While in the throes of another uninspiring Minnesota Timberwolves loss — this time to the Grizzlies — Friday night, an intriguing idea gained traction on Wolves Twitter: the possibility of Kyle Anderson becoming the team’s new starting point guard.
It’s not an out-of-left-field proposition given the timing; D’Angelo Russell put in another poor performance and Anderson had some good moments while acting as a lead ball handler, including a few nice passes.
What an absolutely beautiful dish from Kyle Anderson. And Anthony Edwards is cooking, with 21 first-half points pic.twitter.com/z6GgSgqNTS— Aidan Berg (@AidanBerg_) November 12, 2022
Still, it’s not an obvious decision because, well, Anderson isn’t a point guard. That being said, the Wolves should be considering any and all avenues considering their 5-8 start.
On paper, there are reasons to believe starting Anderson at the point could benefit the Wolves. If Minnesota just wants Russell off the floor (which I’m still not sure is the best option), Anderson can make plays for others and carries a lower-profile name. That means he may not need the ball as much, which will get it in Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns’ hands more often and clarify the decision-making hierarchy in the starting unit.
If Anderson proved to be a capable point guard fill-in, it would also help Minnesota maintain some flexibility with Russell’s future situation. They could bring him off the bench or sit him entirely, and it would significantly help their leverage in the event of a trade if they don’t need to bring back a point guard. Instead, they could focus on filling another roster need, such as a knockdown shooter who can hang on defense.
Whether Anderson actually would be effective in this role is a mystery. The lineup with the four non-Russell starters and Anderson has only played two minutes together per NBA.com, so there isn’t much to glean there.
The key for Minnesota is to find guys who work well with the team’s three most important players: Edwards, Towns and Rudy Gobert. You can see the results Anderson gets in three-man lineups with each of those players in the table below.
Anderson important three-man lineups
Obviously we’re still working with a small sample size, but it’s not a great sign that all three lineups have a negative net rating. His lineups with Gobert struggle to score while the lineup with KAT at center can’t get stops.
Anderson’s four best two-man lineups are with bench players per NBA.com, so that doesn’t bode well for a step into the starting five. His best pairing with a starter is with Jaden McDaniels; in 75 minutes the duo has a plus-8.1 net rating, although they’ve unexpectedly been great on offense (128.8 offensive rating) and horrific on defense (120.7 defensive rating).
Let’s look at how Anderson’s individual skills fit in with the starters. We know Anderson can make plays off the bounce and throw some pretty dimes, but I have my doubts about him as a starter-level lead playmaker. His assist-to-pass percentage adjusted (the percentage of passes by a player that are assists, free throw assists or secondary assists) of 11.1% is seventh on the team according to NBA.com. The Wolves still need a guy who can consistently create advantages and make things happen with the ball, and Anderson profiles more as a secondary creator.
Anderson’s 16.4% turnover percentage is lower than Russell’s 18.4%, but not by so much that it could fix the backbreaking turnovers. Plus, Anderson’s mark could easily get worse with more responsibility.
Minnesota also has issues getting into their sets with urgency; Anderson, aptly nicknamed “Slo-Mo,” is notoriously methodical, so he doesn’t seem like the right guy to inject vitality into that offense.
The Wolves could really use a floor-spacer around Edwards, Towns and Gobert, another area where Russell has fallen flat. Anderson is shooting a respectable 36.4% from three, including 37.5% in catch-and-shoot scenarios according to NBA.com. The problem is that he’s shown himself not to be a reliable shooter; this would be only the third time in his career that he has cleared 33.5% from behind the arc overall, and he hasn’t shot above 34% on C&S threes since 2017-18.
Anderson’s slow, lurching shot is fun for entertainment purposes but inhibits his capability as a spot-up guy. Opponents have plenty of time to get out and contest, if they respect his shot enough to do it at all. Having a questionable shooter on the floor with Gobert will make things very difficult, especially come playoff time.
The one area where Anderson would clearly be a major upgrade over Russell is on defense. Flipping Anderson in there would give the starters four 7-foot-plus wingspans, doubling down on team length, and Anderson is simply more reliable to hold up on- and off-ball.
Anderson uses his 6-foot-9 height and 7-foot-2 wingspan well to envelope opponents; he ranks third on the team in deflections per game despite ranking seventh in minutes per game according to NBA.com.
The only concern here is that Minnesota probably wouldn’t have much flexibility to defend quick, smaller guards; that’s not Anderson’s strength, so all of the responsibility would fall on Edwards and McDaniels. Still, it’s not like Russell has a major impact against those types of players, anyway.
All in all, playing Anderson at point guard is an interesting short-term play if the Wolves decide they just can’t have Russell out there. However, there are probably too many holes in this design to believe this switch will get them where they want to go. If Minnesota wants an upgrade at the point as soon as possible, a trade is probably the only way forward.