After an 7-24 start, this Minnesota Timberwolves season has left us with far more questions than answers, especially after Ryan Saunders was fired after last night’s loss to the Knicks.
As we all know, Wolves faithful is a passionate contingent that questions just about everything the franchise does. With a rollercoaster stretch sure to come, it felt right to check the pulse of the fanbase and answer some of your best questions.
While I had finished this prior to the Knicks game last night (scheduled for today), I’ve made some amendments to answers to better fit the Wolves hiring Chris Finch as head coach.
Before I start, it is important to keep in mind Finch’s previous stops in the NBA, as well as some key players he’s coached (Nikola Jokic during his ascension to a star, and Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins in New Orleans).
- 2011-2016: assistant coach for the Houston Rockets
- 2016-2017: associate head coach for the Denver Nuggets
- 2017-2019: assistant coach for the New Orleans Pelicans
- 2019-2020: associate head coach for the New Orleans Pelicans
- 2020-yesterday: assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors
Let’s dive right into it!
Question #1: Supersized Role for McDaniels?
How long until MAC-D takes all of JO's minutes? Kat-MacD-Ant-Beas-Jmac/Dlo/old rickey would be nice.— Dr. B-funk (@StPaulHawk) February 14, 2021
Over the last 10 games, Jaden McDaniels is fifth on the Timberwolves in minutes at 23.6 per game. Josh Okogie is 10th at just over 16 minutes per night. McDaniels is already taking most of Okogie’s minutes largely because he’s been a far more impactful team defender to this point than JO. McDaniels has shown stretches of utter dominance on the defensive end of the floor this season, most notably against the Raptors on Friday in the third quarter.
Despite being very skinny for 6-foot-9, he has held his own pretty well against some of the bigger, more physical 4s he’s drawn this year.
This kid is 20 years old. Are you kidding me?
More importantly, he’s been the excellent backside team defender this team has needed for so long at the rim. No one warned The King that this is Jaden’s world and we’re just living in it.
McDaniels leads the Wolves in net rating at +10.7, which ranks in the 88th percentile league wide. Defensively, the Timberwolves allow 9.1 less points per 100 possessions with McDaniels on the floor compared to when he’s off the floor. That ranks in the 93rd percentile in the NBA, which is insane for a rookie who was initially slated to play in Iowa this season.
Given his athleticism, strong hands, and good instincts on when to cut, McDaniels will be even more effective on offense under Chris Finch. He’ll still be the same catch-and-shoot guy we’ve seen so far, but I expect him to carry a more diverse usage moving forward. A staple of Finch’s offenses are empowering playmaking bigs (namely Jokic in Denver and Cousins in New Orleans) through inverting the offense as a means of getting bigs out of the paint to keep the floor spaced.
In an offense that does this, McDaniels will be used as a screener for Towns in playmaking positions, but more importantly be used as a cutter. At 6-foot-9, his size, fluidity, and coordination will be maximized. Keeping in mind Towns’ ability as a passer, step one for McDaniels cutting will be collapsing the defense so Towns can find him to score. Rubio doesn’t finish clearing before McDaniels makes his cut in this play, but this is the idea. A raised big will open the floor for cuts like this to happen consistently, ensuring defenses will be on their heels even more so than they have been with Karl-Anthony Towns on the floor this season.
Step two of McDaniels’s usage as a cutter will be to collapse the back half of defenses so Malik Beasley and (later) D’Angelo Russell can profit on the weak side wing and corner. A simple example is outlined here by my good friend Jake Paynting, who has been dropping some beautiful breakdowns like this on Twitter.
A simple cut here from Jaden McDaniels, but it completely breaks Indiana's zone and allows Ricky Rubio and Malik Beasley to do their thing: pic.twitter.com/3caAE8cpA3— Jake Paynting (@jakepaynting) February 20, 2021
When JO is on the floor, Minnesota allows 0.5 less points per 100 possessions. Okogie is still a net positive (+0.5), which is pretty remarkable considering how poor he’s played on offense at times this season.
I don’t think McDaniels will ever take all of Okogie’s minutes, because Okogie is an excellent 1-on-1 defender and a leader on this team, but also, because much of the Wolves’ 4 rotation will depend on the size of the opponent on any given night. Anyone who watches this team knows it desperately needs impact defenders, and if the matchups call for it, Okogie’s individual defense can be very valuable. We’ve seen him play excellent defense this season on Blake Griffin, Donovan Mitchell, and Luka Doncic, to name a few.
