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How the Wolves Stagger Towns and Gobert Will Outline Their Rotation

How can the Wolves rotate their big men to maximize team success?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

With a variety of new faces in the fold, Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch has seemingly endless questions to answer about his rotation, but many of them will orbit how and when the creative tactician deploys his Twin Towers. On the surface, it’s simple to suggest that if the pairing between All-NBA bigs Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert takes off, they should play together as much as possible, and vice versa.

The results on that pairing will likely land somewhere in the middle, though; or at least that’s the safest way to plan it. With that in mind, Finch will have to decide who to pair each player with, and I’d imagine that will be where most rotation decision will derive from.

Given how dominant Gobert is as a defender and in the pick-and-roll on offense, incumbent starting point guard D’Angelo Russell is the most natural on-court partner for Gobert on the roster. If Finch doesn’t want to go extremely PnR heavy with the starting unit, it would make sense to pair those two with a bench unit that, aside from Jaylen Nowell, is a little light on scoring and creation.

If we assume that Finch would like to keep Russell on a similar rotation pattern as last season, the potential rotation starts to take shape. Let’s say Nowell is the first guy off the bench this year, replacing Russell. It would make sense, then, for Kyle Anderson to be the next guy off the bench, coming in for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

The minutes will overlap, of course, but there become a few quartets that make sense on paper to me.

Once Russell and Gobert come out of the game, I’m looking at foursomes of Nowell—Anthony Edwards—Anderson—Towns and Jordan McLaughlin—Russell—Taurean Prince—Gobert. Jaden McDaniels is a nice fit with either lineup. That wonderful fact makes him a nice, flexible piece that Finch can move around as he sees fit.

To put it more simply, breaking the starters down into Ant—KAT and D’Lo—Rudy groups would be profitable.

The Ant/KAT-led group makes sense to me with the idea that Finch will be able to continue to run his more free, random offense that he has found so much success with. Letting Edwards and Nowell cut off the ball and come off hand-offs with Towns and Anderson should be a profitable strategy while maintaining enough shooting on the floor, provided Nowell is comfortable pulling from deep. Anderson obviously isn’t the defender Gobert is, but he has the length and IQ to fill in as the “low-man” alongside Towns in a way that should make the defense stout enough to get consistently string together stops.

While Jaden fits pretty much anywhere, he presents the most value on the floor by helping anchor the defense when Gobert is sitting. Plus, playing Edwards without Russell for stretches gives the Wolves natural periods where they can let Ant explore his playmaking a bit without it feeling like a “your turn, my turn” game.

On the flip side, not only does bringing D’Lo and Gobert back together make a great deal of sense, but adding Jordan McLaughlin to that equation should only amplify their strengths. Russell and McLaughlin have already shown beautiful chemistry, with Russell finding J-Mac for marvelous passes over a defenders ear on UCLA cuts, and J-Mac freeing Russell up to be an off-ball threat as a spot-up shooter. Prince will be an important piece to this unit, as the spacing he provides will be crucial to the success of the PnR game of the guards with Gobert. The well-respected locker room leader also has a bit of juice attacking close-outs, which could be really impactful to have on the floor to take advantage of an antsy defense after the guard-Gobert PnR. That’s why it’s key for Anderson to be paired with Towns, and Prince to be paired with Gobert in mixed lineups.

France v Czech Republic - FIBA Basketball World Cup European Qualifiers
Rudy Gobert is currently playing for France in FIBA World Cup European qualifiers
Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

The fan in me is bummed that this mostly cuts Naz Reid out of the rotation, but the opportunity to get 48 minutes of All-NBA play at the center position is just too appetizing to pass up. Starting units have a shot to slow down the D’Lo-Gobert two-man game. Bench units are likely going to be absolutely helpless against that action to the point that it likely will swing numerous regular season games. The firepower of Towns and Edwards out-pacing starter-heavy units, with Russell and Gobert destroying second-units would be a really fun way to make sure everyone gets their touches without sacrificing team success.

The biggest question mark in this nine-man rotation comes down to making sure there’ is enough shooting on the floor in mixed lineups.

Although starters should have plenty between the guards and KAT, it gets more hairy once you separate Towns, Edwards, and Russell. As mentioned before, any lineup with Gobert and Anderson on the floor together could get ugly in the spacing department. Gobert can create spacing in his own ways, but there’s a reason why the Utah Jazz loved playing Bojan Bogdanovic next to him. Creating vertical spacing is awesome once you get the ball into the paint, but getting into the paint with two total non-shooters in the front court projects to be a challenge.

Beyond those concerns, the Wolves are counting on Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and Jaden McDaniels to provide shot-making on the wing. All have shown flashes of being good shooters, with Edwards showing flashes of being great, but their career 3-point percentages heading into this season serve as a reminder that sometimes we get a bit more caught up in the flashes than the full picture. Not to mention that all were incredibly streaky last season.

Edwards shot 35.7% last season, but that number probably undersells his true shooting ability given the volume and difficulty that many of those shots featured. I’m not concerned about his shooting at all.

The Wolves do need more out of Russell and McDaniels as shooters, though.

Russell is a career 35.6% 3-point shooter, but shot just 34.0% from three last season. Russell doesn’t need to be a 40% 3-point marksman, but they would benefit greatly from him getting back into the 36-38% range next season.

As for McDaniels, as exciting as his shooting was in flashes down the stretch — made 16 of his 32 treys in his final 10 games of the season, play-in game and in the playoffs — he has connected on just 33.8% of his career triggers from deep, with a 31.7% figure last season. I don’t think he’s a 31.7% shooter, but I think it’s a stretch to expect more than 35-37% from Jaden year after year. Getting up to that number on decent volume would unlock his game off the dribble and, in turn, open up a ton for this team offensively while simultaneously make him one of the most indispensable role players in the NBA.

Ultimately, this is something that Finch, who is so much smarter than me, will surely tinker with through the first few weeks of the season. Sometimes it takes a little time for what makes sense on paper to actually work on the court. We saw that just last year, as a starting lineup with Jarred Vanderbilt included was beaten mercilessly in the preseason before it became obvious a week or two into the regular season that he would be an integral part to making the starting lineup work.

This could take time, but when the dust settles, I’d expect Edwards and Towns to share a ton of time together, while Russell and Gobert is another natural pairing. Given that Anderson makes so much more sense next to Towns than he does Gobert for a myriad of reasons, it’s not hard to envision the rotation we laid out earlier taking form. Putting together an NBA rotation is a lot like completing a puzzle, and this one has the corner pieces laid out perfectly for Chris Finch and his staff.