Where to for the Timberwolves – Part Two

In Part two of the three part series we look at the key players still on the Timberwolves roster, how they went in the 2019 season and what to expect from them next year. If you didn’t read part one you can catch it here.
https://steviecozens.com/2019/05/05/where-to-for-the-timberwolves-part-one/

New President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas had his first press conference at Target Center today. Though not a lot can be taken from an introductory press conference, Rosas is a massive addition for the Wolves. He was a key part of a Franchise that made two Conference Finals. While also acquiring superstars like James Harden, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. He also played a massive part in drafting Diamonds in the rough like Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell. Rosas may not bring over all of the analytics heavy style that the Houston Rockets play. But the heat will be on coach and players alike to play a style that suits today’s NBA.

Current Roster

Karl Anthony-Towns

Season Stats

24 points 12 rebounds 3 assists.

Shooting

Field 51.8% Three Point 40% Free Throw 83.6%

Karl Anthony-Towns is the centerpiece for the Wolves future. Not only does he carry the weight of being the leader of the team and their best player, he carries the hopes of fans who are expecting a return to the Playoffs and maybe even a championship. KAT recently inked a 190 million maximum deal that kicks off next season. Bar something disastrous happening, this means he is in Minnesota for the next five years.

This was KATs fourth season in the league and arguably his best. The raw numbers showed he truly belongs in the ALL-NBA conversation, 24 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists. What stood out the most was his efficiency. He was the only center to shoot 40% from three point land, while also taking the second most threes of any center, behind only Brook Lopez. KAT also attempted the second most field goals this past season for a center, while maintaining the fourth best True Shooting percentage. Efficiency coupled with volume represents greatness for shooters, KAT will look to continue this efficiency while potentially taking more threes.

Defensively KAT took a step forward this year, in both effort and execution. Though he led the NBA in personal fouls, he showed enough improvement on this end to think he can be a legitimate defensive center in this league. If he is able to make another leap on the defensive end, this would go a long way towards the Wolves being a perennial Playoff team.

Andrew Wiggins

Season Stats

18.1 points 4.8 rebounds 2.5 assists

Shooting

Field Goal 41.2% Three Point 33.9% Free Throw 69.9%

Andrew Wiggins is the name on a lot of peoples lips this off season. Asked about Wiggins, Rosas said he wants to develop and work with him to try and get some improvement. Even if Wiggins was traded in the off-season, their cap situation would mean they would end up with an inferior player. Rosas was also quoted as saying if they were to trade him they probably wouldn’t get someone with the upside of Wiggins. Also if they did get off future salary by trading him, that wouldn’t improve their situation this year.

Everyone knows how bad Wiggins was last year, a few great games were surrounded by a lot of bad games. His counting stats were very average, but it was his efficiency which really killed the Timberwolves. He had one of the worst shooting season in NBA history for someone of his usage. This type of efficiency means he will make the team a lot worse when he is on court.

Their are two key stats which show lack of effort and confidence. Wiggins first three years in the league he rated in the 90th percentile for his position in drawing shooting fouls. The last two years this has dropped significantly where he is now only in the 70th percentile. The second key stat is his finishing at the rim. Last year he was in the 82nd percentile at the rim, this year he is down to the 41st percentile. Considering his physical tools, finishing at the rim should be the least of his problems. If Rosas and co can fix this issue that will go a long way towards making him more efficient.

They also need to eradicate the long two pointer from his offensive repertoire. He takes 18% of his shots from this distance and only hits on 32% of them. There’s no point focusing on Wiggins deficiencies any longer, but Rosas and co will try and fix these by pushing him to shoot threes and layups only. Attitude and effort will be the other two key work-ons. Only time will tell if they can make any of these changes.

Robert Covington

Season Stats

14.5 points 5.7 rebounds 1.5 assists

Shooting

Field 43.3% Three Point 37.2% Free Throw 77.3%


Robert Covington is the next key piece on the Wolves roster. A premium role player in both contract value and his on court play, ” ROCO ” is the best three and D role player in the league. His steal % this year would have been good enough for third in the league had he not been injured for the second half of the season. He also ranked in the 98th percentile for blocks at his position. Returning from injury this year, he is the perfect piece to push a pace and space style of play that complements the Wolves roster. Covington’s fit on the roster is ideal, his defensive strengths are the perfect example for perimeter buddies Wiggins and Josh Okogie. Here’s hoping they can take his lead to better the team’s defense.

Josh Okogie

Season Stats

7.7 points 2.9 rebounds 1.2 assists

Shooting

Field 38.6% Three Point 27.9% Free Throw 72.8%

Josh Okogie is the next cab off the rank as a cornerstone piece for the Wolves. Drafted 20th last year, he was one of the steals of the first round. At only 20 years old he showed defensive ability that belied his age. He also flashed athleticism around the basket that will encourage fans to look past his shooting struggles. A high point of this season was watching Okogie block James Harden’s patented step back three. Highlight plays like this don’t make a career but he has all the tools to be a great NBA wing. He aggressively looked to finished at the rim rather than settling for contested jumpers, drawing fouls at an excellent rate also. If Okogie can develop a passable shot he can potentially have a reputation and career like his buddy Covington.

Dario Saric

Season Stats

10.5 points 5.5 rebounds 1.5 assists

Shooting

Field 45.4% Three Point 38.3% Free Throw 87.5%

Dario Saric was the other main piece that came over when Jimmy Butler was traded to the 76ers. A versatile player who is an excellent all round shooter, Saric had a tough first year with the Wolves. He struggled coming off the bench, but once he was inserted into the starting lineup he finished the last three months of the season averaging 47% from the field and 41% from three. Dario’s style of play fits well with KAT, he is a good passer and cutter while having good ball handling skills at 6″10.

