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What Does an “A Grade” Season Look Like For the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Bench?

Part two of the “A Grade” Series diving into bench players and their roles in the upcoming season

Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Earlier this week, I proposed a system of grading the Minnesota Timberwolves team and starters. This is that same concept — part two — but with the Timberwolves’ bench players.

Now that we’ve had a chance to see what they look like in Game 1, there’s a bit more to go off of. Unlike the starters, I’ll focus on 1-2 specific stats for each bench player as their roles are usually a bit more specialized or specific.

Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyle Anderson: VORP, Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (WS/48)

“A”: Slo-mo is the perfect glue guy/sixth man that comes in and just makes winning plays.

Slo-Mo is a do-everything guy so his key stats need to be do-everything kind of stats. In an “A” season, his VORP goes above 2.5 for the first time in his career, and he ends up in the top 50 in the league at WS/48 at 0.150+. Whether or not he starts games, he’s playing meaningful minutes because he’s too valuable to keep off the floor for long stretches.

“B”: He’s the same player as he was at his peak as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Slo-Mo’s stats reflect his up years in Memphis rather than the lower ones. He ends the season with a VORP between 2—2.5 and his WS/48 is between 0.140—0.150.

“C”: He’s the same player as he was during his down seasons in Memphis.

In his 9th NBA season, Slo-mo is who he has always been, though with the learning curve of playing on an entirely new roster, stats falter just slightly. VORP in the 1.5-2 range and his WS/48 ends up in the 0.120—0.140 range.

“D”: Turns out he just wasn’t the right fit for this new team.

Never quite clicks or finds his position. Rather than being relied upon as a bench stalwart, ends up struggling for playing time and ultimately isn’t part of the playoff rotation. His VORP hovers around 1.0 and WS/48 is between 0.100 and 0.120.

“F”: Tim Connelly’s first key free agent signing turns out to be a dud.

Slo-Mo falls out of the rotation prior to the playoffs as it becomes clear that his unique skill set never jives with this roster’s style of play.

Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Jaylen Nowell: Points Per Game (PPG)

“A”: He provides a pitch-perfect scoring punch off the bench and is in the conversation for 6th man of the year.

In his ideal season, he gets some national recognition for his offensive prowess/pick and roll skills. He scores around 15 PPG off the bench and sets himself up for a nice off-season contract.

“B”: A bench scoring punch that shows improvement on his defensive shortcomings.

He scores 12 PPG and shows enough defensive improvement that he continues on as an important part of your bench into the playoffs. On games where he’s got a hot hand, he may even get opportunities to close out.

“C”: A few game-winning type efforts, but also many forgettable games.

Similar output to last year, around 10 PPG off the bench with little defensive improvement. Still finds a way to have the occasional standout game, but the consistency is lacking.

“D”: His inexperience stands out next to the veterans around him as he finishes the year as the team’s 9th-10th best player on the edge of playoff minutes.

Defensive liabilities keep him from getting major minutes as his offensive output doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Ends up losing out on playoff minutes to other bench guys that can offer more consistency on both ends.

“F”: He can’t take advantage of his opportunity and goes into the off-season as an unrestricted free agent that will need a fresh start elsewhere.

Inconsistent play causes him to lose his bench role and minutes. Looks back on this season as a lost opportunity to solidify himself as a rotation player in the league.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Jordan McLaughlin: Assist-to-Turnover Ratio

“A”: Memphis’ Tyus Jones 2.0 - Every time J-Mac comes in as the backup point guard, the offense doesn’t miss a beat.

J-Mac comes in and has an assist to turnover ratio of 3.0+ which would put him around top 25 in the league. His offensive creation and desire never to have “sticky” hands sets the tone for the team as he becomes a key part of the playoff rotation.

“B”: Playoff J-Mac more often than not.

J-Mac continues flashing what we saw in the playoffs last year with Memphis - he belongs in the league. His assist to turnover ratio ends in the top 50 range of 2.5-3.0

“C”: An average backup point guard.

