The majority of the discussion around Timberwolves point guards this summer will revolve around D’Angelo Russell. While his situation is the big ticket item that will be discussed ad nauseam, there’s another in-house decision to make at guard that I believe will help the Timberwolves not only balance their roster out, but also make the team better in the long-run.
I’ll go into further length on the D’Angelo Russell situation on a day that isn’t Mother’s Day, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s just play the percentages and assume Russell is still on the roster when the ball goes up for the first Wolves game next season. Additionally, let’s assume that Jarred Vanderbilt is likely moving to the bench, and the Wolves will have found a different option to start at the 4.
While Russell has found success next to another guard for much of his career, the optimized version of this team should feature Russell as the lone point guard in the starting lineup, with Patrick Beverley taking on the Sixth Man role.
First things first, this is about sliding the young guys, who will be leading this franchise for years to come, into their natural positions. While wings are basically interchangeable between the 2, 3, and sometimes 4, the best version of Anthony Edwards is at the 2, with Jaden McDaniels playing alongside him at the 3. Both players can capably play up a position in different lineup combinations, but just because they can doesn’t mean it should be their default position.
There are a myriad of reasons why those guys fit better on the wing than in the smaller parts of the front court, but chief among them is that this team has a rebounding problem that no doubt was exasperated at least a bit by having two point guards on the floor. Beverley in particular is a good rebounder for his position, but there’s a difference in being a good rebounder for your position and being a good rebounder in general. Edwards and McDaniels need to improve as rebounders in general, but it’s hard to think that a move into their natural positions wouldn’t help.
While size isn’t the only thing that matters for rebounding purposes, ditching the D’Lo/Bev back court pairing for such long stretches immediately makes a once small lineup much bigger.
Aside from the size and rebounding boost, this would also set the Wolves up well rotationally. McDaniels saw a lot of success with the bench unit this year, but has rightfully played well enough to have earned the opportunity to start on the wing. It would make a lot of sense for McDaniels to be paired with Russell in their rotations. Having D’Lo and Jaden as the first two subs, replaced by Beverley and, say, Malik Beasley or Taurean Prince, would be a nice way to balance out the offense and defense on both units, while leaving the door open for Chris Finch to close games with whoever is playing best on any given night.
While this is what I would like to see happen under the circumstances laid out before, there is more going on here than just the X’s and O’s on the court.
For one, this would require Russell to view himself as a “point guard”, which is something he’s been resistant to lately.
Russell view himself as more of a “hybrid” or “combo” guard, not as a point guard. This holds him back from leaning into his best skill, his passing. Russell can be a tough shot-maker at times, but he is a genuinely great passer when he wants to be. If he’s on the roster, that is the attribute the Wolves need most from him, especially while Anthony Edwards is still coming along and learning how to effectively run an offense.
Aside from Russell, there’s also the Pat Bev portion of this equation. Beverley is as selfless as they come, but even the most selfless players in the league still want to start. The common phrase that goes around when questions like this come up is “it doesn’t matter who starts, it matters who finishes.” That might be true for fans or even coaches, but it sure as hell isn’t true when it comes to how the players feel.
If a guy views himself as a starting-caliber player, he’s going to want to start. It is a pride thing that says something about your status among your peers in the league. Like I said earlier, Beverley has had an extremely positive influence on this team, and has played the game selflessly for his entire career. With that said, why should he feel like he’s the player who should be moved to the bench, especially after the way everyone played in the playoffs?
Maybe Bev is an even better teammate than I am giving him credit for (he’s an AWESOME teammate), but I can’t imagine a move to the bench, even if he was a “Super-Sub”, is something that he would be thrilled about. The hard part of all of this is that it’s not always about simply putting your five best players on the floor at the same time. Basketball, and lineups and rotations, are a puzzle. You’re constantly trying to put the pieces together to have all of your bases covered, or at least as many as possible with any given lineup.
While I do believe that staggering Beverley and Russell, while giving each of them a stint together as well as some time alongside Jordan McLaughlin, is the best way to maximize what they each bring to the Wolves, it ultimately feels really unlikely to actually happen. These guys are humans, and that matters just as much as anything else. Neither Russell nor Beverley are “wrong” to view themselves a certain way, but it does make decisions about the lineups and rotations more difficult than strictly trying to get the most out of what a roster can do on the court.
Ultimately, these are fine problems to have. No longer are the Wolves trying to figure out how many NBA-level players they have on their team. Now, they have a roster full of them, and the challenge becomes putting that puzzle together in a way that not only puts the best product on the floor, but keeps the locker room intact. It’s on Chris Finch to figure all of that out, but if he could get the players on board, I really like the idea of Beverley as the sixth man, with Russell leaning into his passing and playmaking role with the starting lineup.