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Timberwolves Tuesday Mailbag

From the Anthony Bennett fiasco to free agency priorities, I’ve got you covered in the latest Timberwolves mailbag.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Timberwolves have not played in nearly six months (and may not play for up to six more), but that does not stop the Minnesota faithful from looking ahead to next season. In this week’s Timberwolves Tuesday Mailbag, I got plenty of great Twitter questions that were all over the place and will be fun to get into.

Before I dive in, I would be remiss to not mention our formerly (or presently, depending on where you stand) beloved Jimmy Butler for potentially gentlemanly sweeping Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks in five games and moving on to the conference finals.

Just like his performance on that fateful Wednesday afternoon in Minneapolis, from the legendary practice to his definitely not planned post-practice-tirade interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, the ever-abrasive Butler showed out in a dominant series.

Through the first four games, the former Marquette standout gave the Finals-favorite Bucks a good old fashioned thrashing, to the tune of 25 points on 51.8 / 40.0 / 82.6 shooting splits (including 11.6 FTA per game), 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.0 steals per game in nearly 37 minutes per night.

Whether you love him or hate him, you cannot argue that the Timberwolves do not f***ing need a guy like him on their roster.

Now, let us dive into some Wolves questions.

Question 1: Let’s Get Weird

There is no question that the Timberwolves have the potential to galaxy brain their way into a crazy situation on draft night with a wild trade, but I feel pretty confident that there is not really a galaxy brain Cavs selection the team could make at number one. If we assume Rosas and company keep the pick, I do not think there is a player they would realistically select that could be Anthony Bennett-level bad.

Whether the pick is Anthony Edwards (the presumptive favorite to be selected if the franchise picks at number one), future Knicks PG LaMelo Ball, or collegiate per-36 minutes legend James Wiseman, the selection will find success early on in the NBA. Each is a high-level talent who, combined with his significant sample size of success against legitimate competition, will answer more questions than he raises in his rookie season.

With that said, the galaxy brain Cavs nightmare comes into play if the team trades back to the 8-14 range of the first round, when high bust potential prospects such as Obi Toppin and Tyrese Haliburton come into play. Toppin could not defend a mannequin if it gave him a pump fake, while Haliburton’s frame will center him in the cross hairs of PnR matchup-hunting coaches and point guards. Despite his awkward form, the track record Haliburton has with connecting on deep treys at a consistent clip, combined with his vision and passing, raises his floor beyond Toppin’s.

Obi, the National Player of the Year winner in 2019-20 at Dayton, is an intriguing offensive talent whose ineptitude on the defensive end will standout more early on in the NBA than his efficient scoring and verticality on O. He struggles as a passer and I see that continuing when dealing with a whole different level of length in the NBA. Dayton plays in the A-10, where Toppin felt little resistance from opposing defenses. NBA defenses will be a wake-up call for him and I see a world in which he struggles to produce much if his low-volume 3-point success does not translate to the next level. Obi Toppin, final answer - lock it in.

Question 2: #StockRiserSZN

(My answer would have been Lu Dort and Lu Dort, respectively, in the same season, but since we are looking through the Wolves’ lens, I will give you something different).

Stock Riser: Josh Okogie

Although Josh struggled mightily from the 3-point line this season, he took a massive step forward on the offensive end. His handle improved, which enabled him to be more aggressive attacking the basket, and in turn, scoring at the rim. 36 percent of his made field goals were unassisted in 2019-20, up from 25.5 percent in his rookie season. Most importantly, his free throw percentage jumped from 72.8 percent in year one to 79.6 percent in year two, while his free throw rate jumped from 31.9 percent to 48.0 percent.

JO was also one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Wolves’ gangbuster deadline.

  • Pre-deadline: 8.6 PTS on 42.7 FG%, 26.6 3PT%, 79.6 FT%
  • Post-deadline: 9.9 PTS on 52.7 FG%, 32.4 3PT%, 85.1 FT%

I fully expect Okogie’s offensive output and efficiency to increase next season, as a result of the increased spacing when deployed alongside KAT, D-Lo, and Malik Beasley.

Just how big that increase may be will be completely dependent on how he shoots on uncontested catch and shoot 3’s. Josh shot just 27.6 percent on 76 unguarded catch and shoot looks from deep, which ranked in the 13th percentile league-wide. Okogie has spent time with Chris Matthews (a.k.a Lethal Shooter), one of the league’s most sought after shooting coaches this summer, and hopefully that work translates to live action when next season gets underway.

Stock Faller: Ryan Saunders

Unexpected, I know. Wolves Head Coach Ryan Saunders is under a ton of pressure heading into year two, without the legitimate excuses that were readily available throughout this season. Last year, the Wolves were 29th in both third quarter margin (-2.7 per game) and second half margin (-3.1). The team often quit on the youngest coach in the NBA in second halves of games, which is a huge red flag, and even when players were playing hard and simply being outplayed, Saunders struggled to make the game easier for his players on either end of the floor. The Timberwolves also ranked 26th in after timeout (ATO) points per possession offensively, per PBP Stats. Not often do NBA teams go on multiple double-digit losing streaks in a season, but Minnesota managed to do that this season, too.

