The Minnesota Timberwolves had six players (five on the 2023-24 roster) play in the 2023 FIBA World Cup over the last month, which was tied with three other teams for the most in the NBA. While the focus has been on Anthony Edwards and what he did with Team USA, the other four Timberwolves players also showed positive flashes that us as fans should be excited about as training camp and the regular season fast approach.
I organized these players from No. 5 to No. 1 as to who I believe will have the biggest role on the team this coming season.
5) Nickeil Alexander-Walker — 3-Point Shooting; PG Play
It is funny that Nickeil Alexander-Walker comes in at number five on this list because I believe he showed the most progression and attributes to help the Timberwolves within the FIBA World Cup tournament outside of Edwards. The lanky Canadian played an integral role in his home country’s route to the bronze medal. He came off the bench for the most part but was their main initiator and ran the second unit the majority of the time that he was on the floor.
This is the first positive takeaway that we saw from Nickeil during his FIBA run. He mostly ran the backup point guard position and was very effective in that role. With the Wolves deciding to opt for a tandem of Alexander-Walker and Shake Milton as their de facto back up point guards it was definitely a question mark, as it is not necessarily either of their primary positions. Because of that, seeing NAW be able to run the point effectively for Canada when his cousin Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was not on the floor is a sigh of relief for most Timberwolves fans. It also will allow him to carve out a bigger role for himself if he can run that point guard position effectively.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker through 7 World Cup games...— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) September 8, 2023
CAN vs. USA in 3rd place game Sunday. pic.twitter.com/FynWmlOQ70
I know I said one thing but I could not decide on which was more important so I chose to do two things (hope you can forgive me). The other positive takeaway from FIBA from NAW was his shooting. If you watched the Timberwolves closely after the trade deadline you know that the Virginia Tech product was hit or miss when it came to shooting beyond the arc. During FIBA play, we saw him become much more consistent from downtown.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker has made 19 of his 45 (42.2%) 3-point attempts in 7 World Cup games. Both encouraging on hit rate and volume.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) September 8, 2023
Catch and shoots have been even better — 14/31 (45.2%).
This is shooting at a high clip. He did end up finishing the tournament at a hair below 40% but that is huge for his production for the season. NAW shot more of them and at a higher clip then he ever has done in the NBA during this tournament. Now, it could most definitely be a flash in the pan kind of performance but his mechanics do look more consistent and repeatable then during the regular season.
Didn’t see much of NAW before he was traded to the Wolves but his shot mechanics are looking WAY better now. More rotation because of a harder flick of the wrist makes it more consistent and less kunckleball-like. Something to keep an eye on this season https://t.co/ti6vummGTa— Benny Hughes (@Benny__Hughes) August 27, 2023
4) Kyle Anderson — Running Offense Through Him
While China was not great as a team that does not mean that some positives cannot be taken from Kyle Anderson’s performance. He was the only player on China that is a current player in the NBA, which meant he had to take on a much larger role in the offense of the Chinese national team. This was very intriguing as it is something that we do not see very much for the Timberwolves. China used him in a Nikola Jokić-esque role where he got the ball on the elbows or at the top of the key and allowed him to work to get a good shot out of that for himself or for others. While he was not nearly as effective as Jokić (which is meant to be no shade towards Anderson) he was able to orchestrate solid offensive possessions for a roster that did not have much talent on that end of the floor.
With the decision to steer into the big identity that the Wolves have committed themselves to, Anderson is going to have to slide up a position and even run the point guard sometimes. Knowing how to use him effectively in that role is huge and China at least gave some sort of blueprint (whether that be in how they should or should not use him) of what to do.
3) Rudy Gobert — Effectively Unlocking His Offensive Impact
It is not an unpopular opinion that the Timberwolves offense was clunky last year when both Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert were on the floor together. Because of that, Minnesota Head Coach Chris Finch needs to find ways to space the floor and be able to use both of them effectively on the offensive end of the floor. Finch has already gone on record as saying that he needs to implement more structure rather than sticking with his free-flowing offense that has been a staple of the Wolves since Finch took over.
France is the team that he should be looking at to use Gobert efficiently on the offensive end. Even though they definitely under performed and did not meet expectation, they were so good at accentuating Rudy’s strengths on the offensive end and using him as a screener as well scoring threat on lob plays. While France does not have anyone that is on the same level as Towns and Edwards on their team, still taking some of that structure and using what Gobert brings to the table offensively is important to making the two big look work long term.
2) Karl-Anthony Towns — Willingness to Shoot 3s at a High Volume
It has been well-documented that KAT is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league. He shoots them at a high rate never seen before for a player of his size. For the Dominican Republic, he was in a very similar position to Anderson: He was by far the best player on a team that lacked significant NBA talent. Therefore, we got to see a lot of Towns as a lead dog on the floor. He played phenomenally and impacted winning at a high level, leading the Dominican Republic beyond pool play. The best thing that I saw from Towns was his willingness to not only take a bunch of triples, but take some more difficult step backs and deeper ones that we don’t see that much at the NBA level. He can make these shots and I would love to see some of that come regular season time.
One of Towns’ best offensive years came back in the 2019-2020 season when he shot nearly eight 3-pointers a game and a whopping 41.2% from deep. This was by far the most attempts that he had taken during a season (even if it was only 35 games) and he shot them at a really high percentage. This is what the Timberwolves need from him going forward - more threes and even ones where the degree of difficulty is similar to the ones he was taking during the FIBA World Cup. He can make them and Minnesota needs that spacing and higher three point rate to take a step forward on the offensive end.
1) Anthony Edwards - Captain America Mindset
We all knew that Ant was going to top the list, and rightly so. Nobody outside of Minnesota thought the former No. 1 overall pick was going to shine as bright as he did on the international stage and yet he was the go-to guy time and time again for Team USA. While they only placed fourth and ran out of steam down the stretch what we saw from the Georgia product was more than enough to warrant sky high excitement for him during this 2023-24 season. He was a on a team that top to bottom is better than the Timberwolves and still placed himself atop the pecking order. While Team USA was not as good as in years past for the Olympics, they still rostered a lot of upper NBA talent where it was an unknown as to who was going to take the top spot.
The rough draft title for this section was just “HIM,” because it is more of an attitude that I want Edwards to take with him as he moves into his season with the Wolves. He was clearly the best player on the floor the majority of the time and he acted like it. Taking and making tough shots, creating for his teammates and playing some phenomenal defense - often guarding the toughest matchup on the other team. This attitude of “I’m the best and I know it” is the biggest thing that Ant needs to bring with him into the regular season. His confidence is sky high and needs to stay that way.
Anthony Edwards doesn’t need a big market.. HE IS THE BIG MARKET pic.twitter.com/Jwg9EAiweq— theboylynxpod (@theboylynxpod) September 8, 2023
The Timberwolves players showed a lot during FIBA World Cup play and we hope that they bring some of the best parts of their tournament with them into the regular season in a Timberwolves uniform. If they are able to do that, the ceiling of this team becomes exponentially higher. I am extremely excited for this fact and the FIBA tournament only added to my anticipation for the season.