The Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night started an N.B.A. draft unlike any other by selecting Georgia guard Anthony Edwards with the first overall pick.
James Wiseman, a center from the University of Memphis, went second to the Golden State Warriors, while LaMelo Ball, the popular guard from Chino Hills, Calif., was taken third by the Charlotte Hornets.
In a draft that was staged virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, with prospects watching from home and team executives making their selections from their practice facilities, N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver announced the picks from an ESPN television studio in Bristol, Conn.
Unlike in previous drafts, there was no clear-cut favorite at No. 1. Ultimately, after spending months weighing their options, the Timberwolves went with Edwards, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard. He was the Southeastern Conference’s freshman of the year after averaging 19.1 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. Edwards was not the best perimeter shooter available in the draft — he shot just 29.4 percent from the college 3-point line — but he operated at Georgia with N.B.A.-level athleticism, manufacturing production at the rim.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Edwards said in a televised interview after he was selected.
The Timberwolves already have two young stars around whom they plan to build — Karl-Anthony Towns, 25, and D’Angelo Russell, 24, have both been All-Stars — and Edwards could be a nice fit playing alongside Russell in the backcourt.
As a part of its comprehensive draft research, Minnesota’s front office conducted more than 1,000 telephone interviews in recent months and compiled reams of evaluations. At the end of the process, the Timberwolves came away from a wide pool of prospects convinced that Edwards was the best player for them.
The event was overshadowed in part by an injury that the Warriors’ Klay Thompson sustained to his lower right leg in a workout in Southern California a few hours before the draft. The severity of his injury was unknown, and the team said that Thompson would undergo additional testing. Thompson missed all of last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the 2019 N.B.A. finals.
While that news was still circulating, the Warriors selected Wiseman with the second pick. Regarded as the top big man in the draft, the 7-foot-1 Wiseman played in just three games as a freshman at Memphis before he ran into eligibility problems with the N.C.A.A. and eventually declared for the draft. He was a dominant force in those three games, averaging 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3 blocks while shooting 76.9 percent from the field.
Though Wiseman’s college career provided a small sample for N.B.A. scouts and executives to evaluate, there is little question that he has unusual skills for a player his size. Long, lean and explosive, he can run the floor and has a soft shooting touch.
Ball’s path to the N.B.A. was unconventional. Like his older brother Lonzo, who plays for the New Orleans Pelicans, LaMelo has been scrutinized from a young age — in part because of his advanced skills (he once scored 92 points in a game as a high school sophomore), but also because of the promotional work done on his behalf by his father, LaVar Ball, a bombastic presence in basketball circles.
Ball left high school early to play in Lithuania, then spent last season with the Illawarra Hawks of Australia’s National Basketball League.
In Australia, Ball began to reveal his potential, averaging 17 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists in 12 games. He also showed room for improvement: His attention wandered on defense, and he shot just 37.3 percent from the field — and 24 percent from 3-point range — before his season was cut short by a foot injury.
He is regarded as a gifted passer and has terrific length for a guard. But he is raw, with funky shooting mechanics.
Patrick Williams, a forward from Florida State, went fourth to the Chicago Bulls; Isaac Okoro, a swingman from Auburn, went fifth to the Cleveland Cavaliers; Onyeka Okongwu, a forward from the University of Southern California, went sixth to the Atlanta Hawks; and Killian Hayes, a guard from France, went seventh to the Detroit Pistons.
With the eighth pick, the Knicks selected Obi Toppin from Dayton. A 6-foot-9 forward, Toppin won virtually every national player of the year award after averaging 20 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 63.3 percent from the field as a sophomore. Toppin grew up in Brooklyn and attended Ossining High School in Westchester County.
“Me repping my city, it’s amazing,” Toppin said through tears in a televised interview. “A lot of people pray to be in this position, and I’m not going to take it for granted.”
Before the pandemic wrought havoc on the league calendar, the draft had been scheduled for June 25 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The draft was also preceded in recent days by a flurry of trade activity.
On Monday morning, the Knicks worked their way up the draft order by sending picks No. 27 and 38 to the Utah Jazz in exchange for the No. 23 pick and the rights to Ante Tomic, a 33-year-old center who has spent his entire pro career overseas.
Earlier in the week, the Milwaukee Bucks agreed to send a smorgasbord of players and draft picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for Jrue Holiday, one of the league’s top two-way guards.
The Bucks have been under immense pressure to upgrade their roster around Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will be eligible to sign a so-called supermax extension with the Bucks starting on Friday. Antetokounmpo, the 15th pick in the 2013 draft, has won back-to-back N.B.A. Most Valuable Player Awards and the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year Award.
The Los Angeles Lakers, fresh off their 17th N.B.A. championship, were also busy, agreeing to a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire the point guard Dennis Schroder, one of the top reserves in the league last season.