With a lot of time to sit and reflect on what was a weird 2019-20 season for the Timberwolves, I once again have allowed myself to put that (somewhat) in the rear view mirror and look ahead to the offseason. This is a crucial one for the Wolves, as they’ve made several moves that suggest the front office wants to win as soon as next season.
In an offseason like this one, it’s important to take the names away from prospects and free agents, and just think about what they actually DO on the floor. With the anchors of the franchise seemingly already in place with Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Malik Beasley (who is almost guaranteed to be signed to a long-term deal), it is paramount that the Wolves add players who will support those three, and accentuate their strengths while hiding their weaknesses.
It’s entirely possible some of these holes could be filled from guys currently on the roster. but it’s just impossible to really know considering how little all of these guys have played together.
We won’t get into any specifics on players or prospects, but if you’re into that kind of a thing, Jake just started his outstanding Draft Radar series which is loaded with detail.
Anyways, there are several player types that fit around the current roster. There are some guys who will likely be around a while like Jarrett Culver and Josh Okogie, but with how aggressive Gersson Rosas is as an executive it feels safer to just think about what is needed surrounding the three offensive terrors mentioned earlier.
In my opinion, this should be the biggest priority for Minnesota, so long as talent is relatively equal. If Minnesota wants to play D-Lo and Beas together (more on that later), that’s fine, but when you pair that duo with KAT, there are obvious defensive shortcomings. With a front office that has made it clear that it doesn’t want to play two big men together unless there is absolutely no other option, this is the next best thing to help the defense.
To be clear, this is the biggest priority for, like, 90% of the league. These players are always in high demand, because they’re often big and strong enough to at least contain opposing bigs if switched onto them, while also being agile enough to man the perimeter and switch onto smaller guards. There are very few players who can defend 1-5, but bigger wings are generally versatile, multi-positional defenders.
That’s going to be especially important considering that depending on the matchup, the Wolves would probably like to keep Karl-Anthony Towns away from other great bigs as much as possible, and they definitely want to keep D’Angelo Russell away from good scoring guards. It would be ideal if they could hide Malik Beasley, too, but that’s to a much lesser extent given his hustle and energy.
In an ideal world, you’d slot a rangier, quicker wing in at the three who could help with Russell’s assignment most nights. Then, you’d pair them with a stronger, more bulldog-type wing at the four in case they choose to keep KAT off of the opposing big.
Of course, having big wings also helps your team defense in general. Robert Covington is probably the poster child for this, but players that are able to disrupt passing lanes, rotate to adequately protect the rim, and recover out to shooters don’t grow on trees, but are incredibly valuable.
Since those players are so valuable, they clearly come at a price. Given the amount of money the Wolves will have invested in Russell, Towns, and Beasley after he signs his extension, they won’t realistically have the space to just acquire a guy or two that fit this mold using cap space. While the star power in the upcoming draft may be lacking, there seem to be a few players who could fit into those roles with either or both of the Wolves first-round picks. Ending up with two former Florida State freshman would not be the worst outcome.
Defensive Combo Guard
The Wolves, for better or for worse, have hitched their wagon to D’Angelo Russell. He’s often played at his best with another guard on the floor with him to take a little bit of the ball-handling duties from him. It isn’t 100% clear whether the Wolves intend to start Russell and Beasley together forever, but getting a combo guard who is strong defensively would give them a lot of options.
If the Wolves do want to start Russell and Beasley, the first rotation should have said combo guard come in for one or the other. Then, either Russell or Beasley could come back in for the other, and spend minutes alongside the strong defender.
Playing Russell and Beasley together has sky high offensive potential, but there are clearly problems on defense. Having a defensive-minded player who can handle the ball that can help stagger their minutes.
It also would give the Wolves options during crunch time. Particularly on nights where Russell just doesn’t have it on the offensive end, it would be nice to have a reliable replacement that can bring something to the table to close games.
The player I had in mind when thinking about this possibility was Marcus Smart, who is obviously an incredibly unique player as well as one who is completely unavailable to the Wolves. He’s the definition of a guy who stars in his role, who, for my money, is just a star. If they can find like 75-80% of a Marcus Smart, that’s a win. Smart is a guy who can reliably guard 1-4 and occasionally check 5’s too. If Minnesota could just end up with someone who can reliably check 1-2, and occasionally hold their own on the wing, that would be massive.
I don’t think they find that guy in free agency, or else he’d already be locked up long-term on another team. I’m not sure there’s a guy like that in this draft, either, but if they can find anyone who can just play solid defense on point guards and handle the ball, that’s a player that should be added to the roster.
It’s hard to imagine the front office considers this to be as big of a need as I do, but nonetheless, it should be important. KAT has been his best when he doesn’t have to bang in the post with an opposing big for long stretches. If the Wolves could even just break up small portions of his rotations with a few minutes next to a defensive big, that would probably do wonders for him and the defense.
As much as I love Naz Reid, I just don’t think it makes sense to have him as a real part of a rotation for a team that’s trying to make the playoffs next year. I understand why he was in the rotation this season, but going into next year that should change.
I know the Wolves love their five-out offense, but getting 15-20 quality defensive minutes from a big who can be a lob threat in the PnR with D’Angelo Russell wouldn’t be the end of the world.
There’s zero chance Minnesota uses their lottery pick on one of these, and probably rightfully so unless you love Onyeka Okongwu (like me). It feels similarly unlikely that there’ll be one worth selecting in middle of the first-round.
Luckily, bigs have sort of become the running backs of the NBA. They can generally be had on short, cheap deals in free agency. If the Wolves wanted to add someone, that’s where they’d likely do it.