Rick Rycroft/Associated Press
Former Georgia star Anthony Edwards is -235 (bet $235 to win $100) on DraftKings to come off the board first. Ball has the second-best odds at +195. Former Memphis star James Wiseman sits third at +785 before a steep drop to Deni Avdija in fourth at +5000.
2021 NBA Draft Odds—No. 1 Pick
Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia (-235)
LaMelo Ball, PG, Illawarra Hawks (+195)
James Wiseman, C, Memphis (+785)
Deni Avdija, SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv (+5000)
Killian Hayes, PG, Ratiopharm Ulm (+10000)
Obi Toppin, PF, Dayton (+10000)
Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC (+20000)
Isaac Okoro, SF, Auburn (+20000)
Winning the draft lottery was both a blessing and a curse for the Timberwolves.
There’s no clear can’t-miss prospect, and the front office has a heightened incentive to make this draft count because the team’s 2021 first-rounder is going to the Golden State Warriors as part of the Andrew Wiggins/D’Angelo Russell trade. Selecting the wrong player could have significant consequences.
Seeing Edwards with noticeably better odds of going to the Wolves than Ball isn’t a big surprise, as the latter isn’t a great fit in a backcourt that already has Russell. The two have overlapping skill sets on offense, and putting them on the floor together could be a recipe for disaster on defense.
Russell made his Minnesota debut Feb. 10 against the Toronto Raptors. From that point forward, the Timberwolves ranked 27th in defensive rating, per NBA.com.
The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie provided this less-than-encouraging assessment of Ball’s defense in January:
“It’s disastrously bad in spots while also providing glimmers of hope. On the ball, he’s just genuinely terrible right now. He has really awful mechanics in regard to his defensive stance, often standing straight up and down. He gets blown by at the point of attack with relative ease despite being bigger and longer than most guys because of that. He’s the king of going for the recovery swipe where he tries to poke the ball free after a guy gets past him. His mechanics are also terrible when closing out on shooters.”
Ball is still only 19, so some improvement is to be expected. Vecenie added that Ball possesses the kind of natural instincts that can be difficult to coach into a player.
In general, some are of the mindset you select value over need, especially when it comes to an early stage of the draft. Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman listed Ball No. 1 in his most recent big board.
Ball isn’t so good you can automatically overlook his fit concerns in Minnesota, though. The Timberwolves’ problem is that they might wind up with Wiggins 2.0 by targeting Edwards instead.
Edwards averaged 19.1 points per game while shooting 40.2 percent from the field in his lone season with the Bulldogs. His lack of playmaking (2.8 assists to 2.7 turnovers per game) would be less of a concern since Russell would be running the offense.
However, this report from Wasserman on Sept. 28 raised obvious red flags:
“Teams are worried about Edwards’ drive and enthusiasm for winning, and according to a source, the Golden State Warriors aren’t a likely landing spot due to these concerns. …
“Scouts and executives have mentioned that his teams haven’t won at any level, and that he even forgets plays and actions. …
“Meanwhile, the more we ask around about Edwards, the more we hear concern about his professionalism and ability to impact winning, even if his scoring production carries over.”
Wasserman wrote that Dion Waiters was brought up as a lower-percentile comparison for Edwards. Because they play the same position, Waiters is a logical player to reference. But some of what Wasserman reported makes you think of Wiggins, too.
For five-and-a-half seasons, Wiggins teased the Wolves with flashes of the All-Star he could become. Just when it looked like he might be turning a corner, the 25-year-old reverted to his usual self.
Holding the failed Wiggins experiment against Edwards is clearly unfair to some extent, but it serves as a reminder that talent alone only takes a player so far in the NBA. You have to wonder whether the Timberwolves would willingly sign up to go through the process all over again.