This time of year is filled with all kinds of draft talk in the NBA.
Whether it be mock drafts, prospect interviews, workouts or trades, most fanbases have a lot to talk about when it comes to the NBA Draft. This year however, because of the Rudy Gobert trade, the Minnesota Timberwolves are not very involved in this conversation (not yet at least) as they only have one draft pick — 53rd overall — late in the second round. While there is plenty to talk about concerning this pick and attempting to find value, I am always left craving more.
So, why not go back to the Wolves’ draft-and-stash from last June and get an update on 20-year-old Italian point guard Matteo Spagnolo.
Spagnolo was drafted 50th overall by the Timberwolves last year and currently plays on loan for Aquila Basket Trento (Italy Serie A1) from Real Madrid (Spain). The Brindisi, Italy native averaged 11.9 points, 3.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds during league play. His per game scoring mark was second on the team. Spagnolo is a crafty guard who is a talented creator in the pick-and-roll, and is a more than willing passer.
Trento was able to qualify for the playoffs this year and Spagnolo shined in the series. In one of the games he scored 23 points to go along with eight rebounds and two assists. He won the player of the game and flashed a lot of the potential that the Timberwolves front office saw when they drafted him last year. (Thanks to our guy Leo for the highlights and information).
Last week, Wolves Euro stash, Matteo Spagnolo, won the LBA playoff top performer honor in a narrow 1-pt loss— Leo S (@Y0Leo) June 3, 2023
.563 FG% pic.twitter.com/uihWBJKPJX
Along with this, Spagnolo just posted on Instagram and he is in Minneapolis this week. This could indicate something is in the works in terms of his contract with the Timberwolves, or that he is just getting some prep in before jetting to Las Vegas for NBA Summer League next month. Spagnolo is still under contract overseas through the next season (2023-24) but Minnesota could buy him out in order to bring him over to the NBA if both sides believe that is the best course of action. Given that most of the Wolves’ CBA-induced financial challenges take effect next summer, it may make the most sense to delay the start of Spagnolo’s contract for one more season and continue to let him develop overseas.
Updated Scouting Report
Pick and Roll
Spagnolo’s ability to dissect a defense and make a play out of the pick-and-roll is one of the best parts of his game and the one that excites me the most. Even though the PnR is not as prominent in Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch’s offense as it is in the NBA at-large, thriving in PnR is still a crucial skill for any young point guard entering the league. Spagnolo is adept at making the right decision in this situation and it usually ends in a basket when he is orchestrating the PnR. While his best attributes within this set are definitely getting to the rim and passing to the roll man, he has also shown the ability to shoot the deep ball when his defender goes under, throw the skip pass off the help and even pull up in the mid-range for two points.
He is also terrific at making plays happen on the court. When the ball is in his hands he orchestrates the offense well and can move on and off the ball. A lot of this comes out of the PnR, but I did see times when he was able to score off of back cuts and other offensive actions. This versatility will help him in the NBA as while he most likely will have a decent usage rate; while I expect him to play more point guard than shooting guard in the NBA (at least that is where I see him excelling the most), the ability to make plays off the ball is key in his development considering he projects to play alongside an offensive engine in Anthony Edwards. Overall, Spagnolo does a great job reading the defense and sets up many good shots in the process.
This season for Trento, Matteo Spagnolo averaged 2.7 turnovers per game. That is not a great stat that you are looking for in a future point guard (especially one that is supposed to follow the likes of Mike Conley). He can get out of control and also can do a little too much with his passing. Both of these things, along with a high usage rate, causes the turnovers to be inflated on the stat sheet to that extent. With this being said, and while it is an issue, it is important to keep a few things in mind when talking about this as a negative trait. A 20-year-old player with the ball in his hands as much as he does is bound to make a mistake here and there. Along with this, he is an ambitious and talented passer, which can lead to turnovers. Ambitious passing is not always the worst thing and can lead to great plays, but there is a balance to it. Finding an equilibrium there is something that can be learned with time, and it is important to not take it away completely.
The second negative that is more of an issue for me when I was watching Spagnolo was his off-ball defense. While he did average 0.9 steals per game it seemed to me that he was disengaged and lackluster in this aspect of the game. Many times, especially when he was off the ball, the pass would go away from him and he would stand straight up instead of staying in an athletic stance. He also had a tendency to be late on rotations on the backside which caused some problems for him and his teammates.
Let’s watch some clips from EuroCup below to see what I am getting at. Spagnolo is #9 on the team in the dark threads.
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In this first clip, Spagnolo is standing straight up and it is easy to tell that he is not really engaged with the guy he is guarding. The player with the ball swings it to the top of the key, Spagnolo does not react and gets screened (while not fighting through it) leading to an easy 3-pointer for the guy Spagnolo was supposed to be guarding.
Spagnolo then seems at least a little bit more engaged on the backside as he has his head on the swivel. Unfortunately, he does not react fast enough to the high PnR, rotates late and the roll man dunks on him. When he is on the backside like that, his job is to “tag” the roller (switch on to him). While I am willing to give him some slack as his teammate next to him could have helped he is still liable for that positioning.
The last clip is at the end of the game when Trento holds a five-point lead and has a razor thin margin for error. Spagnolo is guarding the shooter and Gran Canaría run a great play, but again he is disengaged. He does not fight through the screen and it leads to a trey for the other team.
Overall, there is a lot to like about Spagnolo’s playmaking and offensive capabilities and I am more than willing to deal with the defensive shortcomings as a result of that.
Spagnolo is an intriguing prospect and a good asset to have on a Timberwolves roster considering their roster and cap crunch, and that they don’t have a concrete long-term option at either starting or backup point guard. While this time of the year is usually for focusing on this year’s draft prospects, don’t forget about the 20-year-old Italian — because his game deserves the attention.