The Minnesota Timberwolves made University of Georgia standout Anthony Edwards the first overall selection in the pandemic-delayed 2020 NBA draft on Wednesday.
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The Timberwolves, who finished 19-45 in the coronavirus-disrupted 2020 season, opted for Edwards, who averaged 19 points per game as a freshman, to bolster a roster that includes young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell.
"I feel like I'm going to fit perfect with those guys because Russell likes to play off the ball sometimes, and I can play on the ball," Edwards said in a virtual press conference from his home in Georgia.
"When he wants to play on the rock, I can play off the ball. And KAT is the best three-point shooting big man in the league. So I feel we can't go wrong with that, a lot of pick-and-pops, pick-and-rolls and such."
The Golden State Warriors took center James Wiseman with the second overall pick and the Charlotte Hornets — owned by NBA icon Michael Jordan — made guard LaMelo Ball the third selection.
Edwards, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound guard from Atlanta who spent his lone collegiate season at Georgia, joins a young Timberwolves core led by star center Karl-Anthony Towns and point guard D'Angelo Russell.
Edwards led all Division I freshmen with 19.1 points per game and was the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year.
And it comes just five weeks before the 2020-21 campaign tips off on December 22.
That means the NBA's newest top recruits face being thrown in at the deep end after an unprecedented last leg of their journey to the league.
"It makes for a lot of unknowns," said Golden State general manager Bob Myers of a year that saw the influential "March Madness" collegiate tournament cancelled and chances for NBA hopefuls to showcase their talent curtailed.
The Warriors, who finished last in the Western Conference after a season marred by injuries to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, got another injury scare hours before the draft with what they called a leg injury to Thompson in training, the severity of which was not immediately known.
In Wiseman they get a player who hasn't played organized basketball in more than a year. He played just three games for the University of Memphis to aim at the NBA draft.
"This draft process has been the longest for me, so I've just been working on my game," said the 7ft 1in (2.16m) center who is an imposing presence at the rim. "I've actually been playing pickup games with pros already, so I've been getting a lot of experience. But really just focusing on myself. I'm truly ready to play with these great guys."
Ball goes third
Ball, the youngest of three basketball-playing brothers who already have their own reality TV show, was touted as a potential top selection.
But erratic shooting ability may have weighed against the 6ft 7in 19-year-old from California whose path to the NBA included stints playing professionally in Lithuania and Australia.
He averaged 17 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists in 31.2 minutes over 12 games for the Illawarra Hawks in Australia's National Basketball League this past season.
The Chicago Bulls took Patrick Williams with the fourth pick, Isaac Okoro went fifth to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks took Onyeka Okongwu sixth overall.
French point guard Killian Hayes, who has been playing with Ratiopharm Ulm in Germany, went seventh overall to the Detroit Pistons — the highest overseas player taken this year.
Hayes, 19, averaged 11.6 points and 5.3 assists per game in 2019-20 in Germany's top league and is expected to combine well with last year's first-round pick, Sekou Doumbouya, who is also from France.
Deni Avdija, 19, became the highest-drafted player from Israel when the Washington Wizards took him ninth.
Avdija, who played for Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv at 16 and averaged 12.9 points per game in the 2019-20 EuroLeague season, was tabbed by the Wizards a year after they made Rui Hachimura the first player from Japan to be drafted in the first round.
For the first time two players born in Nigeria — Precious Achiuwa and Udoka Azubuike — featured in the first round. Achiuwa was taken 20th by the Miami Heat and Azubuike 27th by the New York Knicks, both coming through US collegiate programmes, as did Aussie Josh Green who was taken 18th by the Dallas Mavericks.