After impressive performances in the regular season and playoffs, Jerami Grant has fully endeared himself to Timberwolves Nation, who has become infatuated with the possibility of adding Grant to the roster this off-season. Not to douse you in cold water immediately, but the reality of Grant making his way east to Minnesota is slim to none.
The versatile forward has a player option for next season that would pay him a little over $9.3 million. If Grant decides to accept his option, he will shock the NBA community and be incredibly underpaid. Grant proved how perfectly he fit in Denver’s rotation this season and with Paul Millsap’s $30 million coming off the books, Grant remaining in Denver seems almost guaranteed.
This inevitability is a bummer as Grant’s defensive versatility, improved spot-up shooting, and overall work rate would be an incredible fit in Minnesota. However, this isn’t a woe-is-me soliloquy on how the Timberwolves will miss out on another free agent, but instead a look into more realistic and affordable options in the draft who fill a similar mold to Grant.
Finding a suitable fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns at the four-spot in the rotation has not been a straightforward endeavor. Gorgui Dieng, while being a surprisingly effective backup, was a clunky fit who clogged up the offense. Taj Gibson provided a sense of leadership and defensive backbone but also contributed to a primitive offense that felt just an era too late. Robert Covington was a versatile defender who helped space the floor, but his lack of size and explosiveness resulted in low rebounding numbers and a lack of interior defense.
There have been some glimmers of hope with Dario Saric and Juancho Hernangomez (only two games, 37 total minutes together), but the perfect fit seems to be a mix of what Covington and Gibson brought to the table; enter the Jerami Grant mold.
Now here’s the key problem, every team desires athletic, rangy wings who can shoot, defend anyone on the floor, and defer to the stars. Since Minnesota will never be a prime free-agent destination, the Timberwolves must hit on their draft picks. Luckily, this draft has a handful of players who fit this mold, mainly Precious Achiuwa and Paul Reed.
These prospects aren’t the best at their position and have a relatively wide variance in how their careers could end up, but their skillsets fit wonderfully. They should also be available around the Timberwolves’s 17th and 33rd picks.
Precious Achiuwa is an uber-athletic forward out of Memphis. At 6’9 225 pounds with a 7’2 wingspan, Achiuwa is an athletic marvel who never stops working. His work rate on both ends of the floor is infectious and often leads to rebounds in which he has no business getting. On top of that, Achiuwa has the athleticism, coordination, and ball-handling (not great but improving) to immediately initiate the transition offense, something Ryan Saunders has mentioned they want to improve on.
Like Grant, who scored 1.4 points per possession (PPP) (87th percentile) in transition, per NBA Stats, Achiuwa also saw success running the floor as he ranked in the 61st percentile with 1.063 PPP, per Synergy. Grant initiates the transition offense with ease, gives the ball up, and then fills his lane for the effortless score.
Achiuwa is fractionally more forceful with his finish, but the unselfish mindset, awareness, and finish are eerily similar.
Achiuwa is also an effective interior finisher as he saw some success finishing around the rim (64th percentile) and on offensive putbacks (59th percentile). While his athleticism and work rate on the offensive glass will be a weapon, his transition offense will translate the quickest.
Transition offense can be deadly, but it is still only a modicum of the overall offense. Non-shooters are now easily played off the floor with the increased reliance on outside shooting. Spot-up shooting is an area where Grant has vastly improved his game. Entering the NBA, Grant barely ever shot from outside, but he has developed into a 39% three-point shooter only the last two seasons.
This improvement is the hope for Achiuwa as well. This season Achiuwa only scored 0.695 PPP in spot-up situations (23rd percentile). However, a bright spot is that Achiuwa scored 1.5 PPP (93rd percentile) when he was unguarded shooting off the catch. He only had 18 attempts in this category, but it is something to build on. As the season progressed, Achiuwa also became more willing to take corner threes, which, if he becomes more consistent, could be a significant threat as an option out of the D’Angelo Russell/Towns pick-and-roll.
The most significant selling point with Achiuwa, though, is his defense. His size, athleticism, and work rate make Achiuwa both a promising and versatile defender. This season, per Synergy, Achiuwa allowed only 0.715 PPP overall (83rd percentile), 0.66 PPP to opponents spotting up (89th percentile), 0.714 PPP to post-ups (70th percentile), and 0.462 PPP in isolation (87th percentile). Defensive metrics can be misleading or misrepresent a player’s actual impact, but Achiuwa’s above defensive numbers show that he can effectively defend any position on the floor.
