Bruce Buffer once wisely said, “It’s time”.
In the backwards fashion of the NBA offseason, the dust has settled on the draft, and free agency is upon us. Press conferences have taken place, breadcrumbs have been dropped, and improvements on the margins are still needed in order for the Wolves to accomplish the repeatedly talked-about task of elevating their ceiling from last year.
True to the theme of said margins, Canis’ Andrew Carlson and Jack Borman explore a few mid-level ($10.49 million) and bi-annual ($4.105 million) exception targets the Wolves could approach to make an immediate rotational difference.
Mid-Level Exception Ideas
Lonnie Walker IV
AC: Celtics twitter seems to want Walker pretty badly, but why not for the Timberwolves? While it would be pretty surprising if Patrick Beverley was gone this offseason, Walker would be a clear Swiss Army knife move to prepare for life after Pat Bev. Malik Beasley would probably need to be traded in order to make minutes work with an internal expected expected improvement out of Jaylen Nowell, but it could be a way to sure up defensively on the bench unit and inherently give Nowell more shooting and playmaking volume on the offensive end with Walker not being an incredibly adept shooter. Walker doesn’t need the ball all the time; he’s averaged right around 10 attempts a game over the last two years. Wouldn’t peg this as incredibly likely move; but the caliber of potential move at this spot could tell us the Wolves’ plans for Beasley, how serious the team is about Nowell’s expanded role, and how big of a tryout rookie Wendell Moore receives in his first year.
JB: I like Walker’s game. He’s incredibly shifty off the bounce, can create his own shot and will have five-to-seven games a year where he’s just unconscious and goes for 30+ points off the bench. He’s got good size and agility for a 2-guard at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and can effectively defend 2s and 3s, which is something the Wolves would certainly welcome. I agree that it may not make as much sense if Minnesota is trying to open some minutes for Nowell.
AC: Took a few minutes for me to make the jersey edit above to see what Jones in a Wolves uniform would look like. Obviously, this move would come at the expense of offloading D-Lo minute-wise, but it’s clear the type of point guard Chris Finch likes to run his offense, and Jones is almost exactly that. He gets the ball up the floor, has a super high IQ, plays with pace, and gets the ball out of his hand quick to initiate offense. He’s also led the league in AST-TO ratio every season since 2019. Honestly, he’s a better Jordan McLaughlin. If a D-Lo trade were to happen, I think this could be a realistic option. Though I still think getting Jones for the MLE is a bit of a stretch, Zach Lowe recently talked about Jones having surprisingly less of a market than previously thought, and there’s already been reported interest. The only thing I would caution is for the Wolves to tread lightly on this and be confident in the younger guys’ offensive improvement in order for this to happen. D-Lo impacted winning quite a bit last year in the regular season (39-26 with him, 7-10 without), and to shift a guard spot away from a player who can get big ISO buckets could be costly.
JB: Man, that edit is clean! I really enjoy Tyus as a player. He takes care of the ball, he’s a smart team defender, always finds teammates that are open, plays with good pace and never tries to do too much — like you said, all qualities you would like to have in a starting point guard. His swing skill is shooting; he has oscillated between above and below average marks from 3 for pretty much his entire career. If he can build on his 39% clip last season, then I’m all in on Tyus rejoining the Wolves. The biggest issue with signing Jones would be that if he signs a long-term deal, a max salary slot may be tougher to come by last summer. As much as I have enjoyed watching and cheering for Tyus for the better part of the last 10 years, I am not convinced a long-term deal that hinders financial flexibility makes sense. I’d love a deal that’s a two-year, $22 million deal with a team option on year two or something in that neighborhood, where Tyus gets a raise and the Wolves get long-term flexibility.
Gary Payton II
AC: It’s rumored Payton may be Dallas-bound, but running this along a similar concept to Lonnie Walker. Payton would bring now-playoff experience to a team in need of it, and plays incredibly hard on the defensive end. I think his length can give you the ability to play him alongside Nowell and McLaughlin in circumstances as well. If the three-point shot can become a little bit more consistent (just under two attempts from deep last year), Payton could be another example of the direction the Wolves could go on the bench if a Beasley trade were imminent.
JB: I wrote about Gary Payton II in a post yesterday, praising many of the same things you touched on here. I think he make sense on a post-Pat Bev Timberwolves team, but he has some redundancies there that may make this move one that Minnesota passes on, even before you consider the path to free up more minutes for Nowell. But, man, was he fun to watch down the stretch for the Warriors.
JB: The Wolves have been linked to a plethora of bigs in this year’s NBA Free Agency cycle, but Bamba is not one them and I am unsure as to why. He shot 38% from 3 on 4.0 attempts per game, and averaged 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 26 minutes per game last season for the Orlando Magic, who did not tender a qualifying offer of roughly $10 million. Sure, he hasn’t lived up to the expectations he had as the No. 6 pick in 2018, but Bamba has plenty of marketable NBA skills and his three best skills would all check boxes for the Wolves. He needs to improve as a pick-and-roll defender in space at the level of the screen, where he gave up 1.10 PPP to rollers, per InStat. But, he’s very good in the screen game offensively and is a monster on the offensive glass, too. He’s probably my favorite MLE target of the bunch.
