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Will Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes’ Strengths Outweigh Their Weaknesses?

Both of Minnesota’s offseason guard signings specialize in one end of the floor. How they perform on the other is what will determine their role.

Los Angeles Clippers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves have undergone massive changes in the 2022 offseason, and it’s worth wondering how exactly it will all come together for Minnesota in 2022-23 as they look to build on a promising year. Each week from now until the start of preseason in October, I will be writing about one specific thing for each potential rotation player that I am most intrigued to see in terms of how the team ultimately fits. For last week’s story on Wendell Moore Jr., click here.

Today’s NBA requires players who get it done on both ends of the floor.

This notion is almost a prerequisite for role players. If you don’t have star level talent on one end, you better not be a target on the other, because you won’t get many minutes.

Both of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ offseason back-court signings must prove they have this two-way capability. Former Denver Nuggets Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes will both have an uphill climb to earn playing time on a roster with plenty of depth, and that means they are in competition with each other, even if their skillsets don’t completely overlap.

What intrigues me most about these two for this upcoming season is that both players are stronger in one phase of the game than the other, but the skills are flipped. The player who most overcomes the weak area of their game will likely have a leg up in the race for minutes.

Minnesota needs a capable defensive guard with Patrick Beverley now out the door, and Rivers was likely brought in to fill some of that role. He’s not a world-beater by any means, but he is capable, energetic and has solid size for the position.

Rivers got the Steph Curry assignment when the Nuggets faced the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Granted, he got as much playing time as he did because of Denver’s horrible injury luck, but he made some big defensive plays against the eventual champs.

The former Duke star held his own against Curry, limiting him to 3/11 shooting, including 1/6 from downtown per’s matchup data. Five games is obviously a small sample size, but he was by far Denver’s best defensive option against Curry, and that counts for something on a team that very well may face the two-time MVP in the 2023 playoffs.

The offense, though, is slightly less dependable. Rivers is a career 34.9% 3-point shooter, which muddles his fit on a team that needs spacers around its stars. He’s not particularly efficient overall, either; Rivers hasn’t posted a true shooting percentage above 55.1%, which is about the average for his position, in any of his 10 seasons.

One silver lining here is that Rivers has never had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, which raises his floor significantly. As long as he takes care of the ball, he should be playable on that end.

Forbes, on the other hand, is probably even better on offense than Rivers is on defense because of his shooting. Forbes hasn’t shot below 38.8% from downtown since his rookie season in 2016-17.

He hasn’t shot below 39.5% on catch-and-shoot 3s in any of the past four seasons; in 2020-21 and 2018-19, he finished fifth in accuracy among players with at least 200 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts.

The ability to launch 3s is going to be crucial around so many ball-dominant players. Just as Minnesota needs a guard defender replacement for Beverley, it also needs a marksman replacement after including Malik Beasley in the Rudy Gobert deal.

The problem here is that Forbes has been horrendous on defense for much of his career. His best single-season defensive RAPTOR score is -1.3 (0 is average) in 2017-18 per FiveThirtyEight. While that metric is not the end-all be-all, it is concerning that he has three of the worst 27 single-season defensive RAPTOR scores in the past five seasons.

It backs up what you see on tape: At 6-foot-2, Forbes is undersized and lacks the physical and anticipatory gifts that determine good defenders. It’s been the No. 1 deterrent to consistent playing time as he has bounced around the last few years.

At best, these two will battle Jordan McLaughlin for the 10th spot in the rotation. That may sound like an inconsequential struggle, but remember that McLaughlin was called upon for crucial clutch minutes in the Grizzlies series.

McLaughlin certainly has a leg up in the competition right now, but Rivers and Forbes could set themselves up for a postseason role if they perform in the regular season. To earn that privilege, though, they face the tall task of enhancing the areas of their game that have proven lackluster through multiple seasons of NBA experience. We’ll see if either can flip the preconceptions about their game with the Wolves.