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How Will the Minnesota Timberwolves Use Kyle Anderson?

Minnesota’s new forward is a man of unique talents; what can his previous results tell us about how Chris Finch can maximize them?

Boston Celtics v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/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 D’Angelo Russell, click here.

Kyle Anderson is in line for a big role with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2022-23 season. He could be the first player off the bench for a team looking to ascend to the NBA’s elite and will be tasked with playing plenty of four alongside two very different big men in Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. How will head coach Chris Finch put his talents to use?

As it turns out, taking on more responsibility is probably good for Anderson. Easily the highest usage percentage of his career (18.5) came in 2020-21 with the Memphis Grizzlies, when Anderson broke double-digits in scoring average for the only time in his career and posted a career-high in assists while maintaining solid efficiency. He started in all 74 of his appearances in the regular season and playoffs.

Finch’s goal should be to replicate that season as much as possible, and that starts with getting the ball in his hands. Anderson took a step back in basically every statistical category last season, and while injuries played a role in that, he also wasn’t given the same chances to make plays.

Anderson has always been a great playmaker at the forward spot; he hasn’t placed below the 93rd percentile at his position in AST:Usage since his rookie season, per Cleaning the Glass. However, it seems his ball security improves with increased reps — 2020-21 saw him post a TOV% of 10, which ranked in the 70th percentile. It’s the only time Anderson has ranked above the 40th percentile since that rookie year in which he was seldom used.

But how did Anderson attack as a scorer in his career-best season? His most frequent play type was spot up, in which he logged 247 possessions per

He averaged 1.07 points per possession on these plays, which ranked a mediocre 38th of 77 players with at least 200 such possessions. However, it was a career-high in PPP, and the reps did offer some fun chances to see why the nickname “Slow-Mo” is so apt for Anderson.

His second-most utilized play type was transition (181 possessions). His 1.08 PPP here ranked 42nd of 65 players with at least 150 possessions. Again, not incredibly inspiring.

The key, though, was increased reps as a pick-and-roll ball handler. His 160 possessions nearly doubled his previous career-high mark, and his 0.99 PPP were a career-best as well as ranking 20th of 97 players with 150 or more such possessions.

It makes sense that Anderson would thrive in the PNR; his plodding, irregular pace keeps defenders off-balance, he’s always liable to drop a dime and he’s great at using his body to create angles in close quarters. He’ll get to his spot for an open look at some point.

Building more pick-and-roll into the offense is a challenge for Finch that I already outlined in last week’s article on Russell, but it’s worth prioritizing given the number of players on the roster who would benefit from more of this play type.

Another positive of giving Anderson more responsibility? He has shown it won’t affect his defensive effort. The 2020-21 season marked his second-best season in defensive RAPTOR, FiveThirtyEight’s holistic performance stat. It’s not a perfect indication on its own, but there’s no evidence of a defensive drop-off.

That’s important because Minnesota needs Anderson on that end, as well. His 7-foot-2 wingspan and quick hands help him disrupt opposing offenses; he averaged 3.4 deflections per game last season, which ranked in the 92nd percentile per

Anderson won’t monopolize the ball — he averaged just 2.76 seconds per touch in 2020-21, 131st among players who appeared in at least 41 games. It’s much more palatable to give him more touches when you know the ball won’t stick to his hands while he’s playing with multiple offensive stars.

Last year, his efficiency and overall effectiveness fell with his minutes and touches, back to around his career averages. The 2020-21 Kyle Anderson was the only version of him that was worthy of the type of role Minnesota could require. You can see the whole package of what he brought in the below video: advantageous defense, cunning PNR play, the occasional jumper.

If Finch wants to get that guy, he should carve out a role where Anderson can do what he excels at in the halfcourt and empower him to make plays with the ball.