With KAT back, Okogie has been a better player offensively (although he’s still been poor overall). If (a big if) he can play within himself offensively, he’ll stay in the rotation. With Finch at the helm, expect to see Okogie used similarly to the way McDaniels is, and improve on that end as a result. No, he won’t become a revelation on that end, but there are simple philosophies of Finch’s offenses that will benefit Okogie moving forward.
Moving forward, there will be nights when McDaniels plays north of 30 minutes per game (essentially swapping roles with Okogie from the beginning of the season), while Okogie could see nights where he plays 20 minutes, 10 minutes, or no minutes depending on matchups, and how well other role players - such as Jarred Vanderbilt, Jake Layman, or Jarrett Culver - play in the situational minutes they receive.
Jaden McDaniels fans - have no fear, because he’s become the go-to option at the 4 and is going to be the closer at the 4 for the rest of the season.
Question #2: Run
This With Town(s)
I've seen tons of tweets saying that the Wolves should trade KAT for an AD package, and that's just ridiculous to me. That being said, how worrying is it that the Wolves roster construction makes so much more sense without DLo?— halliburton hivemind (@3OTLo) February 17, 2021
Can ANT and DLO work longterm with Beasley and KAT locked up longterm already?— Brandon Gonzalez (@CoachBGonzo) February 17, 2021
Will ANT become a mix between Mitchell and Wade?
These questions work together, so I’ll give one grouped answer for both.
No matter what the miserable, pro-KAT trade folks on Twitter may say, the Timberwolves are not trading Karl-Anthony Towns. If you’d like to be re-affirmed that Towns wants to remain in Minnesota, here you go:
Karl-Anthony Towns made it clear tonight. He wants to stay in Minnesota.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) February 22, 2021
"If you want to build a legacy, we gotta win. I want to build my legacy here. I want to win with the Wolves and I'm gonna do everything I possibly can to step-by-step, brick-by-brick build something."
First, simply put, Karl-Anthony Towns was in agreement with Rosas that the Wolves couldn’t get where they wanted to go with Saunders as head coach. These comments were made shortly before it was announced Saunders was fired, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Towns is ready to be unleashed like never before.
Second, Minnesota would have to get incredibly lucky to turn any pick they get into someone that becomes even 75 percent of what Karl-Anthony Towns currently is.
Third, no team that has traded a superstar in the last five years has won the trade. Neither Indiana, nor OKC, nor New Orleans, nor Minnesota, nor Philadelphia, nor Houston, nor Golden State, etc. has won any trade in which they’ve sent out their superstar.
“But what about OKC fleecing the Clippers or Houston getting all they did for Harden?” Stop it.
Both of those teams would be lucky if they got back to where they were before they made those trades. Sam Presti has a lengthy history of failing to put good teams around superstars and Rafael Stone has no one on that Rockets roster that can put the team on his back in the playoffs. Both are a long, long way from where they were before they traded Paul George/Westbrook/CP3 and James Harden, respectively.
Last, having a unicorn big that can dominate in the post (either scoring or passing) and on the perimeter is the biggest luxury in the NBA. It opens up the entire floor, ensures top-notch spacing, and makes the game easier for everyone else that’s on the floor. Giving one up for pennies on the dollar is an incredibly foolish idea, especially considering how lucky Minnesota would have to be to get a player anywhere near KAT’s level.
Now that Finch is in place, if you had any doubts about Saunders not involving KAT enough on the offensive end, prepare to see them fade before your eyes. There’s a reason Rosas wanted Finch to run this team from the jump before being overruled by Glen Taylor. Finch is a modern offensive thinker who inverts the game to get unicorn bigs in space, pull big defenders out of the paint in order to open up cutting and driving lanes, and put maximum pressure on the defense.
As for being worried about the roster construction without D’Angelo Russell, I am not worried one bit, because the roster makes far more sense with D-Lo than without him. Russell is one of the most efficient off-ball guards in the NBA when coaches make an effort to maximize his off-ball skills. Finch will do just that.
Even this year, playing with sparse talent around him, he’s been an excellent off-ball player.
Nobody in the NBA is better at drawing up plays for off-ball players than Steve Kerr is, because he was a shooter himself and he’s had the two best shooters in the history of the league to work with all these years. It’s no surprise that when Russell was in Golden State, he was at his best.
