As the Timberwolves trek forward into the post-Love era, one thing is abundantly clear: the team is heavy on wings.
The following guys will compete for playing time at the 2 or 3 spot this upcoming season: Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Mo Williams, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, and Robbie Hummel. As a result, Flip Saunders will face the tough task of effectively managing the teams wing minutes.
Being President of Basketball Operations, in addition to head coach, means he'll face an internal battle over playing the most deserving players while also developing the organizations' young talent. This is the life of a POBO/head coach.
Injuries will inevitably happen and guys will get a chance to step up throughout the season, but let's take a look at how the minutes and roles might shake out this season and discuss what we can expect.
Starters: Martin and Wiggins
Kevin Martin is entering his 11th season in the NBA, and his second season with the Wolves. At age 31, on a team deep in wing players, it may be a prudent choice to decrease his minutes this upcoming season as a means to maintain health and productivity throughout the next three years of his contract. Martin is still owed $21,255,000.
Martin averaged 19.1 points as a starter last season (21st in the NBA, tied with Chris Paul) in 32 minutes per game, and finished with the following shooting splits: .430/.387/.891. He was also second in shot attempts per game on the Wolves (15.0) only behind Kevin Love.
There's no question the team will need him to score this season - especially with the absence of Love's 26.1 points per game - but I don't expect him to play 32 minutes a night, or at least I wouldn't advise it given his age and contract length.
The tough part for Saunders and the coaching staff will be managing his minutes. On a team that lacks perimeter shooting, and an alpha scorer, the temptation may be to stick with Martin at shooting guard more often than not. But not running Martin into the ground with too minutes should be a high priority.
The Wolves finished 26th in the league last year in 3PT% with Love (.376) and Martin (.387) acting as the two prominent floor spacers. The year prior, they were dead last and came close to some records for futility. Things could get ugly this season if Martin isn't able to duplicate last years 3-point shooting numbers. And even if he does, the Wolves will need the rest of the roster to pick up the slack.
Make no mistake, Martin's chief value to the team is his long-range shooting; the Wolves will rely heavily on him to be efficient from deep. Though he's a liability on defense, it should help being sandwiched between two players known for their defensive mindsets; Rubio and Wiggins.
As for the #1 overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, he'll more than likely begin the season as the starting small forward. Even if he adjusts extremely slowly in training camp and preseason, Saunders and Taylor will feel pressure to show the fan base what they got in return for their superstar power forward early on; continuing to sell hope for a bright future. Of course, that means starting and playing Wiggins for quality minutes at almost any cost.
In terms of minutes, #1 overall picks over the last five years have averaged 29.6 per game in their rookie season (Blake Griffin, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, and Anthony Bennett). I expect Wiggins to hover around that mark in his rookie season; anything between 25-30 minutes seems realistic. If he takes the league by storm, which is a possibility with any #1 pick, obviously Saunders and company will need to adjust and a wing in the next few brackets will likely suffer because of it.
As other writers here at Canis have discussed in-depth, Wiggins' real calling-card might be defense rather than offense to begin with. I too expect him to be most impactful on the defensive end in his rookie season, guarding the opposing teams top wing player, getting into passing lanes, being an above average weak side shot blocker, and running in transition with Rubio looking for alley-oops and easy scoring opportunities.
I expect - or perhaps I'm more hopeful - that Wiggins can display many of the wonderful traits that Andrei Kirilenko flashed during his lone season with the Wolves in '12-'13. In terms of production this season, I'd be more than satisfied with a duplication of AK47's season two years ago. Kirilenko averaged 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.0 block with shooting splits of .507/.292/.752 in 31.8 minutes per game.
If Wiggins can have similar production it will be a big plus for the team. While I don't expect him to shoot above 45 percent from the field, or dish passes nearly as pretty or as frequently, it would be nice to see him bring the same skill sets that Kirilenko brought to the table; mainly back-door baseline cuts for easy dunks and a do it all defensive mindset. Wiggins needs to be a swiss army knife player.
Next Three Up: Brewer, Budinger, and LaVine
Brewer started 81 games for the Wolves last season, but with Wiggins in the fold he'll likely be pushed to a sixth man role. That's good news for as shoddy as the Wolves bench was last year. At this point, it's clear what he brings to the table on defense and in transition. I expect him to carve out a nice little role off the bench, anywhere from 20-25 minutes, and act as a spark plug on a squad that may face challenges offensively; much like he did during his last season with the Denver Nuggets.
Brewer's coming off arguably the strongest season of his career and has entered his prime at age 28. I believe he and Gorgui Dieng will be the two most influential bench players on the team this season and have a chance to greatly improve a second unit that desperately needs a shot in the arm. Brewer should provide an energy level that simply wasn't seen last year out of the wing reserves.
With Love's departure, Brewer's value does take a bit of hit, but that's not to say his famous leak out will disappear from games. For instance, if Megatron lost Matthew Stafford, Dan Orlovsky can still get Megatron the ball. It won't happen as often, and it certainly won't be as beautiful to watch, but it will still happen. The same goes for Brewer and leak outs.
Rubio can deliver it too...
