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Monday Musings: Rotations

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With the return of Shabazz Muhammed, the Wolves rotations are beginning to shape up

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

We have been doing a lot of hand-wringing about the Timberwolves depth and rotations for the better part of the off-season, particularly after the first spate of off-season signings that brought in Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson after the trade for Jimmy Butler. The problem being, the Wolves somehow have ended up with a particularly imbalanced roster that features a ton of Centers (or players best suited at center), which is certainly not a position of need on the Timberwolves, or the even the NBA in general.

To wit, the current Wolves roster features of (and discounting players who may or may not make the final roster)

6 Bigs:

  • Karl-Anthony Towns
  • Gorgui Dieng
  • Taj Gibson
  • Cole Aldrich
  • Justin Patton
  • Nemanja Bjelica

3 Guards:

  • Jeff Teague
  • Tyus Jones
  • Jamal Crawford

3 Wings:

  • Andrew Wiggins
  • Jimmy Butler
  • Shabazz Muhammad

So, it does not take a rocket scientist to see that the Wolves are heavy on bigs and light on guards and wings. The Wolves are certainly going to be playing with two big lineups for most of the year with this kind of roster.

But this is all old news. We have known the Wolves roster was going to look like this since the acquisition of Taj Gibson, as that essentially tied up all of the Wolves available free agency money.

What is new and important is the Wolves getting a person who we know can play at the wing in Shabazz. This is because the other factoid that we can be fairly confident about is that Tom Thibodeau is unlikely to change his tendencies in the upcoming year around minutes distribution, particularly with the “featured” players of Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler. Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Karl-Anthony Towns were all among the league leaders, if not the league leader, in minutes last year. That is probably going to be the same next year, albeit with Butler instead of LaVine.

This simply does not leave a lot of minutes for a backup wing on the roster. We can pencil in the top eight or so players by minutes next year probably quite easily.

  • Andrew Wiggins or Jimmy Butler
  • Karl-Anthony Towns
  • Gorgui Dieng
  • Jeff Teague
  • Taj Gibson

After those guys, it is probably some combination of Tyus Jones, Jamal Crawford, Nemanja Bjelica, and now Shabazz Muhammad that are soaking up the rest of the minutes. That is a ten-deep rotation that is likely about as far into the bench as Tom Thibodeau will go throughout the course of a normal game (or any game for that matter). This is why it was so important that the Wolves find someone to play at the wing who is, reasonably, an NBA level player. Whoever it was is going to get minutes every game and be the only Wing other than Butler and Wiggins that is truly playable on the roster.

If the Wolves are able to acquire Dante Cunningham, that would certainly provide some injury insurance, as right now the team will be extremely light on the wings in the case that someone ends up being injured for any length of time. The power forward position will already be in a bit of trouble depending upon how long it takes Nemanja Bjelica to return from injury.

Although we can see that the rotations starting to shake out, this is not necessarily all great news. The bench crew that the Wolves are likely to trot out are not exactly going to be the best defensive unit around. There will likely be times when we are treated to a level of play that reminds us the old days (from just a few years ago) of the bench crews of Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad, and Adriean Payne. Now that was a group that was not, let’s just say, the most effective at all the of important parts of professional basketball, such as defense or passing.

However, now that Shabazz has returned, we do know a bit more about how this team is going to look next year. While the Wolves will be light on the wing and guard slots, they will at least be able to field a full roster.