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An Early Projection of the Minnesota Timberwolves Rotation

Despite a 3-0 start to the preseason, there are still plenty of questions as to what the Minnesota Timberwolves’ primary opening night rotation will be.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s finally that time of the year.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are just eight days away from their season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With a new season, comes a new rotation, and the Minnesota Timberwolves have several new players for head coach Chris Finch to fit into his plans.

Players like Rudy Gobert, Kyle Anderson, and Austin Rivers are all deserving of serious playing time, and fitting these new faces into an already solid rotation will be of crucial importance for the Wolves if they want to get off to a hot start. Luckily for Minnesota, their first 10-game segment of the schedule is by far the easiest in the NBA.

Starting Lineup:

Come opening night, Minnesota’s starting lineup is shaping up to be...

PG: D’Angelo Russell

SG: Anthony Edwards

SF: Jaden McDaniels

PF: Karl-Anthony Towns

C: Rudy Gobert

The only part of this starting lineup that could potentially be different is McDaniels at the 3, but with him getting the start in both preseason games, he appears to be locked into the spot.

One thing stands out about this starting lineup: it’s huge.

All five members of the quintet are 6-foot-5 or taller, and Edwards, the shortest of the crew, is built like an All-Pro NFL linebacker.

McDaniels and Edwards are both excellent perimeter defenders, and with Gobert in the middle, passing grades from Russell and Towns could make this lineup dominant defensively.

On the offensive end, this lineup makes a lot of sense as well.

With Ant and KAT serving as the primary weapons on offense, both D-Lo and McDaniels could be perfect complementary fits if they are willing to play within their roles.

The issue is that Russell has yet to prove a season-long willingness to buy into the team’s preferred role for him over the past two seasons.

With that said, D-Lo started to find his fit as a connector between Edwards and Towns during last season, and his realization of his optimal role elevated Minnesota to the level they got to at the end of last season.

The one rub with the Timberwolves starting lineup on the offensive end is the fit of Rudy Gobert.

Gobert is an efficient, but limited offensive player. Gobert is good for screens, hand-offs, rolls, and finishes at the rim, but not much else on offense. Given his dunker spot positioning, he may also clog the paint for players like Edwards and Towns and make their lives harder down low.

That being said, the other four members of the starting lineup are seamless fits with one another, and Gobert should be able to provide enough as a lob threat to offset any potential traffic in the paint.

Overall, the Wolves starting lineup should be one of the best in the league on both offense and defense, and it will be hard for opposing teams to match the level of talent Minnesota can put on the floor.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Sixth Man

The Timberwolves’ sixth man could replace McDaniels in the starting lineup if things go south for whatever reason during the season, or if McDaniels needs a break.

In the wake of the Gobert trade, Minnesota quietly poached Kyle Anderson from the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite flying under the radar, Slow-Mo could prove to be a key cog for the Wolves this season, and he has been one of the more underrated NBA players for quite a while.

If you look at the stats, Anderson isn’t going to flash off the page, but he is good at everything on a basketball court and makes everyone around him better.

Anderson is a good-enough 3-point shooter, he is a good passer, he can run the court with or without the ball, he does well as a rebounder, and anything else you could think of, he probably does it at a decent rate.

Anderson will be key as a reserve or as a starter, but his unselfish and free-flowing, yet gritty play-style fits perfectly with a Wolves team that wants to make those adjectives a part of their identity this season.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Key Reserves

Anderson is the most important player coming off the bench for Minnesota this season, but there are a few more guys who will be key to Finch’s squad this upcoming season.

Jordan McLaughlin

Naz Reid

Jaylen Nowell

Taurean Prince/Austin Rivers

All of these players are returning to the Timberwolves after being a part of their playoff team last year.

Despite the front office flipping so many key pieces of Minnesota’s rotation to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Gobert, these guys stuck around, and that is not a coincidence.

Starting with McLaughlin, the scrappy point guard has worked his way into the Wolves rotation after spending time with the Timberwolves G-League affiliate just a few years ago.

