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Timberwolves Front Court, Payne to Magic

Some random thoughts about the front court for the Wolves.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Wolves had the luxury of their starting big men, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng, play all 82 games. Over those games, they averaged nearly 70 of the available 96 minutes per, leaving only 26 or so for other players, who primarily turned out to be Nemanja Bjelica and Cole Aldrich, both of whom remain on the roster.

We went back and forth on the fit between Dieng and Towns. Towns’ extraordinary offensive skills meant that Dieng’s ability to hit open jumpers in the midrange was enough, and as the rest of the team matured offensively, we saw Dieng’s usage go down to a career low 14 percent. On the other side, Dieng probably helped cover up a bit for Towns’ defensive mistakes, but neither of them are particularly well suited for chasing guys around the perimeter, which is why the fit sometimes seemed awkward.

The Wolves spent a big chunk of change to add Taj Gibson to the team, a tough defender up front who of course Tom Thibodeau coached in Chicago. With Gibson added to the mix, I’m curious to see how the front court rotations work.

The first question is who starts? I’m going to guess that Gibson moves into the starting lineup in place of Dieng, largely on the basis of perceived fit and defensive need. At this point, I’m not sure how good Gibson will be at dealing with the more mobile power forwards around the league, but Thibs will likely start him out there, both to relieve Towns of that responsibility and to install some defensive leadership in the lineup.

On the other hand, Thibs never used Gibson as a starter throughout their time in Chicago, so perhaps he has something different in mind. Gibson has averaged 25 minutes per game in his career, and we should probably hope he’s around that number again.

Assuming he starts, the next question is how and when does Thibs deploy Dieng and Bjelica? We can guess that Dieng will play all the minutes that Towns does not, but that’s not likely to be a ton—Towns played 37 minutes per game last season, and while I would like to see that reduced, it probably won’t be.

Bjelica is another question. He averaged over 18 minutes per game last season, despite frankly having some truly poor stretches. Thibs seems committed to him as a part of the rotation, which is understandable given that he’s the only player on the roster who resembles a modern-style power forward. On the other hand, he’s often better in theory than in practice, at least so far. This is an important season for him: His third NBA season and a contract year. Ultimately this only works if Bjelica plays well, and he is certainly the biggest question mark.

I could see a rotation where Dieng subs in for Gibson after relatively short Gibson stints, and then Bjelica subs in for Towns. Towns eventually rotates back in for Dieng, and so on.

The one combination I think I would try to avoid is the Gibson-Dieng pairing. I’ve talked myself in to not worrying over much about spacing for this team, but that pair creates real issues offensively, though on second thought, it might be their best defensive combo.

I also doubt we’ll see much of a Gibson-Bjelica pairing; it’s hard to imagine Thibs running a group out there without either Towns or Dieng on the floor, unless one of them is not available.

Of course the addition of Gibson means even less of a role for Cole Aldrich, who hardly played last season. In a way this is unfortunate, because I actually think he could help, but he was the odd man out last year, and now is at best the third center on the roster.

I’m curious how you see the front court rotations playing out.


Adreian Payne has officially signed a two-way deal with the Orlando Magic. This means he’ll be spending some time in the G-League as well as (probably) with the parent club. It’s not surprising he couldn’t find a guaranteed NBA deal this season, but he wanted to stay in the league and turned down overseas offers to do so.

The Wolves interest in bringing back Shabazz Muhammad might be real. Jim Peterson got in on the twitter recruitment yesterday, which I suspect only happens if there is real interest on the part of the Wolves to bring him back. We’ll see what happens.

The Lynx host the Mercury tonight at Xcel. It’s been a rough stretch for the Lynx since Lindsay Whalen went down with her injury. They’ve completely dominated the Mercury recently, we’ll see if that continues.