Even simple pin-down screens for Russell can get him going. He does such an excellent job of getting shot-ready off the catch with his feet and getting his shoulders square to the basket. Because of this, all he has to do is catch and hoist, which makes it harder to get good contests on his shots, and makes him a dangerous off-ball shooting threat.
Under Finch, there is no doubt that Russell will be more effectively maximized off the ball.
As I mentioned earlier, guards will screen a lot in this offense. Sometimes, guards will be used as a screener and shooter in the same set, which is becoming far more popular in the NBA with the rise of bigs that can shoot 3s. This next play doesn’t work quite as well as it is designed, but it still illustrates why Finch’s offense is creative and effective.
Fred VanVleet sets a back screen for Chris Boucher, who then cuts to the rim. If FVV sets a better screen, Doug McDermott wouldn’t be able to recover to Boucher and would force a switch. This would bring one of Justin Holiday or Malcolm Brogdon with him, while simultaneously walling off the other one, creating a wide open 3 in the corner for Powell. However, Indiana switches everything beautifully, bringing us to the final part of the set: FVV shooting an open 3 off a handoff.
Again, D’Angelo Russell will thrive playing in this offense.
When he isn’t being run off screens, and Edwards or Beasley or driving the lane, Russell will have the ability to float off the ball. This is great for Minnesota, because D-Lo has an advanced understanding of spacing. When Steph Curry drives, Russell is set up in the corner. Knowing his man has to leave him to tag the roller (Paschall), D-Lo lifts to the wing to create an easier window for Curry to pass through and make it a more difficult contest for Lonzo Ball. The pass is off-target, but Russell does a picture perfect job of moving his entire body to catch it in rhythm while getting square to the basket. Plus, he’s 6-foot-5 and has a high release, which makes it more difficult for smaller defenders to bother his shot.
With Anthony Edwards — a crazy dynamic driver that already collapses defenses — rightly assuming more on-ball responsibility (thanks to the endorsement from Karl-Anthony Towns), Finch will be able to get more creative using D-Lo off the ball. There is no doubt in my mind KAT and Russell have had conversations about what the offense will look like if Edwards plays more with the ball in his hands. Otherwise, Towns wouldn’t have gone to Saunders and advocated for it.
Sitting here at 7-24, with KAT’s renewed and stated mission of turning this franchise around secured, putting the ball in Ant’s hands and letting him improve his playmaking, vision, and decision-making in option sets like this will serve this team best in both the interim and the long-term. VanVleet gets a screen from OG Anunoby — who can pop for 3 — to get downhill attacking the rim. While he does so, Aron Baynes is sealing off Khris Middleton in the corner to get a wider than wide open 3 for Norman Powell.
In this play, imagine KAT as the screener at the top of the key, McDaniels sealing off the backside, and Ant in VanVleet’s role. Expect Beasley and Russell to see plenty of looks from 3 off the ball in simple yet multi-faceted sets. If defenses step out to KAT at the 3-point line, they won’t be able to pack the paint to slow down a freight train in Edwards. If they pack the paint, Towns will be open at the top of the key or the corner 3 will be wide open. Everybody eats in offensive sets like this.
Something else to keep in mind about Russell in Finch’s offense is his use as a screener. VanVleet and Lowry are used as screeners quite a bit for Siakam, Powell, and Anunoby. Lowry is more compact than Russell, but at 6-foot-5, D-Lo has a big body that will be tough for defenders to get around if he sets solid screens.
This is a great example from the Raptors’ win over Minnesota on Friday. FVV (Russell) takes the ball out of bounds, inbounds it to Siakam (Towns), and then sets a screen to free up Powell (Beasley) for a wide open 3.
If the curl action is cut off, Towns has a one-on-one in the mid-post, where he wins probably more than 70 percent of the time. Plays like this simply put defenses in jail.
For those concerned about D-Lo standing around without the ball, have some faith in Finch. He will do far more to maximize each player than what we’ve seen this season, with Russell chief among them next to Towns.
While Russell has no doubt struggled early on in his Wolves tenure, it’s impractical to say that it’s because he isn’t a good basketball player. On the contrary, he’s an incredible offensive player who has played with very little offensive talent in his career. If you were in D-Lo’s shoes at the start of the season, would you have trusted Edwards, Culver, Okogie, Layman, Reid, or Davis?