AC: It gives Walker Kessler time. That might be my biggest takeaway out of this potential move. As the roster shapes out right now before any FA moves are made, Kessler is expected to shoulder a pretty big role as a rookie, and that probably shouldn’t happen on a team that wants to make a jump in the west. I feel like Bamba has been talked about as a Wolves fit for awhile, and it makes sense. I love his fit next to KAT for extended minutes, and he clearly fills the rim protector need immediately with his nearly two blocks a game from last year. Also, he might be able to hit spot threes...? We’ll see on that, he shot 38% last year from behind the arc. My only request is that we please don’t overplay Mo Bamba (the song) again. It had its time, and it was a great time.
JB: The man won’t stop tweeting wolf emojis and it’s messing with my brain. But there have been reports out there that Oladipo could be a target at the taxpayer mid-level exception ($6.479 million) for the Sacramento Kings, who questionably decided against tendering a qualifying offer to guard Donte DiVicenzo, whom they traded Marvin Bagley III and draft assets for last season. That could make more sense if Oladipo was on the way. But I think he makes a ton of sense as an option for the Wolves who can thrive as a second-side creator playing off the catch as a scorer and distributor, cutting off Towns in the post, and spotting up from deep. He needs to be more consistent as a shooter, but I like his game offensively. His defense was what kept him on the floor for the Miami Heat in the playoffs. He still moves well laterally, has great timing with his hands, and is still a good off-ball defender who is a threat to jump passing lanes at any time. Oladipo makes more sense on a team without Beasley and Russell, though.
AC: Tangent, but you mentioned DiVincenzo. Another interesting fill if Beasley is gone? Either way, I love Oladipo and he still plays an exciting brand of basketball. He was so huge for the Heat down the stretch with some of his shotmaking in addition to his defense, and honestly, I thought he would go for a few million more than the MLE. I would be really interested to see him, Nowell, McLaughlin, McDaniels, and KAT on the floor at the same time, as you alluded to above. Any combination that can move and space would be super exciting. Space would need to be cleared, but there’s never a time where Oladipo becomes and un-playable player. Sacramento, huh? Him, Fox, and Davion Mitchell. Maybe some shooting could help with that athleticism?
JB: I’m old enough to remember when TJ Warren was getting in fights with Jimmy Butler and dropping 50-balls in the NBA bubble. Warren missed all of left season recovering from a surgically repaired left foot and has not played since December of 2020, but he has been an incredibly productive player over the course of his career. He’s a career 15.5 points per game scorer whose role on the Wolves would be to come off the bench and get buckets while defending bigger wings and 4s. Warren can create his own shot at all three levels of the floor, is a league average shooter from 3, and can get to the free throw line, too. It’d certainly be a gamble to bet on Warren returning to his peak form, but his game should scale down nicely if his foot speed is there on the defensive end.
AC: He looked like 6’8 Harden mixed with LeBron in the bubble! What a time to be alive. But really, I’m obsessed with this, and his Jimmy Butler scuffle makes him an immediate culture fit. It would be interesting to see what happens with Jarred Vanderbilt’s role/status should this happen, but a big wing that can score in volume is useful. Can he play next to KAT? What does the defense look like with both of them on the floor? That would be my main question if this were to happen.
AC: I think Knox will have an interesting market in the coming days. He’s had an objectively underwhelming career so far, but is still just 22 years old and could be viewed as a player that just needs the right environment to contribute to a good team. I get the sense it was a broken marriage in New York (who would have guessed), especially after his rather encouraging rookie year (13 PPG, 35% from 3). Enter the Wolves - a team that could use a long, athletic forward coming off the bench with the ability to shoot. He wouldn’t be forced to play heavy minutes with Vanderbilt, Kessler, and a more prevalent aforementioned Jaylen Nowell in the fold, but Knox’s skillset (shooting, spacing, handling the ball in transition) could be something Chris Finch can work with, and Knox could take a couple notes from Taurean Prince on how to be more effective at this level.
JB: Call me crazy, but I like this bet, honestly. There is a good player somewhere in Knox and I could definitely see a world in which a team gets him on a two-year, $8 million deal and ends up getting significant surplus value out of it. I completely agree that his strengths fit this team. I’m not sure where he fits in defensively, especially considering the potential for a Vando/Prince logjam in the bench front-court. But at $4 million, you wouldn’t need to play him. There will be injuries and COVID absences, too, and having capable guys ready to roll is important. He’d be a good bench addition.
Danuel House Jr.
JB: House is a legit 3-and-D guy who has the physicality and foot speed to capably defend some of the toughest covers in the league on the wing, and learned to play off the ball while in orbit of James Harden during his Houston Rockets days. He’s a career 36.6% 3-point shooter, too. House doesn’t bring as much rebounding as you’d hope, but that’s largely because his assignments are perimeter-oriented players and he is a good transition player who is more useful as a guy who sprints up the floor and spaces out to create corner 3s as well as layups for his teammates on the break. He may very well get more than the BAE, but if not, he’s a solid option.
AC: I wonder if he could fill a similar role for the Wolves as Royce O’ Neal (now a member of the Nets) did for the Jazz. My only questions is if he can return to his earlier Houston form in terms of efficiency. He shot right around league average (55%) last year true shooting, and 52% the year before, markedly down from when he first got to H-Town, and was around the same volume. If he can correct, that, I’m in on this.
Barring a D-Lo trade, it’s pretty safe to say that no move is going to make you go buy season tickets because of the move itself, but there are prototypes for what the Wolves do still need. And as noted above, there are a million different ways they can go. All we can do now is head to the grocery store, buy a box of Orville Redenbacher (though I’m more of a Pop Secret fan), kick back, and enjoy the fun.