Although there is reportedly growing optimism that the NBA will be able to finish it’s season (reported by The Athletic’s Sam Amick, here), whatever few games the Timberwolves may have to play will remain ultimately meaningless outside of draft position. To me, that just makes them meaningless since I personally do not care for any more draft position shenanigans for this franchise. It’s time to start winning.
Nonetheless, the point is that the season for Minnesota is effectively over, which makes this as good a time as any to look back and reflect on how each player performed relative to expectation. This is an increasingly interesting exercise given how few of the players on the Wolves roster have been with the organization for more than a few months.
It’s a mixed bag of course, but I think this will ultimately show reason for optimism approaching 2020-21. The front office can realistically say they want to make the playoffs, and we should hold them to those expectations, even in a loaded Western Conference.
I chose to exclude Karl-Anthony Towns from this experiment. It doesn’t feel right to try to dig into is on-court play right now, one way or the other. Karl and his family deserve privacy during this time, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family following the devastating loss they experienced last week.
Let’s get started.
Jordan McLaughlin - Stock way up
This is probably the easiest one on the entire roster. J-Mac was signed as an UDFA before the season started after a solid yet unspectacular career at USC, and frankly didn’t look like he belonged on an NBA court early in the season. It’s safe to say he started with about as low of expectations as anyone on the roster.
By season’s end, though, Rabbit had turned himself into a fan favorite and a legitimate backup point guard. He finished the year averaging 7.6 points and 4.2 assists in a shade under 20 minutes per night. This is obviously an inexact science, but that translates to per-36 numbers of 14 & 7.6, which are more than respectable when you include his .570 eFG%. Simply put, McLaughlin is a legitimate NBA player, and the Wolves burned through virtually zero resources to acquire him.
Naz Reid - Stock up, slightly
Reid was one of the more fascinating players to follow throughout the season. He showed flashes of a unique shooting and play-making skill set that led to Minnesota using him almost exclusively as the bench 5 after the trade deadline. That same skill set is admittedly tantalizing for a bench big. He earns major points for that, especially considering he too was signed as and UDFA.
Where Naz gets hurt, though, is pretty much everywhere else. He simply isn’t explosive enough to consistently put pressure on the rim or play passable defense in the NBA. He’s a fun player on a rebuilding squad, but I don’t think he will deserve minutes on a good team.
Kelan Martin - Stock neutral (confusing?)
I’m not sure what to do with Kelan Martin. Another UDFA, Martin came into the league with a reputation as a three-point marksman. Ironically enough, he proved to be a decent enough scorer and defender that he earned minutes in closing lineups at the expense of first-round pick Jarrett Culver, albeit while shooting woefully from three (26%). Now, he did make 30 of his 31 free-throw attempts this year, which is clearly a strong shooting indicator.
It feels likely that Martin eventually figures the shooting stroke out and could become a valuable scorer to have stashed towards the back of a rotation, but it’s hard to get too excited right away about a shooter who didn’t make any shots.
Jaylen Nowell - Stock down
There’s not a ton to say here, mostly because we didn’t see much of Nowell at all. In theory, the former second-round pick out of Washington will be able to score off the bench in the future. He didn’t play well enough to earn minutes this year though, while some of his counterparts did. That’s why the stock is down a bit.
The Deadline Acquisitions
Jacob Evans, Jarred Vanderbilt - Stock neutral
These guys really just didn’t play, so it’s impossible to say too much about them. Evans looked really bad in Golden State, but Vanderbilt is a more exciting prospect for the future, though. If you missed it in the past, read Jake’s great profile on Vanderbilt.
Omari Spellman - Stock down
Do we really know what’s going on here? There were reports that Spellman didn’t want to come to Minneapolis, and that his attitude led to him spending the remainder of the year in Iowa. I’m not going to be one to speculate on that, but not getting himself on the floor is enough to drive the stock down for me.
Juancho Hernangomez - Stock neutral
Juancho is unique. He’s a really solid shooter, which is obviously great for spacing the floor around KAT and now D’Angelo Russell. He also proved to be a capable defender at times against some of the leagues better wing players.
There just seemed to be something missing from him, though, and it’s going to be interesting to see what his market is like in free agency. I’d expect him back with the Wolves on a short-term deal prove it deal.