Outside of Russell, Jordan McLaughlin (who barely played when Towns was out), Edwards, and Jaylen Nowell were the only players capable of creating their own shot off the dribble or collapsing defenses. With this huge, glaring problem in mind, it is easier to understand why Russell wasn’t as impactful as everyone hoped he could. Russell dominating the ball isn’t what’s best for him or Minnesota; in order to maximize him, he needs to be used not only in tandem with Towns in the screen game, but also as an off-ball threat.
Now that Edwards is going to have the ball in his hands more until Russell returns (hopefully) before the end of the season, we will get to see what this team looks like when it surrounds Edwards with two elite off-ball players in Malik Beasley and Russell, a dominant and versatile big, and a very good spot-up shooter in McDaniels. Pushing the Wolves’ gloomy history aside, that is a wildly enticing core that fits together seamlessly.
Edwards will have plenty of opportunities to play make on the ball with open driving lanes, in isolation or screen game, with shooters all around him. D-Lo can run the show and showcase his high-level vision and passing to hit growing cutters in Edwards, Beasley, and McDaniels, and form one of the best two-man game pairings in the league with KAT. Beasley can focus on becoming one of the league’s best off-ball shooting and cutting threats, and McDaniels can slowly expand his offensive bag while surrounded by 4 scoring threats to fall back on.
At least on the offensive end, it’s hard to find a group that complements each other as well as the Russell / Beasley / Edwards / McDaniels / Towns lineup does. If Towns’ defensive strides are real and McDaniels continues on his torrid pace defensively, the Wolves just need Russell to lock in defensively (which he has shown to be capable of doing this season) and Edwards to continue to grow on that end in order to have a very positive core lineup. There is plenty of reason to be excited about what that core is capable of moving forward, and Gersson Rosas isn’t going to break it up for a long, long time.
Question #3: The Next Step for Naz Reid
It'd be interesting to me to hear how Naz can grow more in rebounding--he's made so many strides but seems to oddly be undersized in a sufficient body size. What's he doing wrong in the rebounding sector? How can he improve?— twolves_groupie (@twolves_groupie) February 17, 2021
I love this question. A huge reason the Timberwolves have struggled massively at times on defense is because they have failed to clean the glass and eliminate second chance opportunities.
Defensive rebound percentage is defined as the percentage of opponent missed field goal attempts a team rebounds. Here’s how the Timberwolves have fared this season in the context of this question. Number in parentheses indicates what the team’s rank would be if that number was its DREB% for the season)
- DREB% when Naz Reid is ON: 70.5% (30th/last in NBA)
- DREB% when Naz Reid is OFF: 73.1% (18th in NBA)
Defensive rebounding is by far the most concerning aspect of Reid’s game.
Individually, Reid has a defensive rebound percentage of 15.9 (meaning he rebounds 15.9 percent of the opponent’s misses while he’s on the floor). That is 38th out of 45 centers who play at least 20 minutes per game this season. For context, Towns ranks 15th at 23.7 percent.
When Reid is on the floor, opponents’ offensive rebound percentage climbs by 3.3 percent, per Cleaning the Glass, which ranks in the 16th percentile in the NBA. By comparison, opponents’ OREB% drops by 5.2 percent when Ed Davis is on the floor, which ranks in the 94th percentile.
But, as some fans have been quick to notice this year, Naz Reid has been a strong offensive rebounder. Per Synergy, the Timberwolves average 1.5 points per possession when he grabs an offensive rebound, ranking him in the 95th percentile in the NBA. Reid is shooting 73.1 percent on 26 put-back attempts and has yet to turn it over on any second-chance possession he’s generated this season.
So why has he struggled on the defensive glass so much? Well, there’s a few reasons.
1) The Timberwolves have largely done an awful job of gang rebounding this season.
Here, Reid walls up Lonnie Walker IV, but Ricky Rubio, Edwards, and Beasley all fail to get in front Jakob Poeltl because they’re all ball watching. You could say that Reid shouldn’t have jumped, but if he doesn’t jump in this case, it’s harder to be straight up. He would then put himself at the mercy of the officials to call a potential foul. The simpler solution is for one his teammates in the area to cut him out. Getting in front of and blocking out the roller on the offensive glass is an underrated part of PnR coverage. The best teams do this very well and the worst/youngest teams generally fail to do this consistently.
