Exactly one week after the 2022 NBA Draft, potentially the most exciting time of the year begins. NBA Free Agency opens on this afternoon at 5 PM CT, which surely will bring about a flurry of signings and unexpected movement around the league.
After selecting Auburn center Walker Kessler and Duke wing Wendell Moore Jr. in the first round, how will the Minnesota Timberwolves approach free agency having (theoretically) addressed a few team needs with these two?
Entering the offseason, there were a few areas for Minnesota to address before the beginning of the 2022-23 season. Teams will always have areas to improve upon, but the Wolves’ holes were fairly clear. Interior size and rim protection was at the top of the list, with backcourt depth being a few spots behind.
With Naz Reid’s skillset not quite being a perfect fit for this roster, fans and experts alike thought that the Wolves would look to add another big to their rotation. Adding some size, rebounding and rim protection was thought to be a priority. Tim Connelly and Co. agreed, as they selected the 7-foot-1, 245-pound Kessler — the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year — with the No. 22 pick.
Walker Kessler is a fearsome shot-blocker, using his incredible frame + timing to impact shots at the rim.— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) June 24, 2022
Kessler is an awesome rim-protector + help defender, a skillset that the Wolves have been missing for years.pic.twitter.com/Gx0xM6Z3nL
Theoretically, Kessler addresses many of the size/front-court issues for Minnesota, despite the lack of high-end speed and agility that comes with a physical frame like his. Kessler averaged 4.6 blocks (!) per game at Auburn last year, which made him the guy that teams needing rim protection looked at.
The First Team All-SEC center can provide some interior size and shot blocking, but may not be able to play defense the same way that Karl-Anthony Towns can. To put it simply, Kessler both solves some issues and creates some issues. That’s not a Kessler-specific issue, but for a team looking to make a leap, it has the potential to be a hindrance.
Therefore, it’s not unlikely for the Timberwolves to pursue other options in the front-court as free agency begins. The fit with Towns and Kessler on the floor together is TBD, but sharing the floor for extended periods of time seems far-fetched.
It can be hard to predict which players teams will target in free agency, but for this specific offseason, and this specific Wolves roster, it’s a bit more challenging than normal. With at least $45 million coming off the books roughly one year from now — which would allow the Wolves to add a max-level player next summer — it’s unsure how much the front office values that financial flexibility, but what they decide to do in the coming weeks will quickly clarify their thoughts.
Isaiah Hartenstein will probably hit the open market after the Clippers signed Ivica Zubac to a three-year, $33 million extension. Plenty of teams will be vying for his services, so the Wolves will have to set themselves apart in discussions (aka offer him more money than other teams) to sign him. Hartenstein would provide the Wolves some more NBA-established rim protection, as opposed to banking on Kessler making an immediate, consistent impact. He averaged 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds last year in L.A. in a secondary role, but filled that role quite well. The 2019 G-League Finals MVP’s value is up in the air, but there’s a possibility that he gets the full mid-level exception (roughly $10 million) from a team that really values him.
(quick break in the action to say I’m going to try my best to not command+c, command+v Jon Krawcyznski’s free agency piece over at The Athletic.)
After the Orlando Magic decided to let Mo Bamba enter unrestricted free agency, it opened the door for the Wolves to chase a center that fits their roster quite well. The former No. 5 overall pick shot 38% from 3-point range on career-high volume (four attempts per game) while providing smothering rim protection (1.7 blocks per game last year). Bamba’s ability to protect the rim and space the floor would make for an intriguing fit next to Towns, and in the case that other teams around the league are, like the Magic, hesitant to pay him $10 million, Minnesota could make a run at signing him.
With the D’Angelo Russell trade rumors continuing to swirl, there could be a need for the Wolves to address the point guard position in free agency. The same can be said for Malik Beasley, whose future in Minneapolis seems to get more uncertain with each passing day. The TL;DR for this section is essentially: if Russell and Beasley are moved, there will certainly be moves made in the backcourt. If they aren’t, the Wolves might look to lower-level salary options to round out the roster.
How Moore’s role in the rotation develops will be one to monitor, as Chris Finch said he believes Moore can be a plug-and-play guy. He’s considered an all-around player, which includes the ability to be a secondary ball handler. The Duke product is technically a small forward, but has the ability to play shooting guard.
In another telling moment from Finch, he made it clear that Jaylen Nowell’s development is a top priority, along with Anthony Edwards’ and Jaden McDaniels’. Nowell would be the likely candidate to soak up Beasley’s minutes in the event that he’s moved.
Chris Finch: “We can talk about this draft class, we can talk about free agency, but the one thing we know for sure is that the internal development of Ant and Jaden and Jaylen, those three guys in particular, will be the single biggest driver of how far we can go next year.”— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) June 28, 2022
Another thing to keep in mind is whether Finch will give Edwards the keys to the offense, or at least to what extent. In his first two seasons, there were certainly flashes of playmaking ability. If the Wolves move on from Russell, whether that be now or next offseason, it’ll be interesting to see how Finch uses Edwards as a facilitator.
According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, the Wolves have interest in a reunion with Tyus Jones. After the Washington Wizards traded Ish Smith and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the Denver Nuggets for Monte Morris and Will Barton, the Wizards might be out on Jones. If the Wolves decide to take a (probably pretty significant) chunk out of their future cap space, Jones would provide stability in the guard rotation for roughly $15 million per year. Morris also was a possibility for the Wolves, given the relationship between Connelly and Morris from their time in Denver — where Connelly drafted him at No. 51 in 2017 — but that might be out of the picture now.
To secure a shooter in the event that Beasley is moved, Bryn Forbes would be a relatively cheap option to make up for the loss. He’s a career 41.3% 3-point shooter, which is about all there is to mention. He’ll be on the radar of teams with a shot to win the title once again, as he recently won a championship with the Bucks and was acquired by the Nuggets last season.
With so much uncertainty about the current roster, potential targets could change in flash.
If Russell and Beasley are on the team when the season starts, there’s not much that can be done in the backcourt with those two, Patrick Beverley and Jaylen Nowell in the picture. The stand-alone move of drafting Moore Jr. (plus the re-signing of Prince) seems to be the cherry-on-top for the the guard/small forward rotation if the roster remains as it currently stands.
The drafting of Kessler isn’t quite as straightforward, as regardless of his presence the Wolves will continue looking for additions to the front-court. A forward or center that can play alongside Towns (if even just for a few minutes a game) is still an asset to consider, as Kessler’s ability to play drop coverage and block shots signals the team’s desire to have more options in their coverage.
In short, the Wolves drafted players that can theoretically contribute right away, but won’t solve all of their problems. With larger moves seeming to be imminent, the Wolves’ free agency outlook is fluid, and will continue to be until the first domino falls (whatever that may be).