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When It Comes To The NBA Draft Lottery, Wolves Fans Expect Disappointment

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been in existence for 22 NBA seasons, counting this past disastrous year, and Tuesday will mark the fifteenth time that they have partaken in the NBA Draft Lottery. In typical Minnesota fashion, the lottery has largely led to disappointment for the blue and green.

In the Timberwolves' first fourteen trips to the Draft Lottery, they have never -- not one single time -- improved their station in the draft. They have always either stayed where they were in terms of draft position relative to their record or seen their position get worse. As they had the NBA's worst record during the 2010-11 season, it will mark the fifteenth straight trip to the lottery for the Timberwolves where, basically, only bad things can happen. Obviously, they can't be any higher than the first overall pick, but they can certainly drop below that.

With the way the lottery is set up, the lowest the Timberwolves can select in the 2011 NBA Draft is number four overall, and that's if three of the other teams that are in the lottery have their ping pong balls come out of the hopper before the Timberwolves do. To show exactly what sort of luck the Timberwolves have had in the lottery, have a look at the following table. The first column is where the Timberwolves would have selected if there was no lottery, and the second column is where they ended up being slotted after the lottery had concluded.

No Lottery After Lottery
1990 5th 6th
1991 7th 7th
1992 1st 3rd
1993 2nd 5th
1994 3rd 4th
1995 3rd 5th
1996 5th 5th
1999 5th 6th
2005 14th 14th
2006 6th 6th
2007 7th 7th
2008 3rd 3rd
2009 5th 6th
2010 2nd 4th
2011 1st ???

As you can see from the table, thus far the Timberwolves have stayed where they should have six times and have seen their position get worse on eight different occasions.

A couple of these have had a profound impact on the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves. For example, Minnesota had the worst record in the NBA in 1992, as you can see above, and therefore (theoretically) the best chance of winning the NBA lottery. However, the Orlando Magic, who had the second-best chance to win the lottery, ended up with the first pick. The Charlotte Hornets, who had only the eighth-worst record in the NBA during the 1991-92 season, jumped the Timberwolves as well and wound up with the second pick, with Minnesota ending up winding up with the third spot.

In that draft, the Magic took a young man out of Louisiana State University by the name of Shaquille O'Neal. The Hornets took a young man out of Georgetown University named Alonzo Mourning. The Timberwolves, with their pick, selected Duke's Christian Laettner. Don't get me wrong, Laettner wasn't terrible or anything like that, but I think it's safe to say that the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves would likely be dramatically different had they been able to land either O'Neal or Mourning in 1992.

In the 1994-95, Minnesota had the NBA's third-worst record. The Golden State Warriors, who had the fifth-worst record that year, took the top overall pick from the lottery. The Los Angeles Clippers, owners of the league's worst record, wound up with the second pick, and the Philadelphia 76ers, who had the fourth-worst record, wound up with the third selection. Since two teams that had better records than the Timberwolves leapfrogged them in the draft order, that meant the Wolves wound up with the fifth overall selection. The first four selections that year were Maryland's Joe Smith, Alabama's Antonio McDyess, and North Carolina teammates Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace. The Timberwolves then went a bit off the reservation and selected the first player to be drafted straight out of high school in twenty years.

This is one of the few times that the Wolves' drop has proven to be beneficial to them, as the guy they took in that 1995 draft -- an 18-year old by the name of Kevin Garnett -- has had a markedly more successful career than any of the players that were taken in front of him, and had the Wolves not dropped to that fifth spot, who knows if they would have taken him or not?

This year, the Wolves once again had the NBA's worst record, and as a result can pick no lower than fourth overall. Many fans of the Timberwolves, including myself, don't expect the Wolves to actually end up with the top overall pick when it's all said and done, and with good reason based on the team's lottery history thus far.

The joke that has often been made by people who attempt to predict how the Wolves will fare in the NBA Draft Lottery is to take the number of "can't miss" prospects in a given year, add one, and that's where the Timberwolves will end up selecting. However, the prevailing wisdom is that there aren't any "can't miss" prospects in the 2011 NBA Draft.

So, hey, who knows, maybe the Timberwolves will hold on to that top overall pick after all. It certainly would fall in line with Timberwolves' history if they were to get the top overall selection in a year where there isn't a consensus superstar to be taken at the top of the draft.

Then again, even if there was a consensus superstar to select with the top overall pick and the Wolves were in a position to take him, there's no guarantee that David Kahn wouldn't screw that up, too (but that's another rant for another occasion).

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