The Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t a very good basketball team right now. They sit at the bottom of a mostly-bad Northwest division with a 14-48 record. They’re only winning 22.6 percent of their games. There is some light at the end of the tunnel thanks to a young core that includes franchise cornerstone Andrew Wiggins, dunker extraordinaire Zach LaVine and recent first-round draft picks Adreian Payne, Anthony Bennett, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad.
(Related: Why Didn’t the Timberwolves Trade Away Their Veteran Players at the Trade Deadline?)
While players like LaVine, Dieng and Muhammad (who Minnesota drafted) all have bright futures with the team, the T-Wolves have had their fair share of draft picks that fail to pan out. From Johnny Flynn to Derrick Williams, there have certainly been a few, but there may not be one that stings as much as the missed opportunity in 2010 when the team drafted Wesley Johnson fourth overall.
Johnson averaged 7.7 points per game during his stint in Minnesota (which lasted all of two years). He also chipped in with 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists per contest. Those are good numbers, but considering they came from the fourth overall pick, they’re not great. Even Johnson per 36 minutes stats aren’t near the level they should be for a high-lottery pick. Johnson’s per 36 minutes numbers in two seasons in Minnesota: 11.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2 assists.
Johnson and a future first-round pick were flipped to Phoenix in a three-team trade in 2010. The Timberwolves netted three future second-round draft choices. The former Syracuse standout has been with two teams since leaving Minnesota—Phoenix and his current employers, the Lakers—and is still hovering around 10 points per game (9.1 last year, 9.7 this season).
Hindsight is 20-20, but here’s a look at the players Minnesota could have drafted instead of Johnson.
DeMarcus Cousins, 5th Overall Pick. Team: Sacramento Kings.
DeMarcus Cousins has developed from a fouling machine to possibly the best all-around big man in the game.
His scoring average has steadily climbed from 14.1 in his rookie year to 23.4 this season. He has a knack for rebounding, as evidenced by his career 10.5 rebounds per game. The center shoots well from the charity stripe (80%) and blocks nearly two shots per game (1.7).
What could have been with Cousins and Kevin Love. . .
Greg Monroe, 7th Overall Pick. Team: Detroit Pistons.
Another big who would have played esthetically pleasing basketball with Love, Monroe is a highly-skilled big who is adept at both scoring and passing. He’s not too bad of a rebounder either with a 9.2 per game average that isn’t far behind Cousins.
Instead of a Love/Monroe frontline, Minnesota are stuck with watching Monroe team with Andre Drummond to form one of the most complete front courts in the league.
Since his rookie year, Monroe has averaged 15.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest while shooting 49.9% from the field and 70% from the line.
Gordon Hayward, 9th Overall Pick. Team: Utah Jazz.
Former Butler standout Gordon Hayward has developed into the face of the Utah Jazz.
After a rookie campaign in which he only averaged 5.4 points per contest, Hayward has improved every year since, culminating this season with 19.5 points per game to go along with 4.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists.
While Cousins and Monroe represent what could have been at different positions, Hayward plays the same position as Johnson. Hayward’s all-around game and output is likely what Minnesota expected out of Johnson. Hayward recently signed a long-term contract extension with Utah.
Paul George, 10th Overall Pick. Team: Indiana Pacers.
Paul George has developed into one of the best players in the league. The swingman eventually unseated Danny Granger as the face of the Pacers and hasn’t looked back.
He averaged 21.7 points per game last season and is currently recovering from injury. Worst case scenario, he’s back at full strength next season when the Pacers will likely be amongst the East’s elite.
Like so many others on this list, seeing George play with Love and Ricky Rubio would have been something.
Eric Bledsoe, 18th Overall Pick. Team: Los Angeles Clippers.
One of the most athletic players in the league, Bledsoe moved out of Chris Paul’s shadow in LA and into the starting lineup in Phoenix where he has flourished.
The point guard does it all for the Suns with 17.1 points, 6.0 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Ricky Rubio is a flashy, above-average point guard, but Bledsoe surely would have been an upgrade over the Spaniard.
(Related: Why the Suns Were One of the Losers of the NBA Trade Deadline)
Avery Bradley, 19th Overall Pick. Team: Boston Celtics.
You may have heard about the amount of press Tacoma has received since Avery Bradley was joined by fellow Tacoma-native Isaiah Thomas on the Boston Celtics. It’s fantastic that the two are playing on the same team after growing up in the same city, but since the trade, everyone suddenly knows where Tacoma is, and refer to it on its own without the usual “WA” tag that follows. People are treating it like its Seattle in terms of recognizability. Look, I’m all for press for Tacoma, but if you’re from outside of Washington state (at least before the trade) you have no idea where Tacoma is. Absolutely no clue. Zero.
Anywho, Bradley has steadily improved his game and is now one of the core pieces of a young Celtics squad expected to contend in the near future. The former McDonald’s All-American has poured in 14.4 points per game this season and is a solid defender.
Other Notable Players Who Minnesota Could Have Taken: Larry Sanders (15th), Grevis Vasquez (28th), Hassan Whiteside (33rd) and Lance Stephenson (40th).
All stats courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.