On the bright side, the Saunders-led offense was third in the NBA after the trade deadline (119.1 points per game) and the team played with much more energy and effort on both ends. The addition of D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley will no doubt make life easier for Saunders on offense, but will make his work with Associate Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator David Vanterpool much more difficult on the perimeter. Whether or not he can take control of the huddle, make solid adjustments on both ends, and prove to the front office that he is the coach to lead the Wolves back to the playoffs for the second time in 16 years could ultimately determine whether or not he patrols the sidelines in 2021-22. He is the coach that incumbent players want, but he may not be the coach that they need moving forward.

Question 3: Will the Price Be Right?

It is fair to assume that Rosas has a walkaway price in regard to Malik’s free agency. The front office wants to maintain as much future flexibility as they can moving forward, so that whenever a target becomes available on the trade market, the Timberwolves can get in the action and hopefully upgrade their roster.

The highest I would be willing to pay for Beasley is anything south of $14 million per season. I highly doubt that Malik will receive an offer sheet near that from another team in restricted free agency, such as Detroit, Charlotte, New York, or Atlanta; as a result, the Wolves cannot afford to bet against themselves and overpay Beasley in a depressed market with their current cap sheet situation. Minnesota should not be afraid to dare Malik to play on his $3.9 million qualifying offer and try and re-test the market again next summer. I do not think it will come down to that, but Rosas’s past makes me believe anything is on the table.

As for a sign-and-trade, there are plenty of options as it relates to Malik Beasley. Keep in mind that the Wolves can take back up to 125 percent of what they send out. For this exercise, we will assume that Malik is signing a three-year, $39 million contract, for an average annual value of $13 million per season. If the trade had Minnesota sending out one player (Beasley), they could take back a contract of up to $16.25 million. The Wolves have nice filler salaries in Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans III at just under $2 million apiece.

Since the common targets are more talked about players such as Caris LeVert, Zach LaVine, and Aaron Gordon, I am going to go outside the box a bit here.

via tradenba.com

The Wolves sorely need bigs that can compete on both ends of the floor.

Kelly Olynyk has been a huge piece for the Heat this season, especially since Erik Spoelstra switched to a primarily one-big system for the playoffs with Bam Adebayo manning the middle. Olynyk has played the backup 5 minutes, while also spending time with Adebayo on the floor in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to help slow down Giannis and Brook Lopez. He can step out and shoot the 3 with ease (40.6 percent shooter on 3.5 attempts per game this season) and averages 8.4 rebounds per 36 minutes, which are solid numbers for a more natural power forward playing the center position.

The 29-year-old veteran would fit nicely alongside KAT, thanks to his ability to pick and pop, spot up in the corner, attack closeouts, and make slick big-to-big short roll passes. At 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, he is more than capable of playing the 5 by himself with the bench unit, too. The former Gonzaga standout would be a great option to help space the floor and open up driving lanes for bench wings Jake Layman and Jarrett Culver, while also serving as a multi-faceted PnR partner for Jordan McLaughlin, or whomever the Wolves backup PG is next season. He will be a free agent in 2021, but could likely be re-signed at a very reasonable rate, since most teams will have their eyes on the plethora of superstars set to hit the open market.

Meyers Leonard is a throw-in here, but given that he has been out of the rotation for the entire playoffs, I cannot imagine Miami is all that interested in bringing him back for another ride in 2020-21. As a career 39 percent 3-point shooter, he stretches the floor extremely well for a player his size (7-feet, 260 pounds). Leonard is another big that the Wolves could use both coming off the bench as a rebounder and rim protector, or as a starter next to Towns, where Meyers could play the 5 on defense and allow KAT to play more of a backside defensive role as a free safety playmaker, where his length and agility could perhaps be better utilized. It should be noted that Leonard has experience playing the 5 in David Vanterpool’s defense, as he spent the previous seven seasons as a backup center for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Miami could perhaps be looking for another dynamic wing on the outside to play alongside Tyler Herro with the second unit. With Jae Crowder heading into free agency this summer and Kendrick Nunn falling out of the rotation, the Heat will need more perimeter scoring, which is tougher to come by than that of the frontcourt depth Olynyk and Leonard provide. The Heat would have plenty of moldable bigs to choose from at 17, such as Maryland’s Jalen Smith, DePaul’s Paul Reed, Isaiah Stewart of Washington, Xavier Tillman of Michigan State, and Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie, to name a few. Miami would get younger on the wing and hold two picks at 17 and 20 to help shore up added depth up front, or use to acquire future assets.

Question 4: Priorities, Priorities.

The Wolves absolutely need to be focused on adding one defensive big that can fit alongside Karl up front and another one to anchor the second unit. Towns was at his best alongside defensive-minded 4s in Taj Gibson and Robert Covington and simply put, cannot be tasked with protecting the interior by himself at this point in his career. While we would all love to see Jerami Grant in a Wolves uniform next season, we should all be shifting our focus to less glamorous, but more financially realistic free agents such as Derrick Jones Jr., Derrick Favors, Mason Plumlee, Bismack Biyombo, or Nerlens Noel. Minnesota needs to have the option to play two bigs effectively if the team has intentions of competing in the playoffs. Matchups and lineup flexibility are everything in the playoffs and adding multiple capable defensive bigs to the rotation would go a long way in making this team more flexible moving forward.