Is similar to the player he was last year, just without a noticeable step up in development. As an average backup PG, he doesn’t play meaningful minutes to close out games outside of foul trouble and his assist to turnover ratio ends up around 2.0-2.5.

“D”: His offensive leadership is outweighed by some defensive struggles.

Jmac takes a step back as he can’t quite find chemistry with the different sets of players on the floor. With the bench offense not running as smoothly, the team begins to consider veteran options at backup PG. His assist to turnover ratio drops under 2.0.

“F”: The team decides they trust a veteran more.

Similar to D, only he takes the fall early for bench struggles and is replaced by a veteran like Austin Rivers early in the season.

Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Bryn Forbes: 3-Point Attempt Rate (3PAr), 3-Point Percentage (3P%)

“A”: Malik Beasley 2.0

Continues his elite 3-point shooting, only at a much higher volume (75% 3PAr) as a key player off the bench. Carves out a role that necessitates playoff minutes and his 3-point percentage of 41.5%+ garners national attention as he becomes one of the league’s best distance shooters.

“B”: Malik Beasley 1.0

Similar to A, but his 3-point percentage can’t quite keep up with the increased volume (70% 3PAr). The percentage drops into the 40.0% — 41.5% range, but he has a role solidified as the shooter off the bench.

“C”: Poor man’s Malik Beasley

Similar path as B, but his defensive shortcomings balance out his shooting. He may still shoot 3s in the 37.5% — 40.0% range, but teams take advantage of his lack of size at the 2.

“D”: Homeless man’s Malik Beasley

Starts the season on a cold streak and then struggles to carve out a consistent bench role that would assure his playoff minutes. His cold-shooting season leaves him well under his career 3-point average around 36.0%.

“F”: David Kahn’s Malik Beasley

A cold-shooting start and defensive struggles lead to his minutes being cut and role ultimately being replaced by a player more reliable on the defensive end.

Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Taurean Prince: Win Shares

“A”: Taurean Prince just keeps on being a winning player on and off the court.

Noticeable improvements on everything from last year (scoring, defense, etc…). Last year was a bounce-back year for Prince as he set a career high in win shares with a 2.2. He builds on last year’s effort and brings his win share total to 3.0+.

“B”: 8th man who is part of your playoff rotation.

Has a really similar role to last year—does everything pretty well, offers veteran leadership and has a win share total in the 2.0-3.0 range.

“C”: A solid rotation player who loses some playing time due to new faces.

With the new players/roles, takes a slight step back from last year, but still offers reliability when called upon. Finishes the year with 1.75-2.0 win shares.

“D”: More important in the locker room than on the floor.

Losing rotation minutes and potentially falling out of it consistently makes it hard for him to have a big impact on winning. Win shares fall to 1.25-1.75

“F”: Fits better on a different team.

Has some type of struggle early on (poor shooting, nagging injury) and falls out of the rotation and is unable to gain his spot. Becomes a trade piece at the deadline for a team needing a veteran.

Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Naz Reid: Minutes Per Game (MPG)

“A”: Too much talent to keep off the floor

Maybe the hardest player to find a single stat for. Naz’s playing time is connected to how often Finch wants to keep one of KAT and Gobert on the floor - and if the plan is for one of them to always be on the floor, it is going to be hard for Naz to get consistent minutes. For an “A,” he demonstrates what he did in the second of the two preseason games against the Los Angeles Lakers - he’s too talented to relegate to the bench. He averages between 16-20 MPG as the third big man on the team. Becomes a consistent bench threat that can step into bigger roles during foul trouble. His athleticism allows him to switch effectively between the 4–5.

“B”: A solid bench contributor

Ends up playing a similar role to last year in 12-16 minutes per game. Flashes during the nights where either KAT or Rudy are resting.

“C”: A solid player who struggles to find minutes on a roster with two elite bigs

The lost weight and new role are enough of a struggle that Naz can never find consistent minutes throughout the season as one of KAT or Rudy is always on the floor and the team has more effective options at the 4.