2) Reid leaves his feet to contest even when he doesn’t have to, which puts him out of position on the glass.
This is similar to the last play, but Reid leaves his feet when he shouldn’t have, which left him in a position where he couldn’t block out. Russell deserves blame here, too, because he doesn’t get in front of Poeltl, but Reid’s defensive positioning is poor. If he gets in a stance and moves his feet, he can turn his hips and contest Murray’s shot at the rim, while also being in a good position facing the basket to elevate for a rebound or cut Poeltl out.
Instead, Reid is high, off-balanced, and has to jump to contest because he can’t open his hips and move his feet. If he stays down, he’ll be in much better position to both contest the shot and grab the rebound. KAT has done a much better job of this so far this season, which has contributed to his leap on the defensive end.
3) Reid simply watches the ball too much.
If Naz Reid spent more time trying to keep track of his man by feeling him with his arms out and rear end out, he would give up less offensive rebounds.
Here, Reid simply stares down PG cooking Culver instead of maintaining good rebounding position. Instead, Ivica Zubac nudges his way under the basket for an easy put-back.
While these appear to be simple fixes, it is hard (conceptually) to think about rebounding while also anchoring the defense. It will take time for Naz Reid to put it all together, but given the strides he has made since he signed in Minnesota, I expect him to come around on the glass. He has a huge frame and now just needs to figure out how to most effectively use it to clean the glass.
Question #4: Rotation Situation
Where does the wolves starting 5 minutes distribution rank / compare to other teams in the league? How many other teams consistently play 10 guys?— Vince Anderson (@VincentAnderso) February 14, 2021
I actually went over this about two weeks ago in a thread you can find starting here.
At that time, Minnesota played its starters an average of 28.7 minutes per game (simply an average of each starter’s minutes per game), which was 24th in the NBA. Here’s a look at the league at-large, shown with the team’s winning percentage on the x-axis and the team’s average starting unit minutes per game.
As for teams that consistently play 10-man rotations, it depends. With guys getting injured more often and lineups changing more often with COVID-19 this season, it is harder to judge whether or not team truly play 10+ man rotations. There is definitely more of teams playing 10+ man rotations this year because of lineup changes, but I also think the league uses more specialists now than ever before, which has led to an increase in bigger rotations.
Most teams are in two buckets: 9-man rotations or 10+ man rotations. Here’s a breakdown of how every team has generally operated this season:
9-man rotations (13 teams):
10-or-more-man rotations (17 teams):
- Lakers, Clippers, Celtics, Nuggets, Suns, Timberwolves, Hornets, Hawks, Grizzlies, Warriors, Wizards, Magic, Pistons, Knicks, Heat, Spurs, Rockets,
This will likely change in the playoffs, but for now, most teams play 10 or more players in their rotations.
Question #5: Revisiting the 2020 NBA Draft
If the Rubio trade hadn’t happened, who would Minnesota have taken at No. 17 and how different would this season look?— Nick Crain (@CrainNBA) February 14, 2021
Another interesting exercise to go through here.
Ryan Saunders wanted a power forward in the draft, but didn’t get one. Evidence for this is the RHJ signing, which didn’t work out for financial reasons. So if we start there, there were three key options available, ranked by their draft order:
- Precious Achiuwa (went 20th to Miami)
- Hopkins, MN native Zeke Nnaji (went 22nd to Denver)
- Jaden McDaniels (went 28th to Minnesota)
If we venture outside of this group and include other PF options, here was my personal hierarchy of guys:
- Xavier Tillman, Sr. (went 35th to Memphis)
- Robert Woodard (went 40th to Sacramento)
We can assume President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas would’ve opted against Achiuwa, since he traded James Johnson and brought in Rubio instead. I truly believe if the Wolves held at 17 that McDaniels would’ve been the pick. To my knowledge, the Wolves didn’t have any pre-draft communication with McDaniels, but identified him as a draft gem they wanted to grab by flying under the radar. In hindsight, I’m shocked they took Bolmaro before they took McDaniels.
If the Wolves never traded for Rubio and drafted McDaniels at 17, I don’t think their season would be much different.
With KAT missing most of the year, Ricky Rubio hasn’t really been the reason why the Timberwolves have lost games. Sure, he’s been a contributor to losses and hasn’t looked as good as Jordan McLaughlin, but I’m not going to sit here and say that McLaughlin eating all of Rubio’s minutes is the difference between this team being 7-23 and 12-19. The record may improve by a couple games, but nothing that is the difference between playoffs and no playoffs. James Johnson has been brutal for Dallas this season and, truthfully, Johnson eating PF minutes would’ve been a major detriment to McDaniels’ development.
