Happy Friday, team. That’s another week in the books, so with the weekend on the horizon, I wanted to look at the Wolves through an optimistic lens. We could all use a little bit of (realistic) optimism going into the weekend, right?
Throughout the NBA Playoffs, we’ve seen young players break out left and right, which got me to thinking about what a break-out would look like for the most important Wolves players. Specifically, what is the best-case scenario for Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarrett Culver, and Josh Okogie. You may disagree, but of guys currently on the roster, I believe those are clearly the five most important players to the franchises future.
It remains to be seen if all of those players will be on the roster whenever the 2021 season begins, in fact it’s highly unlikely they all are. For now, though, they are. Let’s get to thinking about best-case scenarios. Please, don’t yell at me when I get carried away. Let’s try to have some fun here.
Culver is the toughest player to figure out on the Wolves. His downfall (shooting) sticks out like a sore thumb, but the Texas Tech alum does a lot of the other things well. There are things to like about Culver.
The best version of Culver builds on his current strengths while making his big weakness tolerable. Just for fun, let’s imagine Culver becomes just a below-average shooter as opposed to a catastrophically bad one. A below-average shooter who is a solid weak-side initiator, strong slasher, and plus-defender is a really damn good player.
The easy pre-draft player comp for Culver was a poor man’s Andre Igoudala, and while it’s difficult to see him becoming THAT good, the tools are still there. Igoudala has never been a good shooter from distance or at the free-throw line. Igoudala is one of the highest IQ players of this generation, so even if Culver’s physical tools ever fully develop, it’s unlikely he actually becomes a player who impacts the game as much as prime-Iggy, but even a poor man’s version of that is going to be someone very valuable.
Player comp’s are annoying anyways, so I wouldn’t even think of Culver in that vein, necessarily. I think the player comparison is more useful to acknowledge what type of a role the peak version of Culver could fill. With that in mind, the best version of Culver is an effective weak-side creator both for himself and his teammates, and is a weapon both on-and-off the ball defensively.
I don’t even know where to begin with Okogie. I guess it’s probably unlikely he’s ever a net-positive on the offensive end of the floor, unless he continues to draw fouls at such a high rate while packing the offensive glass and improving the jump shot. I’m not sure it’s realistic to think that all three of those things happen, but even if he can be just a smidge below-average on that end, he has a chance to be a huge positive for the Wolves.
To be short and to the point, Okogie is going to make his money on the defensive end of the floor. He’s already an absolute menace on the ball. If he makes a few improvements off-ball, we’re looking at an All-Defense level player year-in and year-out. Okogie’s defensive potential is through the roof, and he could very easily find himself playing HUGE minutes in playoff games down the line because of it. I don’t think there’s really any easy player comp for Okogie, but I see his best version as an All-World defender who is a battering ram on the offensive end.
It’s hard to envision Okogie’s ceiling offensively because he was such a negative on that end this year, but becoming one of the best defenders in the world is not out of the discussion, and that’s something that this Wolves squad desperately needs.
I understand Denver didn’t want to pay Malik Beasley, but after watching them play this postseason, I can’t imagine there are too many players better suited to come flying off of Nikola Jokic handoffs than Beasley. Beasley is an elite-level shooter who has shown the ability to stop on a dime and fire away.
When I envision the best version of Beasley, it really comes down to just improving on the base he displayed in Minnesota last year. He is going to bring his value on the offensive end, and I think Minnesota should look to include him in handoffs as much as possible, similar to the way the Miami Heat send Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro off of those actions.
I think most Minnesota fans would hope that the best-case outcome for Beasley is somewhere between current-day Tyler Herro and CJ McCollum, at least in terms of role and production. For Beasley to get there, he needs to prove that his pull-up shooting in Minnesota was for real. Giving the Wolves another option off-the-dribble would make this offense absolutely lethal, maybe even lethal enough to cover for a defense that could use some work. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to hope Beasley can be a 20ppg scorer on a TS% approaching .600. That would be a great player to have on this team, even if he never quite figures it out defensively.
Oh boy, where do we even begin here. Russell is already an elite shooter and passer out of the pick-and-roll. His biggest offensive deficiency is that he struggles to get to the rim and isn’t a strong finisher there. Without a physical change, I’m not sure how realistic it is to see him change that.
Where he can improve though is by leaning into his elite shooting ability even more, and by becoming more manipulative as a passer. Barring that unlikely late physical transformation, I think his ceiling becomes higher if he improves as a mid-range shooter. It’s clear he’s still going to take them in Minnesota, which is fine. I firmly believe your lead ball-handler has to be able to make that shot.
Russell just needs to make more of them if he’s going to shoot a high-volume of them. For his career, Russell makes roughly 43% of his long twos. That’s respectable, but not elite. If Russell can bump that into the 47-48% range, now we’re talking about a real threat. In terms of real, tangible improvements that could propel Russell forward, I think that is the most realistic one.
The fact of the matter is that Russell is always going to be a volatile player unless he does get to the rim and free-throw line more often. Since those seem to be unlikely improvements, increasing his mid-range efficiency seems like a better way to safe-guard against the nights where he just isn’t himself from beyond the arc.
A more efficient Russell can drive Minnesota to an elite offense alongside Karl-Anthony Towns.
When it comes to the best version of Towns, there are two things I think of. The easy one for everyone to identify is becoming a better defender. Towns being a solid defender on the back-line changes the entire complexion of the defense. We’ve seen it for short spurts, so we know he CAN do it. The question becomes can he do it consistently, because that’s so, so much more difficult. A version of Towns that is consistent on defense is a legitimate top-10 player.
That’s the low-hanging fruit, so I’m glad we got that out of the way.
Where I really want to see Towns improve is his attitude. I have no doubt that he wants to win more than anything. I’d never, ever question the work ethic of someone as good as Towns, who has made monstrous strides on the offensive side of the ball since coming into the league.
Can he apply that same work ethic to the less glamorous parts of the game? We already talked about the defense, but what about as a leader? Can he uplift his teammates and make them better? Can he keep his cool when things aren’t going his way? That’s been an issue too often, and one that often leads to foul trouble, silly technicals, or both.
The best version of Towns is the most versatile offensive big-man the game has ever seen, while also being able to anchor a solid defense. That’s a MVP-level player, and that’s truly where Towns’ ceiling sits. For the sake of all of us, I hope he hits it, and I think he has the best chance of anyone on this list of hitting his ceiling.