Analysis: NBA draft is wide open and Timberwolves don’t have obvious choice at No. 1

The 2020 NBA draft doesn’t have the same Zion Williamson or Ja Morant hype as last year.

Part of that is the COVID-19 pandemic, which ended the college basketball season before the NCAA Tournament began and delayed workouts, including the annual draft combine in Chicago.

Part of it could be that one projected top lottery pick, LaMelo Ball, played in Australia. And another, James Wiseman, played just three college games at Memphis. And another, Killian Hayes, played in Europe.

The absence of hype didn’t deter Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas. He called it a good draft class. Maybe that’s what he has to say since Minnesota won the draft lottery.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a player, such as Ball, Wiseman, Hayes, Anthony Edwards or Obi Toppin, who can help accelerate a franchise’s rebuild.

And that’s what the Timberwolves need to help improve with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell as the featured players. With Towns’ ability to play inside and outside and Russell’s point guard skills, Minnesota will be on the lookout for a player who fits alongside offensively and can play defense.

“Catching breaks are important in order to have a successful organization, and this is (a) big break for us – the opportunity to do the little things right,” Rosas said. “Being in position to take advantage of something like this is incredibly important.”

For the second time in franchise history, the Timberwolves have the No. 1 pick in the draft, and it gives Rosas more opportunity to shape the franchise in his vision.

He is entering his second season in charge of basketball operations and he has made several changes. The roster he has looks drastically different from the one he inherited in 2019. He made the trade deadline deal for Russell and in trading Robert Covington nabbed Brooklyn’s 2020 first-round pick, at No. 17.

It’s a pivotal time for the franchise not only on the court but off the court. Longtime owner Glen Taylor is exploring a sale of the team. None of that should concern Rosas though. His job is to make the Timberwolves better on the court.

There might not be clear consensus on the No. 1 pick but Rosas is determined to find the right player to put the Timberwolves closer to a playoff spot. Rosas could also look to trade the No. 1 pick, but with so much uncertainty around the draft and next season, it remains unclear if he could return the necessary value in a deal.

D'Angelo Russell (left) joined Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves in February. (Photo: Jim Mone, AP)

While teams have not been able to have up-close evaluation and in-person meetings with players, the one unintended benefit of the lengthy layoff has compelled lottery teams to study lots of video on potential draft picks.

During the NBA hiatus, from March until the restart in July, one NBA executive told USA TODAY Sports that all he and his staff did was player evaluation for the draft.

The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about his team’s draft preparation.

He also said teams believed all the preparation would allow scouts and executives to make fewer mistakes.

“It’s unique times, and there’s positives and negatives with it,” Rosas said. “We were fortunate to have most of the domestic college season and most of the international season. … Since the pandemic began, we’ve been working around the clock, knowing we had potentially three picks in this draft and knowing how important the offseason was for us.

“… Not having in-market workouts, still working through the combine process and all of that, it makes it challenging.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt

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