McLaughlin is a solid 3-point shooter, posting a 35% career clip from beyond the arc; but where McLaughlin shines the most is as a passer. The third-year man out of USC is averaging over three assists a game in his career, despite never playing over 20 minutes a game.

Next on the list is Naz Reid.

Reid will fit into Finch’s rotation as the primary backup big, but he also holds value as a floor spacer if Minnesota ever wants to move KAT to his traditional spot at center and have a more dangerous shooting lineup.

Reid is a 34% career shooter from beyond the arc and has also exhibited some value as a rim protector in limited minutes, averaging right around a block per game the past two seasons.

The LSU product’s performance in the preseason has been up and down, but at least early in the season, Reid should get the spot as the third true big behind Gobert and Towns.

Jaylen Nowell emerged as a difference maker for the Wolves last season, and while Nowell didn’t play in the playoffs, his skill set is similar to that of a Jamal Crawford type, and he could be called upon to step in and provide some of the shooting that Beasley provided during his stay in Minnesota.

Nowell has a little more than the 3-ball to his game though.

In the clip above, Nowell shows the ability to put the ball on the floor and put his shoulder down to convert a tough bucket around the rim, and if Nowell displays this skill with more consistency, along with repeating his 39% clip from 3 from last season, he could quickly find himself competing with Anderson for the role of sixth man.

I see the last spot in the nine-man rotation as a toss-up between Taurean Prince and Austin Rivers.

Minnesota showed their commitment to Prince by giving him a two-year, $16 million extension this past June, but Rivers has playoff experience than anyone on the roster (60 games), playing in big postseason spots for the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, and Los Angeles Clippers.

Prince has been a consistent threat from 3 throughout his career, shooting over 35% each of the past three seasons, including a season of over 41% on over four attempts per game with the Cavaliers two seasons ago.

Rivers, similar to the aforementioned Anderson, is solid in just about every facet of the game.

While a member of the Nuggets, he single-handedly sunk the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3 of the first round of the 2021 playoffs, posting a 16-point fourth quarter and willing the Nuggets to a five-point victory.

Overall, there is very little difference between these two in terms of how many minutes they project to play, and by season’s end they could both be passed Forbes, but to start, Prince gets the edge due to his leadership in the locker room and experience with this group.

In The Middle

This group consists of one player...

Bryn Forbes

Forbes has the single most important skill in modern basketball in spades, shooting. Forbes has posted a career 41% from three, and the former Michigan State Spartan has been on winning teams his whole career.

While Forbes will command playing time early in the season, he will certainly have to fight for his spot at the end of the rotation come playoff time, and his marksmanship from three certainly gives him a chance to do so.

Fringe Guys

This is a group comprised of guys who won’t get sent down to the G-League, but it’s doubtful that they play an important role for the Wolves right away.

Bryn Forbes

Nathan Knight

P.J. Dozier

Knight will likely escape this category rather quickly, but to start he is still in this tier.

Knight has impressed Wolves fans in the preseason with his tenacious rebounding and finishing ability, but to surpass the more established Reid in the rotation, he will have to show these abilities come the regular season.

Dozier emerged as a bench piece for last year’s Nuggets team. Playing nearly 20 minutes per game, Dozier averaged 5 points per game, along with 1.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.

Dozier is a nice player, but if he is playing for Minnesota, it is likely because of injuries.

Iowa Wolves bound

This tier is for either young players who will likely be playing in Des Moines this upcoming season, or two-way guys who will be splitting time between the G-League and the Timberwolves.

A.J. Lawson

Eric Paschall

Josh Minott

Wendell Moore

C.J. Elleby

Luka Garza

A few of these guys will have to be released but they will still head to Iowa to play for the Wolves.

None of these guys have done much in their NBA careers, Paschall being the outlier, as he posted a good statistical season for the Warriors during the season where they ended up with the second pick, but he was quickly moved when they started competing again.

Minott and Moore could be a part of future rotations for the Timberwolves, but as rookies, it is probably best for them to spend the year in Iowa getting playing time instead of being with the Timberwolves but not getting a chance to play.

The Wolves decided to trade for Gobert because they thought they could compete right away, but key contributors will have to emerge off the bench throughout the season if they want to be true contenders in the west.