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Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets

Offseason Outlook: Star Hunting

How will the Wolves approach the upcoming offseason?

Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Gersson Rosas has constantly expressed a firm belief in the axiom that success in the NBA is driven by stars. The constant roster turnover has been the method to slowly build up capital that can eventually be turned into better assets, all in the hope of acquiring star-level talent.

It has also been clear that the method of acquiring a star will be through the draft or a trade. The Wolves have never been a free agent destination and setting aside the cap-room for a max contract is incredibly difficult. Additionally, this approach always leaves open the sudden failure when a player spurs the Wolves for a more attractive destination, such as the past free agency when he Wolves pursuit of D’Angelo Russell went awry.

That is what makes this offseason so exciting, as the Wolves are in a bit of a rare position, as they have a combination of assets that typically brings in a high-level player. The Wolves have a large-ish expiring contract in James Johnson, extensive draft capital with a potential top-three pick and a mid-teens pick, and young assets on rookie-scale deals in Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver.

How the Wolves view those assets and their potential utilization is best framed through a lens of how high-level teams are constructed. A while ago, 538 wrote about how the best players can be grouped into Alphas, Betas, and Gammas, with the best teams having some combination of these players. The Alphas are what typically drive championship-level teams, the LeBron James and Kawhi Leonards of the world, while Betas are typically perennial All-Stars like Kyle Lowry, while the Gammas are those who are on the All-Star bubble.

This lens is helpful to assess the Wolves’ primary goal this offseason. Karl-Anthony Towns is pretty firmly a Beta-level star, with the potential to reach the levels of the Alphas (say an MVP-contender) as his best self. D’Angelo Russel is probably somewhere on the Beta/Gamma line depending upon your opinion of his upside. We could probably squint and say that perhaps Malik Beasley could fit the role of another Gamma player, but that certainly remains to be seen.

But that is about it. The rest of the Wolves are filled with players who would be hard-pressed to be anything but role players, which is how most NBA rosters are constructed.

That brings us to this offseason. The Wolves, ideally, are looking for an Alpha-level star, but of course, so is the rest of the NBA. The draft does not appear to hold that level of talent, nor does the trade market. The only firm Beta-star potentially available via trade, Bradley Beal, would garner attention from much more than the Wolves.

So that means that the Wolves are probably looking in the range of that Beta/Gamma type-talent in the draft or via a trade. While this will be highly informed by the lottery, it is fair to bet that the Wolves will be looking at their position through this lens of the likelihood of the player that they draft or trade for reaching the level of the Beta/Gamma star.

That may mean someone like LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards, or that may mean a trade for someone like Aaron Gordon. But this moment is likely the chance to acquire that level of player.

This likely means that it would be helpful for us to not necessarily view the Wolves’ draft board as best-player-available, or even best-fit, but rather who can fit into that role of the third Beta/Gamma star. Obi Toppin may be a potentially ideal defensive fit next to Towns, but can he reach that All-Star/All-Star bubble potential? The same question applies to Devin Vassel or Aaron Nesmith.

Or, is it more likely for Aaron Gordon to reach that level? Or is it worth spending more of the Wolves assets to acquire a player like Jonathon Issac (assuming Orlando would listen) if the Wolves believe that Issac was more likely to reach that level than LaMelo Ball?

This may be the Wolves’ best opportunity to take a swing for this type of player, as next year the Wolves will potentially be without their top draft pick and may not have a player on an easily movable contract. If the Wolves believe they have Star 1 and Star 2 lined up, they next up is figuring out the final piece.