Achiuwa is still raw defensively and can be inconsistent with his fundamentals, but this suggests that he will be more moldable and accept new defensive instructions. His footwork can become sloppy, and he will occasionally miss rotations, but when everything is clicking for him, he can be a nightmare for opponents.
He can switch onto quicker wings or guards on the perimeter and use his length and athleticism to recover if he gets beat. He saw significant improvement in his perimeter footwork and became more comfortable inviting his opponent to drive where Achiuwa could then use his length to disrupt the shot.
Achiuwa’s length and athleticism also make him a promising weakside rim protector, something the Timberwolves have dearly lacked in their rotations. Achiuwa needs to improve the consistency of his rotations, but opponents rarely finish over him when he makes the correct read.
Precious Achiuwa will likely hear his name called in the mid to late first round. He is an athletic marvel with a nonstop motor. He needs to improve his outside shooting, but his eagerness to rebound, finish at the rim, run in transition, and protect the rim will only help the Timberwolves rotation.
While not quite as big of a name as Achiuwa, Paul Reed had a tremendous Junior season at DePaul, which could lead to him hearing his name called in the first round on draft night. Measuring in at 6’9 220 pounds with a 7’2 wingspan, Reed has nearly an identical frame as Achiuwa but with less explosiveness.
This season, Reed averaged 15.1 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, and 1.9 steals. Reed’s comparison to Grant is a tad more seamless as Reed isn’t the raw, freak athlete Achiuwa is. Despite his decent scoring numbers this season, Reed’s integration into the Timberwolves’ offense will require some imagination. Shooting only 30.8% from three and scoring only 0.864 PPP (33rd percentile) when shooting off the catch, Reed will be little to no threat as a shooter.
I know, Achiuwa had similar shooting numbers, but there are legitimate mechanical issues with Reed’s form where Achiuwa is still developing his. The problem with Reed’s outside jumper, which led to him scoring only 0.913 PPP (40th percentile), is the hitch in his release as he reaches the apex of his shot.
If Reed figures out how to smooth out his release, he may eventually be a decent spot-up option, but Reed will have to operate out of the dunker’s spot and in the midrange until then. This season Reed scored 1.289 PPP (79th percentile) around the rim and 0.92 PPP (74th percentile) on jump shots within 17 feet.
The dunker’s spot is an area where Grant thrives in. The two-man game of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray rightfully demands a defense’s full attention, so instead of staying stagnant on the perimeter, Grant has become accustomed to sneaking across the baseline for an easy two points.
This is an area of the floor where Reed is already more than comfortable. With the improved passing of Towns and the scoring threat of Russell, it is hard not to imagine Reed punishing defenses along the baseline.
Even though the midrange is no longer in vogue, it is still a valuable shot for those who are adept at making it. While Grant’s scoring repertoire is now mostly divided between the three and at the rim, he can still thrive in the midrange when needed.
Similarly, this is where Reed’s jumper thrives. He has a high level of comfort with flashing to the midrange and promptly knocking down a jumper. His shooting form tends to be smoother in this range and has less of a hitch at the apex.
Unlike Achiuwa, who is still raw and inconsistent with his defensive discipline, Reed is a much more experienced defender. His length and timing make him not only a strong rim protector but also a shot-blocking threat on the perimeter.
Reed is also more comfortable defending the pick-and-roll. He reacts timely when the screen gets flipped, switches when appropriate, and has the length to deter drives.
Draft vs. Dream
Even though Jerami Grant would be a splendid fit in the Timberwolves’ rotation, he is nothing but a fantasy at this point. Instead, the team must look to the draft to fill this hole if they so desire. Precious Achiuwa and Paul Reed are two excellent options to fill a rangy, do-it-all forward construct.
Achiuwa’s freak athleticism, unparalleled motor, and upside will be hard to pass on at pick 17, let alone 33. He needs to develop his outside shooting further and tighten up his ball-handling, but his rebounding, interior finishing, and defensive versatility will help him build a quality NBA career.
Reed is a more experienced forward with a more well-rounded off-ball scoring arsenal. He is comfortable finding the open spaces among the defense around the rim and can finish with a thunderous dunk or smooth midrange jumper. If he can eliminate the hitch in his shooting release, he could develop into a legitimate outside threat. Defensively, Reed has the versatility to compete at a high level. He needs to stop getting visibly frustrated and taking himself out of games when things don’t go his way, and if he can, he will only improve the team’s defense.
Filling the four-spot in the starting line with a versatile forward is a must for Minnesota this offseason. While Jerami Grant is the dream, the draft is the more reasonable option. With either the 17th or 33rd pick, keep an eye on Precious Achiuwa and Paul Reed.