James Johnson - Stock way up
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Johnson was, simply put, awesome for Minnesota during his time here. After rarely getting off the bench in Miami, JJ posted averages of 12/5/4/1.4/1.4 on .566 eFG% in 24 minutes. He was truly a Swiss Army knife for a team who badly needed his veteran leadership, tenacity, and experience.
He’s one of the best players on the team talent wise, but he is owed a rather large $16 million for next season. Personally, I think it would be wise to keep him around for the full season as the adult-in-the-room, but his salary also is of a nice size should the Wolves try to swing a trade for, say, an Aaron Gordon.
Malik Beasley - Stock way up
I have been quick to sing the praises of Beasley, as much for his dynamite scoring ability as his driven mentality. He’s a microwave, capable of exploding offensively at a moment’s notice. He has made himself a part of the long-term plan in Minnesota, as the Wolves will almost surely match an offer he receives in RFA this summer. While it may not be entirely sustainable, he posted a line of 21/5/2 on .577 eFG% during his 14 games with Minnesota.
That’s a good thing, I think. Beasley is really, really gifted as a scorer and at least makes an effort defensively, which is more than you can say for some of his teammates. It remains to be seen if his best role will be in the starting lineup or off the bench as instant offense, but all I know is that Minnesota will appreciate his scoring however they can get it.
It was mentioned briefly before, but Minnesota also has to love his willingness to be a vocal leader for a team that was starved for one.
D’Angelo Russell - Stock up, slightly
I struggled with what to make of this one. Russell was mostly the player we expected him to be: a sweet-shooter, smooth scorer, flashy passer, and bad defender. The good with Russell is very, very good. He’s as gifted of a perimeter scorer as this organization has ever had. The question will be whether or not he can commit to giving enough effort defensively to make this thing work.
He’s said all the right things and, at least in my opinion, has shown to be a bit better of a shooter than even I expected. That bumps his stock up, albeit just slightly.
Jake Layman - Stock up, slightly
When Layman was on the court, he did a lot of really nice things for the Wolves. He shot the ball okay (.520 eFG%), and was generally a positive on the floor with his cutting and overall play. The problem, however, is that he was rarely on the court. If he can stay healthy, he should be a nice piece moving into next year.
Josh Okogie - Stock neutral
There were some high’s and low’s for Okogie, but I think the season was relatively a wash for him. Early on, he was nearly unplayable offensively. At times, he looked like the worst offensive player in the league, a player who can’t shoot in a system predicated on outside shooting.
After the trade deadline, though, things were different. Surrounded by better shooters, Okogie had more space to operate and was able to get to the rim more effectively, where he did an outstanding job of drawing fouls (.480 ftR). His on-ball defense was as good as ever, while he still was prone to a few off-ball miscues.
At the end of the day, he struggled mightily early in the season, but after management re-shuffled the deck, Okogie looked more like a player who belonged in an NBA rotation.
Jarrett Culver - Stock way down
This might be too harsh, but I think Culver was one of the most disappointing rookies in the entire league. He came in with two-way tertiary star buzz, and after his rookie season, we are left with more questions than answers. I suppose we may know more of what he can/cannot do, but the remaining question is by far and away the biggest one for his development, which is concerning.
Coming out of college, we chose to ignore Culver’s senior year shooting splits (30.2% from three, 70.7% from the line), and looked more favorably upon his freshman year where he shot 38.2% from three on more spot-up attempts. Of course, it quickly became clear that Culver’s best role in the NBA is generally going to be with the ball in his hands as a secondary playmaker. That becomes difficult if you can’t shoot (29.9% from three, 49.9% from the line).
He looks like he’ll be able to be a solid passer, slasher, and defender. The issue is that he wasn’t just a bad shooter, he was a god-awful one who kills your spacing. There is still hope for Culver, as many rookies shoot poorly from the field. He just has such a long way to go mechanically to become a competent shooter, and that ft% number is ghastly.
It’s hard to analyze this group as a whole, because it played such little time together. Heck, KAT and D-Lo played just a single game together. I think there is reason for optimism heading into next year.
Most of the stock reports were either neutral or up, which I think is true in terms of what our expectations were for said players. A lot of the guys were brand new and were only here for roughly 15 games, but many of them weren’t getting any minutes on their old team and were at least relatively productive here. All that is meant just to say that while the general stock of the players on the team may be up, that doesn’t make them juggernauts, it just makes them mostly a bit better than we thought they were heading into the season.
Where would you have gone differently?