I would not mind adding a perimeter defender, such as Torrey Craig, Mo Harkless, or Andre Roberson, but I have a feeling that need will be addressed through the trade market, since there are less readily available perimeter defenders in this year’s free agency class.

Question 5: Trade Back, You Say?

Resident Underdog Lakers fan Mike O’Hagan (@mikleohagan) wanted in on the fun...

While Devin Vassell is the popular answer here, my ideal trade back candidate is Killian Hayes of France. The 6-foot-5 lead guard has arguably the highest floor of any prospect in the draft, which should carry weight with this Wolves fanbase that has been no stranger to low-floor busts in the first round in recent memory.

Offensively, Hayes exhibits an NBA-ready feel for the game in the PnR, which has enabled him to make drastic improvements passing and shooting as the ball handler in those actions over the last calendar year. He can create his own shot off the dribble and has added a consistent step-back 3 to his arsenal, which has forced more defenders to go over ball screens. In turn, Killian has developed a better downhill playmaking feel for himself and others. Hayes shot 39.0 percent from 3 on 4.1 attempts in the EuroCup this year, which was a huge improvement from his 19.2 percent clip in the top French league just a year prior. His shot form is great, too. He could run the second unit effectively from day one and slide in nicely as the lead guard for four minute stretches alongside D’Angelo Russell, which is a big plus.

On the other end of the floor, Hayes offers intriguing upside that many guards do not in this year’s class. Killian is fantastic as an off-ball defender digging and helping in the PnR, and is quite adept at using his 6-foot-9 wingspan to close passing lanes as the point-of-attack defender. Hayes is already a better defender than D-Lo and is a would be a huge upgrade over Jordan McLaughlin as the POA defender against bench point guards. Depending on how his season progresses, I could see him closing games in a small-ball lineup alongside Russell, Beasley, Okogie, and Towns. Given their length and lateral agility, a Hayes and Okogie defensive duo could be fruitful moving forward for a team devoid of defensive competence on the perimeter.

Ultimately, the Wolves need another point guard and I truly believe Hayes will end up being the best player from the 2020 class when it is all said and done. Minnesota would present him with a unique opportunity to learn from fellow lefty lead guard D’Angelo Russell and longtime EuroLeague veteran and assistant coach Pablo Prigioni.

Question 6: Who Needs Originality?

Famous American poet Herman Melville once said “it is better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation.” While that very well may apply to some aspects of life, it sure as hell does not apply to the National Basketball Association. NBA organizations constantly examine each other’s success and failures in order to decide what to imitate and what to avoid in their future decisions. For the Wolves, the playoff team that provides the best model for what the Timberwolves should pursue given their current state is the Toronto Raptors.

The Raptors originally started with two stars in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, similarly to the Wolves setup with Towns and Russell. Toronto President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri was never satisfied with the team’s current roster, and was active in canvassing the league for trades and building relationships with other front offices. When the opportunity presented itself to trade for a superstar, Ujiri was not afraid to break up two best friend stars in order to acquire a player that ultimately raised the team’s playoff ceiling in Kawhi Leonard.

Additionally, at the February 2019 trade deadline, Ujiri went all-in and brought in veteran center Marc Gasol in exchange for two role players (Delon Wright and Jonas Valanciunas). In the midst of its playoff run, Toronto fired Coach of the Year Dwane Casey in favor of a coach the franchise thought could take them to the next level in Nick Nurse. The team also identified specific talent in free agency, such as Serge Ibaka, that would fit perfectly with how it wanted to play moving forward.

During their consistent playoff-caliber seasons with the Lowry and DeRozan pairing, Toronto also bet on longer-term projects with bankable skills they found in the draft or undrafted free agency in Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Chris Boucher, and Fred VanVleet, while developing them on their G-League affiliate, Raptors 905, which runs the same system as the NBA team does on both ends.

Minnesota has a front office that has already drawn upon some of the same ideology Toronto has used in its ascension to the model it has become for the rest of the league. Rosas will not be afraid to break up Towns and Russell if it means getting a Ben Simmons, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, or star-to-be-named-later and has already been active in making connections with other front offices, while identifying talent that fits with how the team wants to play moving forward in Malik Beasley.

The Timberwolves drafted Naz Reid and traded for Jarred Vanderbilt as long-term projects and will continue to develop them in the G-League moving forward in hopes they can play important roles in the future. This offseason and next will be key stepping stones in which the team can identify talent that fits the system and can raise the floor of this team, while also serving as trade assets that can be used to acquire better players in the future.

Although the Timberwolves will likely never achieve the same success the Raptors did with this ideology, that does not mean they should look elsewhere for inspiration. Even if the Raptors blow it up this summer, their process resulted in a legendary championship that its fans will cherish forever. Time will tell whether the Wolves can ever have that same fate, but with its current infrastructure, the team is much better equipped to find long-term playoff success than ever before and Wolves fans have plenty of reason to be excited moving forward.