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Dissecting Minnesota’s Roster Construction Before the Trade Deadline

Soaring to eight wins in their last 11 games, the Wolves’ rotation still has question marks before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Detroit Pistons Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Since Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf strain) and Jordan McLaughlin (left calf strain) went down with injuries just after Thanksgiving, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ rotation has been a trial-and-error, test-and-find-out process.

In addition to Towns and McLaughlin missing time, forward Taurean Prince was out with a right shoulder injury from late November to the turn of the new year.

Minnesota ended up going 5-10 in month of December while down three key pieces in the rotation. However, they’ve bounced back and rattled off eight wins in their last 11 contests to start 2023.

If it weren’t for the Detroit Pistons, the Wolves would only have one loss in the calendar year (and we’d all having one fewer losing-our-minds moment).

Despite recent success there are still weaknesses, and it also doesn’t mean there won’t be re-acclimation time for Towns and McLaughlin when they come back.

At this point it’s very likely that those two won’t be back until after the trade deadline, making it tougher to determine what roster moves, if any, should be made.

Keep your eyes on our 2023 Timberwolves Trade Rumors Tracker for specific trade targets and the latest nes, but right now let’s consider the difficult task this front office has with making roster moves despite not knowing what this current roster really looks like at full strength.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Before their recent hot shooting (shot over 40% from 3-point land as a team in three of their last four games), the Wolves were periodically looking for more sharpshooting. They also need rebounding help. However, those needs becomes a bit muddier once Towns comes back and provides his usual elite-level shooting and presence on the glass.

Minnesota ranks No. 28 in the league in rebounding rate at 47.9%, a number that is certainly impacted by Towns’ absence, but more importantly affected by lack of fundamentals for much of the season. It’s improved recently, but earlier in the year included allowing the Milwaukee Bucks to grab 68 rebounds in one game (Wolves out-rebounded by 32 in the contest).

They’ve also felt their lack of a true point guard before Edwards’ recent emergence as a facilitator, with or without McLaughlin in the lineup. That’s the basis of the Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry trade rumors, but the return of the USC alum will only help. With Point Ant flashing playmaking ability, does that discourage the front office from spending big on a point guard?

Dane Moore has done a great job breaking down the intricacies of D’Angelo Russell’s contract situation, how the Wolves can maintain a player (or re-sign him) in his pay range in his “salary slot” even if he’s traded, and what his value is (both financially as well as his trade value).

Russell is — and always has been — a player whose value mirrors his scoring ability at that point in time. He’s surely grown as a passer, but without a strong presence on the defensive side of the ball, a stretch of low-efficiency scoring mixed with his standard defensive play can make for a difficult fit with the rest of the group. But when he is firing on all cylinders, playing unselfishly, and giving maximum effort defensively, we get fantastic stretches like the one Russell is currently riding.

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

With Edwards absorbing much of the scoring role recently, a true “floor general” that can defend seems like a nice pairing with the third-year guard to help combat their 15.7 turnovers per game average (third most in the league).

However, we’ve recently witnessed Russell take over games and play an integral role in their success. Having a scorer with that ability is valuable, especially when paired with consistent scoring next to him in Edwards and eventually Towns.

The question then becomes: what does the front office value more?

The answer will become clear in roughly two weeks.

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Perimeter defense could use a boost regardless of Towns and McLaughlin’s absence, but Wolves fans don’t need to be reminded of the detriments of a purely defensive guard on the offense (we still love you though, JO). However, approaching the deadline forces us to remember that any player with any level of two-way ability comes at a cost.

(Editor’s note: A masked Josh Okogie led the Phoenix Suns in scoring last night with a game-high 24 points in a win over the Indiana Pacers)

Again, Edwards is involved here. Yet again he’s flashed his ability to defend on the perimeter, making it somewhat difficult to determine just how much help this team needs in that area. With such a heavy offensively workload for Ant — as well as general workload that has him leading the league in minutes played with 1,748 — tasking him with defensive responsibilities seems less than ideal.

Taurean Prince’s return, Kyle Anderson’s recent surge, and Austin Rivers’ continued defensive intensity are all key, but perimeter defense has periodically been the team’s most detrimental weakness.

Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Just like every team, there are weaknesses. But how to go about addressing them is a hard question to answer.

Without the team at full strength — missing Gobert, Towns and McLaughlin right now — it’s not hard to identify the team’s weaknesses, but it’s difficult to determine the degree to which they address their weaknesses at the deadline.

The answer seems to come when looking at the age-old timeline question that’s been surrounding the Wolves since Edwards’ rise to stardom and Jaden McDaniels’ potential to become an elite glue guy.

The Wolves’ acquisition of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year blended the two timelines, as future draft capital left along with Patrick Beverly, Jared Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Leondro Bolmaro and Walker Kessler.

As Feb. 9 approaches, the lack of draft capital will likely be front of mind in any move President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and Co. consider making.

Do they lean in and maximize the current roster (Rudy/KAT) or attempt to bolster Edwards and McDaniels’ future? Seems incredibly difficult to do both.