points/game, 1.1 rebounds/game and, according to Basketball Reference, made just over $3 million.  Nice work, if you can get it.

3) Ndudi Ebi

With the pick that David Stern was gracious enough to reinstate from the Joe Smith debacle, the Wolves picked at No. 26 overall in the first round.  The 2003 NBA Draft was considered to be an incredibly deep one, but no matter how deep a draft is, there are always going to be questions towards the bottom of the first round.  That being said, when the Wolves selected a raw, 18-year old from Houston's Westbury Christian School, many of the experts were floored, and wondered aloud what, exactly, Kevin McHale was doing.  (As anyone that has followed the Wolves knows, this became a bit of a recurring theme towards the tail end of the McHale era.)

Sadly, Ebi did very little to assuage those fears and doubts.  He lasted two seasons with the Timberwolves, and actually saw action in 17 games in 2003-2004 on a Minnesota team that went to (and should have won) the Western Conference Finals.  The next season, however, Ebi saw action in only two games, and never set foot on an NBA court again after that.  (Basketball Reference shows him as being with the Wolves in 2005-2006 and with the Dallas Mavericks in 2006-2007, but he didn't collect any stats.)  His career numbers?  2.1 points/game and 1.0 rebounds/game.

4)  J.R./Isaiah/J.R./Isaiah/J.R./Isaiah Rider

See, it's not that Rider was a bad player, necessarily. . .far from it. He averaged right around 19 points/game for the Wolves out of Nevada-Las Vegas, and even gave the hometown fans a show at the 1994 All-Star Weekend in Minneapolis, winning the Slam Dunk contest with his between the legs, "East Bay Funk Dunk." Shortly after that, however, Rider's career with the Wolves started taking a downward turn. He constantly feuded with Timberwolves' coach Bill Blair, and ultimately got himself a suspension for his insubordination.

Things only got worse from there, as he was arrested of kicking a female sports bar manager in Minneapolis and wound up getting convicted of fifth-degree assault. Just before he got traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, Rider was arrested for marijuana possession, as well as being in possession of an illegal cell phone (it had been altered to charge calls to another number). The trade to Portland netted the Wolves forward Bill Curley, swingman James Robinson, and a conditional first-round draft choice. Rider could have been a star in Minnesota if he could have kept his head on straight. . .he simply chose not to.

5) Ray Allen and Brandon Roy (tie)

These players certainly aren't on this list because they're bad players. They're on the list because they were selected by Minnesota and then immediately dealt to other teams for significantly lesser players. The Wolves took Allen with the No. 5 pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.  They then immediately turned around and traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for point guard Stephon Marbury, who the Bucks had taken with the previous pick.  Ray Allen is one of the NBA's all-time great shooters and can make a case for the Hall of Fame. Marbury was last seen doing tricks on a webcam somewhere and trying to catch on in a Chinese professional league.

An almost identical situation took place in 2006. The Wolves had taken Roy with the sixth overall selection, and the pick was applauded, as it was thought the Wolves had taken care of some of their point guard woes. However, the head scratching began soon thereafter, as the Wolves traded Roy to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Randy Foye, who the Blazers had taken at No. 7. Roy is now one of the NBA's better point guards, and could certainly be used by a team that is still looking for an answer at the position. Foye lasted three seasons in Minnesota, and was dealt to the Washington Wizards prior to this past season, where he averaged about ten points/game.

And those are, in my opinion, the worst first-round draft choices in the illustrious history of the Minnesota Timberwolves. What do you think? Do you agree with the list? Did I miss anybody?

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.