Ultimately, I think the Wolves are in a better place making the Rubio trade compared to if they didn’t. McDaniels’ development has been one of the best parts of this season for the interim and the future, and having an extra year on Rubio’s contract (compared to Johnson’s expiring deal) gives the Wolves more time to use it in a trade for another core piece.
Question #6: Trade Machine, Anyone?
Who are the most likely players to get dealt at the deadline?— Jordan McLaughlin Supporter (@BestWolvesPG) February 13, 2021
Juancho Hernangomez ($6.493M)* and Ed Davis ($5M) are the most likely players to get dealt at the deadline. They have fallen out of the rotation and each make enough to be aggregated with a player such as Jarrett Culver or Jake Layman to acquire a player with a salary in the $15-20M per year range. With Saunders no longer driving the bus, I’d also imagine Ricky Rubio is more likely to be dealt in the next six months than he would’ve been if Saunders was still coaching. Rubio and Saunders were extremely close and I doubt Finch will view him the same way.
However, Rubio does play better in more structured offenses and Finch’s offense will be more structured than what the Wolves have run this season. Keep in mind that the deadline is March 25th and that is right around the target return date for Russell. I’m not confident that Russell will play again this season considering he missed two months after having the exact same surgery in Brooklyn in November, 2017. But if Minnesota plans to play him again this season, they shouldn’t let only having one true point guard on the roster stop them from trading Rubio. Let Ant run the point until D-Lo is back and play McLaughlin as the backup point guard.
I’d say Hernangomez, Davis, Culver and Rubio are the biggest names to watch.
(Hernangomez can’t be traded until March 3).
Question #7: More Trade Talk
Here’s a few I’ve been thinking about... Top three realistic trade ideas? Play out selling KAT n DLO and building around the young pups? How does Bolmaro fit in with this roster next year? What would you do roster-wise if we ended up landing Cade?— Joe Silbie (@JoeSilberschmi1) February 13, 2021
With Finch in tow, it’s rather unlikely the Wolves will have their pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Teams like Cleveland, Detroit, Sacramento, and Oklahoma City will likely be aggressive sellers and tank with more urgency than Minnesota will. Because of this, I’ll stay away from the Cade talk. As for Bolmaro, I would be shocked if he comes over next year. If he does, he will play in Iowa for the whole 2021-2022 season. As I’ve said before, KAT and D-Lo aren’t going anywhere, so I will focus on the “top three realistic trade ideas” for this team.
Note that in all three scenarios, the Wolves remain under the luxury tax line, which is likely a mandate from Glen Taylor at the deadline this year.
Trade #1 - A familiar face
- SG Norman Powell
- SG Jarrett Culver
- C Ed Davis
- 2022 second-round pick
This hinges completely on whether or not the Raptors want to step on the gas and make one last run this year or cash in on one of the better assets on its team in favor of another player in the OG Anunoby mold while accruing another draft asset to use down the line in its reload.
There is a chance Toronto would say no even if they were open to moving Powell. If that’s the case, Minnesota is some what S.O.L. because it can’t use a first-round pick in a trade until 2023, and if the team truly wants a third star not named Anthony Edwards, they will need all the FRPs they can get. Personally, I wouldn’t have a big issue giving Toronto a 2023 lottery protected FRP instead of the 2022 SRP, but I understand I may be higher on Powell than most. If the Raptors got Culver and a 2023 FRP, I would require them to take on Hernangomez and his contract instead of Davis.
The trade is pretty simple from Minnesota’s perspective. Culver is an awesome defender, but isn’t a shooter, while Powell can let it rip from just about anywhere on the floor and still provide average defense.
Powell is averaging a career-high 17.3 points per game on 47.8/44.2/88.2 shooting splits in year one of Finch’s system in Toronto. His 44.2 percent mark from downtown is a career-high as well, as are his 2.5 3PM and 5.6 3PA per game. He is as efficient as they come off the ball, and he’d forge a formidable wing shooting duo with Beasley. Powell ranks T-23rd in assisted 3PM (56), while Beasley ranks T-3rd with Stephen Curry (90). Both Powell and Beasley would be excellent candidates to thrive as sixth men for years to come in Minnesota. If Minnesota could throw KAT, D-Lo, Edwards, Beasley, Powell, and McDaniels at teams, they’d be damn hard to stop and have all the tools to put together a top-five offense in the league next season.
