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Halfway Home: The 2021-22 Minnesota Timberwolves

With Minnesota at the halfway point, let’s recap some of the biggest storylines so far this season.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Halfway into the 2021-22 NBA season, our beloved Minnesota Timberwolves currently find themselves at 20-21, good enough for ninth place in the Western Conference, and are coming off an underwhelming performance against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.

This season has had its fair share of big wins and losses, but in the words of D’Angelo Russell, “never too high, never too low.” Looking at the Wolves record, we could go back and redo those winnable games against the Pelicans, twice, and the complete meltdown in Memphis, but without those games, would they have come back the next game with a different mindset? In my eyes, last year’s Timberwolves would have completely fallen apart at this point, but the impact Patrick Beverley has made on this team through 41 games has been vital.

From the defensive effort to a winning mentality, are we finally seeing the potential of the D’Angelo and Karl-Anthony Towns pairing? The emergence of Jaylen Nowell and Jarred Vanderbilt has also been key, but through the good, there have also been areas of struggle. Let’s talk about it.

The Emergence of Jarred Vanderbilt

The Minnesota Timberwolves have finally found a power forward that can help and play alongside Karl-Anthony Towns. When the two are paired up with each other, their defensive rating is 104.2, with a net rating of 12.8. Looking at the stats, they are an obvious fit, and every night we get a glimpse of the energy Vando brings. With the good he brings, also comes the negatives, which is his overall liability as a reliable shooter from outside the paint. Of course, if he were to develop a stroke, I could really see him being a Draymond type player for the Wolves, who could initiate the offense with D’Angelo and also push the pace, along with the defensive capability he has.

Through the first 41 games this season, with the games Vando has played in, almost none of the wins would have been possible without him. But when we look at the business of the NBA, we still see potential trades get floated around like this one for Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner:

I have actually seen quite a lot of people saying a trade for Turner would be great for the Wolves offensively, which yes, it is definitely true, but defensively it would create a disaster. While Vando does stall the Wolves from being 5-out offensively, an acquisition of Turner would move KAT to guard the perimeter, which wouldn’t be a scenario I would like to see him in. On the other hand, offensively speaking, Anthony Edwards would have a whole court to operate in, with shooters to kick out to and also Russell having the option to kick out to a shooter as well.

With all that being, trading Jarred Vanderbilt would be a huge mistake for this Timberwolves team unless of course, it would be for Ben Simmons (which we will get into later). Keeping Vando around not only allows them to continue to build upon their upper-echelon defense, but when you consider how valuable his contract currently is (roughly $13 million over three years), it’s an extremely tough pill to swallow when thinking of possibly trading away V8.

The Heroics of Jaylen Nowell

Jaylen Nowell in the first half of the season definitely took advantage of all the opportunities that were given to him. Nowell’s emergence as of late has given Minnesota a boost off the bench, as Malik Beasley continues to struggle from the field. In December and January alone, Nowell averaged 10.5 points, while shooting 53.7% from the field. This included his 29 point burst off the bench against the Celtics (without KAT, D’Angelo, and Ant), and also a 16 point effort against the Thunder.

Nowell’s latest efforts have earned him a significant role on the bench and we have seen him close a lot of games as of late as well. Dave Benz and Jim Petersen said it best when they compared Jaylen Nowell to Utah’s Jordan Clarkson. Nowell has the potential (emphasis on “potential”) to be sixth man of the year and his scoring, along with his ability to create his own shot, will be vital to Minnesota’s playoff push as they embark on the second half of the season.

With Jaylen officially getting a guaranteed contract the rest of the season, what does this mean for his name being mentioned in trades?

Like Jarred Vanderbilt, Nowell has a pretty good contract for the production he has provided and should be a name in trade conversations if only the price is right. Not a lot of scoring machines in the league have been named in trade talks as of late, but once again, if it is for a player like Ben Simmons, I think Sachin Gupta should do whatever he can to get him to Minnesota.

Ben Simmons To Minnesota?

A report had gone out a couple of days ago that Minnesota had offered everything, except Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, in trade discussions for Ben Simmons. What does this mean for the Wolves?

While Ben Simmons debate continues to be a hotly discussed topic, I still personally believe that the former All-Star PG would elevate this basketball team; however, the cost of acquiring him is what’s holding everyone back. In any potential Ben Simmons trade to Minnesota, I am almost certain that it would have to be a three-team deal. If I am Minnesota, the big three has to be off the table, especially the way D’Angelo has been playing as of late. One trade scenario I saw was via Timberwolves Clips on Twitter:

Yes, we give up Pat Bev, but we still have the shooting and our playmaker off the bench. A starting lineup would consist of D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Anthony Edwards, Ben Simmons, and KAT. This is automatically a contender in my eyes, but there is obviously work to be done to make that deal happen, with other teams offering their best package as well (which might be far better offers than what Minnesota can put on the table).

Changing the Culture with Patrick Beverley

Moving on from the combination of Ricky Rubio/D’Angelo Russell to the pairing of Patrick Beverley/D’Angelo Russell was a risky move by the front office in the eyes of the fanbase, but a move that ultimately had to be done. Being able to have a legitimate all-defense guard to play alongside Russell in the backcourt has proven to be a huge success thus far, and that’s before you mention all of the off-court intangibles that Pat Bev brings. The new pairing is averaging a 97.4 defensive rating and 23.7 net rating, which is already better than last year with Rubio. Pat Bev’s numbers this year stand at 9.3 points per game and an average of 2.3 +/-.

Minnesota players all season have been raving about the toughness and competitiveness Patrick has brought, which is something fans haven’t seen in a very long time with this franchise. With the trade deadline quickly approaching, Beverley’s expiring contract is one of the more attractive contracts in the NBA at this point, which is going to be looked at in almost every trade discussion that involves the Timberwolves.

With a 20-21 record heading into the second half of the schedule, the Wolves should be aiming for the 5th seed at most and possibly avoiding the play-in game. In the next 41 games, we will see if Minnesota is ready for the challenge, as they are facing Golden State, Memphis, and even Brooklyn in their first couple of games.