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Process vs Flexibility: A Delicate Balance

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Minnesota is facing a philosophical question

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

First things first, please excuse my use of the word “process.” Given recent events, I didn’t feel great about using that term, but I couldn’t come up with anything better.

Anyways, a question that many of us had for this season had to do with how Minnesota would deal with teams with a lot of size. We knew they wanted to play smaller in order to play faster and, theoretically, have more shooting on the floor. The obvious issue is that it leaves you vulnerable against teams with a great deal of size, and it looks like we learned how Minnesota is going to approach that situation.

Ryan Saunders is completely committed to staying small. Minnesota didn’t go to a two-big set against the mammoth Phildelphia 76ers front court of Al Horford and [redacted]. If you’re not going to go big against THAT front line, you’re never going to.

The question then becomes, should Minnesota consider using two-big sets? Should they sacrifice a bit of their long-term process in order to potentially be more competitive in the short-term?

We could debate just how much more competitive Minnesota would have been had they paired one of Noah Vonleh, Jordan Bell, or Gorgui Dieng with Karl-Anthony Towns last night before the brawl. It’s hard to imagine that adding one of those bigs wouldn’t have at least helped on the glass, though, where Minnesota got drilled 32-13 in the first half and 56-34 for the game.

This is admittedly a noisy stat since a team as good as Philadelphia is defensively is going to force more missed shots, and therefore get more rebounds, but nevertheless, it really felt like the Wolves were getting bullied on the backboards.

So, back to the original point, should we want a more balanced approach towards process over flexibility and short-term success?

It’s a nuanced subject, but I think the one-word answer has to be “no.” Sure, the Wolves will take their lumps against a team as big as Philadelphia in the short-term, but that was to be expected before the season started. Yeah, getting bullied last night sucked, but Rosas has preached patience and while that’s difficult, I’m willing to offer some of that.

If this organizational shift is to truly work in the long run, everyone from the front office to the coaching staff to the players has to be all in. This is especially true given how dramatic the philosophical shift has been in such a short time period. The Wolves practically have done a complete 180 in a few months. Wavering from the philosophy you’ve been preaching all summer in game 4 of a regular season where your expectations aren’t really to compete wouldn’t send the message that everyone is all-in.

The counterargument, of course, would be that the Timberwolves don’t yet really have the personnel to run this system with an abundance of success. That’s certainly true, and we saw that last night. This team is going to sacrifice short-term success. That’s just the way it is. There will be a lot of nights similar to this one in which they stay small when it seems to make more sense to go big, as well as poor shooting nights (29% from three) on a lot of attempts from deep (35).

That’s okay, though, for one main reason. Gersson Rosas essentially has five years to get this right, lining his timeline up with that of Karl-Anthony Towns’ max contract. To actually get this right, the process, the system, it all has to already be in place when they have the opportunity to acquire the players who DO fit into their plans/system.

That could be this offseason, although that’s unlikely unless the Wolves get some long overdue lottery luck. The trade market looks pretty bleak, and I’m not certain moving Covington for D’Angelo Russell is the answer. It could be in 2021 when the free agent class looks stronger than this upcoming one.

The point is, we have no idea when Rosas will make his big move(s) to acquire the players that do fit his vision. It’s not worth stunting the integration of his vision to play a slightly closer game against the Sixers, or even to pick up a couple more wins in a season like this one.

Additionally, with all of the one-year deals the Wolves have on the books, the idea should be to see which of the guys on the roster now can fit into the long-term vision of the new Wolves regime.

For example, while it’s only been four games, it looks like Jake Layman is someone that could fit into the long-term plans for Minnesota’s second unit. You have 78 more opportunities to figure out which players from this current team are worth keeping around to help KAT grow this team into what he, Rosas, and Saunders want it to be.

In the long run, ideally, the Wolves have a roster that is ready to compete playing primarily the way that Saunders and Rosas want to. Once you get to that point, then lineup flexibility becomes more important. For a contender to really separate themselves, they must be able to adapt and win in multiple different situations and styles.

The Toronto Raptors are a great example of this. Two seasons ago, Nick Nurse integrated his new, modern offensive scheme. It didn’t yield immediate results different than what Toronto had been used to, but once the front office made a massive move for Kawhi Leonard, they were ready to go. Then, they were able to play big or small, fast or slow, and have a chance to beat anyone.

That is ultimately where we should hope this train is headed long-term. I’m not saying a championship is necessarily the expectation from this crew, but just getting to the point where they’re competitive and can adapt to different game styles would be a nice end game.

The reality, though, is we are a long way from reaching that point. Prioritizing the implementation and integration of the Wolves new style of play is much more important to their long-term success than being slightly more competitive in the short-term. Good on Ryan Saunders for acting exactly in this manner.