Trade #2 - A revered Dukie finds a new home
- SG Grayson Allen
- SG Jaylen Nowell
- 2022 second-round pick
- 2022 second-round pick (more favorable of DEN or PHI SRP)
I advocated for trading for Grayson Allen before this season and I have no problem continuing to do so. He shoots 42.3 percent from deep on 5.2 3s a game, but figures to get less minutes with the emergence of Desmond Bane, and De’Anthony Melton and his former Duke National Champion Justise Winslow coming back. Between Ja Morant, Tyus Jones, Bane, and Melton, the Grizzlies just don’t have enough minutes to give to Allen and are in a position where they can cash in on him ahead of the deadline to give them more ammo for fortifying their front court this offseason. In getting a young player with upside like Jaylen Nowell, and two SRPs, this offer is just too much for Memphis to pass up.
Allen would immediately boost Minnesota’s second unit. He would slot in as the 2-guard next to Rubio and provide legitimately good on-ball, point-of-attack defense and elite 3-point shooting. The former Duke standout is a very good shooter with excellent off-ball footwork that can make defenders pay for poor close-outs with his eye-popping athleticism. He is developing more on-ball playmaking skills as he gains more experience, but still has a ways to go in that department if Minnesota wants him to create more off the bounce.
Trade #3 - A new long-term PF
- PF Larry Nance Jr.
- SF Taurean Prince
- PG Ricky Rubio
- SG Jarrett Culver
- PF Jarred Vanderbilt
- 2022 second-round pick
The sell for the Wolves is easy. Jaden McDaniels is the perfect long-term 4 man for the future, but Larry Nance Jr. is a much bigger body who is equally versatile, a proven shooter, an interesting playmaker and can match up better with more traditional two-big lineups. Without Vanderbilt, who may be outcast in Finch’s new system (at least offensively), this would allow McDaniels to learn behind one of the league’s most consistent contributors at the 4 without other competitors for his minutes. Taurean Prince is a throw-in that allows Minnesota to get off the Rubio contract while replacing him with a player whose contract is the same length (one season left after this season) and is a better fit in what the team wants to do.
The sell for Cleveland is a little tougher, but a manageable one. The Cavs are going to be aggressive sellers at the deadline and need more young talent on their bench. Culver and Vanderbilt accomplish that, while Rubio can be a backup bridge point guard that can be a great mentor for starting point guard Darius Garland. The Cavs’ bench would be similar to the Wolves bench this season, but Rubio would be a tradable contract for them next season that provides more value (mentorship) than Prince would as a guy who can give the bench a lift in scoring.
It’s worth nothing that Cleveland selected Garland one pick before Culver despite already having a lead guard on the roster at the time (Collin Sexton). However, Culver, Vanderbilt, and another asset could prove to be either good long-term plays for a tanking team or assets that can be flipped after playing in a system in which they are better fits. As was the case with Powell, I would have no issue giving up a 2023 protected FRP if it’s necessary.
Question #8: Evergreen Tweet
What are they doing?— Bobby (@rydenro) February 13, 2021
I had to end with the existential, insanity-producing question that has plagued the Minnesota Timberwolves since the franchise traded Kevin Garnett to the Celtics in 2007.
Let’s run through it.
Last night, the Wolves fired Ryan Saunders after a 43-93 (.316) record in just 136 games. It was clear that — despite being a consummate professional head coach who was a widely heralded human being — Saunders’ team just did not perform how it was expected to.
Within minutes, Woj tweeted that Minnesota wouldn’t be initially naming an interim coach, which was extremely odd given that most times a team fires a coach mid-season, the interim coach is announced at the same time the coach is fired. Before Wolves fans had enough time to process the odd setup, Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news that the Wolves had hired Chris Finch from the Raptors to a multi-year contract.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are hiring Toronto Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch as the new head coach on multiyear contract, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 22, 2021
To my knowledge, an in-season move like this has very few precedents; however, it isn’t as rare as some may think:
In case you were wondering... Chris Finch becomes the first @nba head coach to join a new organization mid season since @CoachKarl22 joined the @SacramentoKings in 2015.— Dave Benz (@davebenz) February 22, 2021
For those who do not know, Rosas interviewed Finch for the Wolves opening back in 2018, before the franchise hired Saunders. It makes sense to think that Rosas wanted Finch all along, but Taylor preferred Saunders, whose father Flip spent 11 seasons as the head coach of the Wolves.
