After nearly two months of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise being dragged to the bottom of the sea by the Jimmy Butler trade request and the ensuing shenanigans, the Wolves have finally drawn a breath of fresh air.
With coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau and owner Glen Taylor finally caving, Butler is heading to Philadelphia. In return, Minnesota received Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Jerryd Bayless, along with a 2022 second-round draft pick. While Bayless is more of a salary cap filler, Covington and Saric provide real value. The pair have thrived in Philadelphia and project to be a seamless fit next to Minnesota’s franchise pillars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Both newcomers provide a huge boost in 3-point shooting. While Jimmy Butler was no slouch from behind the arc, and was a superstar in other offensive areas, his 34.1 percent career 3-point clip leaves something to be desired. Covington possesses a 35.9 percent career mark, and is hitting a stellar 39 percent of his 5.9 triples per game so far this season. Saric is sitting at 35.1 percent in his short career, despite getting off to a rough start (31.1% on 4.2 attempts per game) in this young season.
The Wolves struggled to adapt to the new age of 3-point jacking for a long time, but are starting to come to the party this season. They are making the 16th most 3-pointers in 2018-19, up from dead last in 2017-18, and are sure to keep rising with their newest additions. Both are capable of shooting off-the-dribble or spotting up and are elite off-ball movers that find themselves in open shooting pockets more often that not. With Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns expected to take most of the touches left behind by Butler, the floor spacing that Saric and Covington provide will be imperative in opening up driving lanes and reducing double-teams.
While Covington has traditionally been used as a spot-up shooter, Saric’s offensive game is a little more evolved. The Croatian is adept at getting to rim and finishing, he has converted a decent 62.5 percent of his shots from within three feet for his career, but his true value lies in his ability to make plays for others from the power forward position.
At 6-foot-10, Super Dario’s ability to grab rebounds, get up the floor, and deliver pinpoint passes is a unique and exciting skill. When he isn’t dishing in transition, the 24-year-old has the ability to situate himself atop the key and find teammates from there. The icing on the cake is that he is able to make touchdown, behind-the-back and pocket pass highlight plays on the regular:
Its unclear whether Thibs will use Saric’s passing chops to proper effect, especially since he failed to do so with Nemanja Bjelica. However, if he — or an eventual new coach — does use the new Wolf correctly, the fun that Jimmy Butler sapped out of the franchise will be making a quick return to the Twin Cities.
One thing Saric does have in common with Jimmy Buckets is his desperation to win basketball games. While speaking with The Ringer, Sixers point guard TJ McConnell echoed that sentiment.
“I love the guy,” says McConnell. “He really, like, really loves to win. I’ve been around plenty of guys who love to win, but Dario doesn’t really care about anything else, and that’s rare.” he said.
For a team that has stumbled out of the gates to a 5-9 start, bringing in a guy with an unquenchable thirst for winning is something the Timberwolves desperately need. Speaking of winning, defending with staunchness is the biggest reason Minnesota have been unable to consistently win games this season. That’s where Robert Covington can step in and thrive.
The 27-year-old has risen from the Rio Grand Valley G-League team, to a first team All-Defense member and a guy with a $62 million contract in his back pocket. That upsurge is largely based on his intense defense.
Last season, RoCo finished eighth overall in ESPN’s defensive real plus/minus grades (first among small forwards) and defensive rating. In case that wasn’t enough evidence, he also ended his fifth NBA campaign second in BBall Index’s defensive player impact plus/minus. When you watch the 6-foot-9 ball of defensive energy, it’s easy to see why the advanced defensive stats shine so brightly on him.
With quick feet and long, lanky arms, Covington is able to smother pretty much every position effectively. He jumps passing lanes like a pent-up cheetah, nabbing 1.6 steals per game over his 258 games in Philadelphia. When he isn’t ripping away steals, those long limbs help him swat away any shot he can get his hands on, and is a master of knocking balls out of opponents hands when they’re driving to the rim:
He is currently the only player in the league who is averaging more than 1.8 steals and 1.8 blocks per game, numbers that solidify himself as one of the most feared defenders the universe has to offer.
As they arrive in Minnesota, their new team is ranked last in defensive rating. When the trio of new players were introduced in Tuesday’s press conference, Lord Covington was quick to state how he can help this team get back on the right path defensively.
“It’s about effort. It’s about repetition,” Covington told the media “I can help these guys a lot ... I watched the game [against Brooklyn] yesterday and i already seen where some of the drop-offs was, so i definietely feel like my veteran presence can allow that to really help them.”
Jimmy Butler’s defensive prowess was refreshing viewing for Wolves fans who had been deprived of an elite defense presence since the days of Kevin Garnett. But Robert Covington might actually be a better defender. Plus he comes without the drama and general soreness.
The Timberwolves may have lost their best two-way player, but they have replaced him with a duo of talent that can efficiently effect both ends of the floor. After months of waiting in the wings for a resolution, Dario Saric and Robert Covington should give fans the chance to finally be able to sit back and watch their favorite team with a smile on their face.