Heading into the 2020-2021 season, Gersson Rosas’ vision for the Timberwolves future is starting to take shape. The Wolves are going to play small, fast, and shoot a bunch of threes. This team is going to be built to maximize the offensive talents of Karl-Anthony Towns and its ceiling will depend upon Towns’ ability to anchor a defense.
The roster appears to have three starting spots locked down in Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Malik Beasley. There is simply too much signaling from the Wolves that they will be matching offers, combined with the absolute chaos of this summer, to believe that Beasley will be anywhere else next year.
Those three also fit into the future vision of the Wolves, leaving open the small forward and power forward positions. How the Wolves address those spots will be the fascinating question of the summer.
To begin, it is helpful to examine what the trio of Beasley, Russell, and Towns are not. Clearly, they are not good defenders in their own right. The Wolves’ future depends on their ability to at least be solid team defenders. But Russell and Beasley share a similar archetype of a tall, thin guard. Both are listed at 6’4” and would be hard-pressed to hit the 198 pounds they are both listed at. Neither will be able to serve as a wing ball stopper, but their heights allow them to theoretically play in a switch-heavy defense scheme.
With those two, it is easy to imagine an optimal lineup with two large 3-and-D wings filling out the forward positions. The Wolves are aiming for this, as they have absolutely refused to play two big lineups throughout the year, regardless of competition.
Looking across the league, it is hard to fault them. By the end of the year, only three teams were starting two bigs, with most teams playing two small forwards on the wing. The Wolves are aggressively planning to play in the modern-style of the NBA and if they were able to fill out their roster as intended, they could have a huge starting five capable of playing fast and launching from deep.
Of course, the difficulty is in putting that team together. Ideally, the Wolves are looking for wings who can play high-level defense, shoot threes at a reasonable level, and potentially provide some playmaking. It’s unlikely the Wolves can find two such players, so the decisions lie what is better and what is cheaper.
The Wolves are not the only team looking for this mystical player, as that combination is the most valuable player archetype. Even below the star tier, there simply are not that many large wings who can fill that role. Beyond Aaron Gordon, Danilo Gallinari, and Bojan Bogdanovic, there are not many players who fit the bill. Below that tier, it becomes an open question of how much difference there is between someone like Marcus Morris and Juan Hernangomez. It doesn’t help that the team the Wolves are modeling themselves after, the Rockets, have stockpiled these player types.
But, as the Wolves just traded one of these players in Robert Covington, perhaps they believe that they can find some sort of facsimile of this player type.
That would leave the focus on the other wing. The Wolves’ most recent draft picks, Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver, are theoretically vying for this spot. However, there are fair concerns about their abilities to serve as starters, as both fulfill the role of a decent defensive stopper with highly limited shooting skills. Both could improve, particularly if Culver has a rapid development curve following his rookie year. But even then, a trio of Culver, Beasley, and Russell would be severely undersized, as Culver is listed at 195 pounds and does not appear to have a frame that would fill out much more.
That makes the small forward position an open question, albeit one that could be solved in the draft. The Wolves could potentially find their star wing with Anthony Edwards, Killian Hayes, or even Devin Vassel, as all have the requisite size to fill out the wing position.
Barring that, there is not really another option, as those players types are certainly not available. Similar to the power forward position, the Wolves then have to figure out the difference between staying with someone like Josh Okogie vs a Rondae Hollis-Jefferson type.
It is impossible to know how this will turn out, but it is fair to bet these are the types of questions the Wolves are trying to answer. The draft, or even the draft lottery first, will be a large determinant of how the Wolves begin to approach this offseason.
What is clear is that the optimal version of the Wolves lineup on the wing does not exist on this current Wolves roster. It is likely that they aim to significantly upgrade in one position, while working on the cheap on the other.