The Minnesota Timberwolves rolled into the off-season with a spring in their step. After Gersson Rosas was hired as the new President of basketball operations in May, fans had reason to be optimistic about a long term vision for the franchise. Rosas activity in the draft and free agency have meant the Timberwolves are no longer watching from the sidelines.
Not only has Rosas made moves as far as the team goes, he has improved the coaching staff by bringing in specialists from other franchises. Pablo Prigioni was brought in from the Brooklyn Nets after a year where he was instrumental in the development of Caris LeVert and D’Angelo Russell. David Vanterpool was also brought in from the Trailblazers where he was a popular and highly regarded member of their coaching staff.
Vanterpool was a favourite of Damian Lillard’s and is due much credit for Lillard and CJ McCollum’s development. Gianluca Pascucci was also poached from the Nets where he was the Director of global scouting. Pascucci will join the Timberwolves as Assistant General Manager.
Not only should we praise the caliber of these hires, but the age and diversity should also be noted. They are young coaches and front office staff with varied backgrounds from proven organisations. Rosas has shown his hand early on,saying in his introductory press conference he would be aggressive in improving the roster. Prior to draft night it seemed like a defensive minded power forward would be taken with the 11th pick. Rosas surprised everyone at the time by not making a conservative pick of a second or third year PF with limited upside. He swung for the fences and traded Dario Saric to the Phoenix Suns to trade up to #6 and take Jarrett Culver. Though Saric is a nice piece and potentially a starter on a good team, Rosas knew he would command too much on the open market when he hit restricted free agency.
Wing player Culver showed a lot of promise at Texas Tech, running the offense while playing excellent defense on the other end. As detailed below, he has legitimate two way potential in the league.
In the second round, Jaylen Nowell was selected out of Washington with the 43rd pick. Nowell was the Pac-12 player of the year and shot an impressive 44% from three point range last season. Like Culver he has great size and can score.
When free agency rolled around, Rosas and co were aggressive in trying to land D’Angelo Russell. If not for the Golden State Warriors swooping in, Russell may have come across in a sign and trade with the Brooklyn Nets. Though this move didn’t come off, fans shouldn’t be disappointed. Rosas stayed true to his word to be proactive in the market.
With no cap space to speak of, he proceeded to trawl the open market for value players with upside. Jordan Bell was the first cab off the rank. Though Bell had a disappointing year for the Warriors he is worth a punt on a 1.6 million minimum contract. Not only is he a good passer at his position, he is a great offensive re-bounder. When engaged, he can play strong defense on the perimeter and at the rim. Noah Vonleh was also an excellent acquisition at the minimum. The 9th pick in the draft in 2014, Vonleh has reinvented himself in the last year. Showcasing an improved shooting stroke and defense, Vonleh was one of only two Knick players with a positive on / off rating.
Jake Layman was another strong pickup for the Wolves. Layman is a 6’9 wing who spent three years with the Trailblazers. Like Vonleh, Layman broke out this year. While casual NBA fans may not have taken notice of his excellent year, Layman played the most minutes of his career and was one of the best finishers at the rim at his position. If he continues to improve his jump-shot, he could be a starter in this league. The last move made in the off-season was acquiring Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham from the Warriors. While the details of this trade haven’t been confirmed, its looking like the Warriors had to pay to get off these two contracts. Napier is a good backup point guard on a cheap contract. While Graham is a cheap wing who can play bench minutes.
Rosas also had to make a tough decision when choosing not to match the Memphis Grizzlies offer for Tyus Jones. Unfortunately for fan favorite Tyus, the 27 million offer made by Memphis was an overpay for his services. Tyus was great in his role and stepped up in the last year with an injury plagued roster. Not paying Tyus means they are only a Gorgui Dieng expiring deal away from having max cap space next year.
Though the Timberwolves aren’t in championship contention or signing max free agents, its great to see they have a clear direction in the front office. Rosas and co are working towards strengthening the team long term, while trying to make the roster younger. They will be strong defensively this coming season, while Karl-Anthony Towns may well take another step forward. If Rosas moves so far are an indication of whats to come, this team may look significantly stronger within 12 months.