It's pretty tough to predict exactly how Budinger and LaVine will fit in the rotation at this point. I put them in this bracket for two reasons: (1) Saunders signed Budinger to an extension during his first offseason as President of Basketball Operations and (2) He seems to be infatuated with LaVine, enough to give him some consistent run during his rookie season.
To explain the first point further, I bet Saunders would like to get some positive play out of Budinger, seeing as he gave him that 3-year, $15 million deal last summer. The Wolves also desperately need another 3-point shooting threat to cope for the loss of Love, and Budinger is a career 35.7 percent shooter from deep. Injuries derailed his season last year, and it's no secret that he's an Adelman guy to begin with, but not having him healthy absolutely hurt the bench.
If Budinger can demonstrate that his surgically-repaired left knee is no longer a cause for concern, I don't see why he can't carve out a niche role off the bench. If the Wolves need more shooting oriented lineups, depending on the matchup, they could easily flip Budinger and Brewer that night. If Wiggins struggles with his 3-point shot too, than Saunders could opt to go with Chase.
Ultimately, his shooting is a huge asset to the team, but he'll need to show it to garner more playing time. His role will probably be highly dependent on the team, the matchup, and ultimately how the Wolves are shooting from long range. He'll be in the rotation, but his playing time is going to be sporadic; that's my best guess.
Finally, we come to the future NBA dunk champion of the world, Zach LaVine. Like Budinger, his playing time figures to be volatile. Based on Saunders public comments, and also my general gut feeling, it appears that LaVine will be the teams third point guard and second or third string shooting guard. As I've previously discussed, the Wolves could seriously struggle from 3-point land this upcoming season and the UCLA product could help in this regard.
Based on what I've seen, LaVine has a smooth jumper and possesses a quick release on his shot. One of his greatest traits, right after his freakish athleticism, is his catch and shoot ability. He's not as quick as Klay Thompson or Steph Curry, but he's quick. Here's a blurb from Zach Harper from a pre-draft column earlier this summer where he ranked the top 3-point shooters in the 2014 draft class:
Determining how good Zach LaVine's 3-point shooting in the NBA will be is kind of tough because his numbers are a bit confusing. He was effective coming off of screens at UCLA (eFG of 56.1 percent) but he wasn't effective much spotting up (47.1 percent). Normally, you'd assume a shooter would have a greater impact with his feet set than on the move. However, on unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts LaVine was great (65.9 eFG percentage and just 48.8 percent on guarded attempts). The problem with judging the one-and-done guys is we don't have a huge sample size to deal with and LaVine fits that problem perfectly. His shooting stroke looks good but will that translate to the NBA along with good shooting decisions? That's the question with this incredibly athletic combo guard.
My best guess is that Saunders plays LaVine enough to start molding an answer to Harper's last question above. If Mo Williams gets hurt, LaVine will most likely fill in as the backup point guard, and if Budinger disappoints, or shows signs of lingering knee issues, than he could also move to backup shooting guard. He's in a good position to find playing time, it's only a matter of how he gets to it.
Outside Looking In: Muhammad, Hummel (and perhaps GRIII)
At this point, I have to assume Shabazz Muhammad and Robbie Hummel are on the outside looking in, but I bet both players get the chance this season to step up in games. Injuries are a given, and the Wolves have two wings - Martin and Budinger - that have struggled to stay healthy throughout their careers. Muhammad and Hummel both had brief stretches of good play last season, but neither was consistent or effective enough to warrant steady minutes off the bat.
Both players bring specific skills to the team, namely Muhammad's tenacity on the offensive glass (3.0 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes) and Hummels 3-point shooting (36 percent), unfortunately they'll need to take huge steps in their games or wait for an injury to occur to find real steady minutes outside of garbage time run.
Muhammad appears eager to prove skeptics wrong with the hard work he's put forth this summer, look no farther than this picture, but he'll need to establish a consistent jumper to make a leap in the rotation. That, or hope Anthony Bennett plays so dreadfully that Saunders has no choice but to shove him in at power forward, watch him go to work on the low block, as well as hit the offensive glass like a young Craig Smith.
Hummel, on the other hand, certainly fits the mold of what the Wolves need out of their wings now that Love's 505 3-point attempts last season are sitting comfortably next to LeBron in Cleveland. Hummel will probably get a healthy portion of DNP-CDs along with Ronny Turiaf and Glenn Robinson III (if the Wolves eventually buy-out J.J. Barea and sign him), but he could stumble into minutes if the Wolves struggle from beyond the arc.
According to Canis' very own Key Dae, Mo Williams logged about 680 minutes at shooting guard next to Damian Lillard last season. While that's not much in the grand scheme of things (something like 15% including playoffs), it's enough to consider Williams a wildcard for minutes at shooting guard next to Rubio.
He adds value to the Wolves as a floor spacer and a veteran presence to guide the youth movement. Last season he shot 3.0 treys per game, hitting a respectable 36.9 percent of those looks, and having him on the team, playing at either guard position, should help the Wolves in the 3-point shooting department; an area of real concern.
Additionally, I would be remiss not to mention Thad Young and Anthony Bennett as potential small forwards. Both players are more suited to play power forward, and given the lack of depth they'll likely see all of their minutes at the four, but it's not out of the realm of possibility if the Wolves want to go big with Dieng at the four.
How do you see the wing rotation playing out this season?