Many weren’t happy after fan favorite Ricky Rubio was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers in late July of last year, a deal that netted the Minnesota Timberwolves veteran forward Taurean Prince, a second-round pick (No. 40 in the upcoming draft, from Washington via Cleveland) and cash.
Fans cited Rubio’s relationship with then-rookie sensation Anthony Edwards as motivation for keeping him, but in hindsight this move made a ton of sense. Rubio became expendable after the re-signing of Jordan McLaughlin and Rubio’s questionable fit with D’Angelo Russell. The need after last season for wing/forward depth became pressing and Prince became a very logical target.
2021-22 Performance: Coming Up Big Down the Stretch
The former Baylor University star struggled out of the gates this year. From October through the end of December, Prince averaged just four points and two rebounds per game. But he evidently made some serious new year’s resolutions, as he turned things around after the start of 2022.
In particular, Prince came alive at the end of January and beginning of February. In the two games to close out the month, plus the first two of February, he averaged 17.5 points and eight rebounds, while also shooting 68% from 3 on 5.5 attempts per game.
That stretch sparked a rhythm for Prince. Until that point in the season, he’d missed time due to injury, struggled to get settled in the rotation, and couldn’t quite get into a scoring groove (for the most part).
His season average of seven points per game was carried by his late-season play, as his 4.6 per-game average jumped to 9.4 from the first half of the season to the second. Along with points per game, just about everything else went up in the second half of the season.
Prince played more minutes and was more efficient shooting (+10% to FG% and 3FG%) in games 43-82. Quite literally, he became a net-positive player for the Wolves. His plus/minus was -2.7 in the first 42 games, but in the second half of the campaign it rose to 2.1. That stat can be picked apart and dissected, but in this case it encapsulates Prince’s improvement pretty well.
Best Performance/Highlight of 2021-22
TP scored 23 points on 6/9 shooting from three on Feb. 2, which ended up being his season high for points. The Wolves won the game by 15, beating the Denver Nuggets in the second of an eventual five-game winning streak.
Prince’s performance also blessed us with one of the my favorite moments/photos from the season:
Where Do We Go From Here?
Although the No. 12 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft’s (having a hard time comprehending that KAT and DLo were drafted a year earlier/have more experience in the league than Prince) solid play down the stretch was a welcomed gift, he made things a bit tougher on the Wolves in terms of a future contract.
He proved his worth, tacking on a few more millions to his next deal with his play in March. Prince averaged 11 points on 39% shooting from 3 in the month, all while exhibiting his value as a veteran leader who has the respect of his teammates.
Teams can never have too many of those guys, ones that give the group a bit of edge, toughness and grit.
Heading into next season, the Wolves will certainly have some competition in their efforts to retain Prince. He’s a player that can fit in any system, with defensive versatility and spot up shooting.
Taurean Prince, who played for Bud before in Atlanta, would be a really good fit in Milwaukee if he doesn’t return to the Wolves.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) May 15, 2022
TP has that defensive ability to play multiple concepts — including switching — and also can provide some offensive juice outside of just shooting 3s
It’s easy to forget that Prince is just 28. For whatever reason, it feels like he’s a ten-year vet looking for a spot on an immediate championship contender. While he plays the role of a player similar to PJ Tucker, he’s nine years younger.
Theoretically, he’s a great fit on this young Wolves team. Because he has that aura (no, not that Aura) of a vet, but also is relatively young, he has the makings of a guy that could help accentuate the Wolves culture in the years to come.
His play late this season propelled his next contract’s value to somewhere in the Mid-Level Exception neighborhood, which is a good spot for Prince on this Wolves roster. Signing him to the MLE would pay him $10.3 million next year.
Prince after the season-ending Game 6 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies stated his plans to remain in Minnesota next season, which is a huge plus for a franchise that has rarely seen that type of commitment from an impact veteran player entering unrestricted free agency.
Taurean Prince, when asked about tonight potentially being his last game for the Timberwolves, said "I plan to return".— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) April 29, 2022
Prince is an unrestricted free agent this summer but said the camaraderie of the group and Chris Finch are two of the reasons he'd like to stay in Minnesota.
Whether the Wolves attempt to sign another player to the MLE is anyone’s guess, but it seems as if signing him to that deal would be good for both parties, especially if the team can find interior defense and rebounding help either through the draft or via trade.
The biggest question surrounding Prince before the season wasn’t necessarily whether he would produce, but whether he was better/more impactful than Rubio. Opinions may differ, but Prince was certainly a better fit for this year’s roster, and he played an important role for the Wolves in one of their best seasons in a while.