“D”: Overtaken by an up-and-coming rookie

By midseason, not only has Naz struggled to find the floor, but he gets overtaken in the rotation by someone like Luka Garza who flashes in the G-League and is given the opportunity to try and maintain their level of play at the professional level

“F”: Naz is put into a trade—and Timberwolves Reddit revolts!

The Wolves know that they just don’t have a role for Naz on this roster and they trade him for a 2nd rounder.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Austin Rivers: Defensive Win Shares (DWS)

“A”: Develops a role as a defensive stopper who plays key minutes to slow an opposing team’s best guard.

Rivers becomes a Patrick Beverley lite without the “get a technical before the game starts” volatility. He comes into the game with professionalism and a commitment to defense. Whenever his number is called, it’s clear he’s done the film work and is ready, prompting the coaches to call his number more often until he works his way into the playoff rotation. Finished the season with a career high DWS 1.5+.

“B”: Situational role player that plays bigger minutes based on certain team matchups.

While not an “every night” part of the rotation, Rivers plays bigger minutes on nights where the team needs an influx of defensive focus and poise. Ends the season between a 1.0-1.5 DWS.

“C”: Veteran leader on the bench whose help is more noticeable off the court than it is on the court.

Throughout the season, Rivers gets just some spot playing time, but comes along as a key voice in the locker room/adult in the room who has been on winning teams before. In the limited time he does get, he still manages to have a positive impact and finishes the season with a DWS between 0.5—1 In the A/B scenarios, Rivers is doing this along with increased playing time.

“D”: A minimal impact vet that never quite rises to the rank of a locker room leader.

Rides the bench the majority of the season and ends up just being another guy on the team. Ends the season with a DWS of 0—0.5

“F”: Personality and play style never quite jive with the team and he is a name that is moved by the deadline.

Bottom line in the “F” scenario for Rivers is that he just never fits in with the team and gets an opportunity to go find a spot on another roster. In his time on the Timberwolves, adds nothing to winning with a DWS of 0, but at least we have his Mighty Ducks answer.

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

The Rest of the Bench: Minutes Per Game (MPG)

Wendell Moore Jr, Josh Minott, Luka Garza, Nathan Knight

“A”: Flashed so much in brief glimpse of playing time that they end up contributing down the stretch.

Gets a consistent role on the team due to their play in smaller portions early in the season. By the halfway point of the season, they have a whole new write-up detailing their new role off the bench. Able to set themselves up to see the floor in a consistent postseason role.

“B”: Carves out a role as the 10th or 11th player and is ready to step in if opportunity arises.

Similar to A, but ultimately this role doesn’t quite translate to playoff minutes as they can’t crack the top 8-9. Still end up offering valuable regular season minutes that contribute to winning.

“C”: Takes the season to develop in the G-League and blowout games, flashing promise for a bigger role next season.

They don’t grow beyond their respective roles as deeper bench guys this season, but flash enough that the team wants to keep them around for a bigger opportunity next year.

“D”: No shown improvement on the flaws/inexperience that has kept them out of the rotation.

While never finding a spot in the rotation, only a little bit of development in the G-League is seen. Flaws that have kept them from finding rotation minutes are exposed every time they see the floor, whether in clean-up time or G-League games.

“F”: Dropped in favor of other prospects.

Dropped at some point during the season for another player or moved as salary filler in a trade.

The Road Ahead

The start of a new basketball season is a lot like the start of a new school year - full of optimism, hoping that all of the work you did in the summer is going to pay dividends in how the year goes. But as students, teachers, and basketball players know, the feeling at the start of the year is rarely the same come January.

While overreacting to one game is an important part of fandom, I wanted this “grading” system to have a little more of a long-term outlook in mind. Every 10-11 games I’ll be back offering midterm, quarter, or semester updates and offering some grades/feedback based on season performance. The feedback is going to involve looking closely at the key stats I’ve laid out, but won’t be entirely limited to that. As roles change and playing time fluctuates, I may alter some of the highlighted stats if there are others that will better capture that player’s performance.

See you in 11 games for the 1st quarter of the season midterm!