Finch and Rosas go back a long ways. Back in 2010, Rosas was the general manager of the Rockets’ D-League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Finch was his head coach, going on to win coach of the year and lead the Vipers to the D-League championship before being promoted to an assistant on the Rockets’ NBA team.
Many on Wolves Twitter, including myself, expected the Wolves to tab associate head coach and long-time NBA assistant David Vanterpool to serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Vanterpool is one of the league’s top assistant coaches and is beloved by many of his former players in Portland, including Blazer stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who largely credit Vanterpool for their ascension to NBA stardom.
Both weighed in on Rosas’s decision:
Make it make sense. Respectfully. https://t.co/4crtNzWV0W— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) February 22, 2021
While I understand the frustration surrounding Rosas passing on giving Vanterpool a shot as the interim head coach, I ultimately think this decision is what’s best for the Wolves and Vanterpool.
The last thing Vanterpool, an aspiring head coach who has been an active participant in coaching carousels in recent offseasons, needs is to be set up to fail in his first opportunity to lead a team. Minnesota would likely play the same system they currently play now and continue to see similar results. Even if the team’s defense improved and the team showed a bit more promise on the floor, it is completely fair to worry that other NBA teams would hold Vanterpool’s performance in a very tough situation against him when evaluating his potential as a head coach.
There is zero doubt that David Vanterpool deserves a chance to be a head coach in the NBA. I am rooting hard as hell for him to get a job and be a successful head coach in this league because he has paid his dues, earned the respect of everyone he’s come across, and been successful as a defensive coach in his time in the NBA. Vanterpool deserves to have his first shot as a head coach come in a new situation — free of any ties to a failed system — where he can hire his own staff, implement his own system on both ends, and be most fairly evaluated based on the job he and he alone does.
While many will question the Wolves process (hiring a guy off another staff to a full-time, multi-year contract in the middle of a season), I endorse the move. Would you rather have a lame duck interim coach set up to fail, or hire the coach you would hire at the end of the season now and get a head start on building towards next season? I would choose the latter, both for the sake of the potential lame duck interim coach and the team moving forward. Finch also would’ve been a very hot name on the coaching market this upcoming offseason, so another plus about the timing of this is that Rosas got in front of the other teams he likely would’ve otherwise been competing with to hire Finch now.
The biggest question for the immediate future is who the assistant coaches will be. Many of them were hired when Saunders was and it could be extremely awkward to have a new head coach in place without his hand-picked staff. Considering that he had the man-in-waiting ready to go, I’m sure he has a plan, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Vanterpool and other assistants leave their posts given the extraordinary circumstances of the hire. Keep in mind, when Thibs was fired in 2018, lead assistant coach Andy Greer also left the team. We could see a sort of revolving door with assistants going out and new ones coming in, but with the Wolves set to take on the Bucks in Milwaukee tomorrow, I’d imagine we get clarity on that today. Stay tuned!
With Finch’s mid-season hire taking place without additional interviews or the typical waiting period that goes on with an interim head coach, it is abundantly clear now that the power at Mayo Clinic Square lies squarely in the hands of Gersson Rosas. Taylor said last month he wanted to see Saunders coach the team at full strength before making a decision on Saunders’s future, but Rosas won out. With the trade deadline just over a month away, that’s a major development.
Ultimately, Chris Finch is a home-run hire for the Wolves. He’s been an innovative offensive thinker that was the architect who installed the “Moreyball” offense that turned James Harden into the superstar we know today, transformed Jokic’s potential as an other-worldly playmaker into real results and maximized Boogie Cousins at the peak of his powers in New Orleans before he tore his Achilles in 2018. He’s recently worked under three very well-respected and successful head coaches (Michael Malone in Denver, Alvin Gentry in New Orleans, and Nick Nurse in Toronto) and made a tangible impact on not only the team’s offense, but his players’ individual games. I can’t wait to see what he brings as the head coach of the Wolves.
Buy all your Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels, and Naz Reid stock while you still can. With Karl-Anthony Towns’ renewed commitment to the franchise secured, the future at Target Center is extremely bright.