He can shoot the three from the corner or above the break. He also finishes well around the rim, hitting a career high 68% this season. Not a great rim protector, Saric will need to work on his defense around the rim to increase his playability at the end of games. He will benefit from a full off-season with the team, and potentially a rookie extension.

Keita Bates-Diop

Season Stats

Points 5.0 Rebounds 2.8 Assists 0.6

Shooting

Field 42.3% Three Point 25.0% Free Throw 64.3%

Keita Bates-Diop was drafted 48th in last years Draft. A four year player out of Ohio State, Keita was on the back end of the bench under Thibs. It wasn’t until February that he started playing meaningful minutes. Under the watchful eye of Luol Deng, Keita showed some nice touches on both ends of the floor. When he played between 10 and 19 minutes this season he had a +1.6 net rating. Though his jump shot didnt fall at a consistent rate he finished strongly at the rim when given the opportunity. He didnt embarrass himself on defense, and has the physical tools to improve on this end. On a cheap three year deal, if Keita can be a 10 – 15 minute night consistent player this will provide good value for a team that is likely to be over the cap for the forseeable future.

Jeff Teague

Season Stats

Points 12.1 Rebounds 2.5 Assists 8.2

Shooting

Field 42.3% Three Point 33.3% Free Throw 80.4%

Jeff Teague had a forgettable season for the Timberwolves. In an injury plagued year he played a career low 42 games. His shooting was a struggle for a lot of these games. His three pointer regressed heavily, while he finished poorly at the rim. Interestingly though, Teague fed Towns heavily in those games, and ended up with a career high 8.2 assists per game. Teague may still be a starting point guard in this league, but he looks to have lost a little of the quick first step that got him to the rim so well in his younger years.

After opting in to the last year of his deal, he will be paid 19 million this year. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him traded as his expiring salary could be attractive to a team with cap space. If Teague is healthy he can help this team, but the Wolves are better to give playing time to one of the young guys.

Gorgui Dieng

Season Stats

6.4 points 4.1 rebounds 0.9 assists

Shooting

Field 50.1% Three Point 33.9% Free Throw 83.0%

Gorgui Dieng had an up and down year as the most experienced member of the Timberwolves. In his 6th year in Minnesota he played the least minutes since his rookie year and had a concerning stretch midseason when it looked like he may drop out of the rotation all together. There were reports that Gorgui was very unhappy under Coach Thibs, but he pulled out of his slump under Coach Saunders and had a strong last month of the season. He has been developing his jumper and is still a solid rebounder also.

His defense is the biggest worry for Wolves management. Fouling heavily and making bad reads may have been the reason he played sparingly in the middle of the season. When he started for the team in years gone by, he was always a net positive in the on / off data. The last two years he has been a net negative overall in both seasons, this may be because he never gets to play next to Karl-Anthony Towns. When Towns and Dieng played together in 2016/17 they had a net rating of +1.6 in the season. Rather than use assets to trade Gorgui, they should look utilize his strengths and play him in the right lineups.

Cameron Reynolds

Season Stats

5.0 points 1.6 rebounds 0.7 assists

Shooting

Field 42.3% Three Point 41.2% Free Throw 88.9%

Cameron Reynolds was brought in on a ten day contract in February. After impressing with his shooting prowess he was then signed to a deal for the rest of the season with an guaranteed second season also. A five year player out of Tulane, Reynolds is a 6’8 wing signed purely to shoot the three ball. He flashes some defense in limited opportunities, and has the physical tools to guard opponent wing players. Shooting 41% on 2.7 three pointers was enough for the Wolves to sign him for a bit longer. As his deal isn’t guaranteed for next year they can have a full training camp to look at him and decide if he is worth keeping for the upcoming season.

Thanks for reading Part two. Part three will be out next week with team needs for the upcoming Draft.

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Where to for the Timberwolves – Part one

The Minnesota Timberwolves had a wild 2019 NBA season. Coach Tom Thibodeau was fired. Jimmy Butler was traded, and the memory of the 2018 Playoff run quickly faded. As injuries ravaged the roster they nestled into a Lottery position in the upcoming Draft. Putting this year behind them, lets look at where the team can go in the next 12 months. Here is the first part of a three part series detailing where improvements can be made for next season.

Roster

The current roster has eight players under contract for next season with total salary sitting at 109 million. This years salary cap is also 109 million but this may drop depending on attendance numbers in the playoffs. Most importantly for the Wolves they have Karl Anthony-Towns locked in for the next five years. He does have a stipulation in his contract that if he makes All-NBA then he will be bumped up another five million for next season. In both situations they are at the cap, meaning they are unable to be a player in this years free agency, outside of using their mid-level exception.

The MLE is given to teams that are over the cap and is approx nine million this coming year. It can be used for one player or multiple players depending on the teams preference. Including their upcoming first round draft pick, the Wolves will have nine roster spots filled. They will need to sign free agents using the MLE or bring back players whose bird rights they have. If they have a player on the books for three years they own their bird rights and can then go over the cap to resign them. Early bird rights are similar where you can go over the cap to resign the player if you have had them on the team for two years. The only difference being that they can only give 130% of the previous seasons salary.

The first job of new President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas will be to establish some structure around the roster and who the Wolves want to bring back. Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones should be at the top of the priority list.

Tyus Jones had a strong year where he continued to showcase his strong passing ability and savvy court vision. Tyus decision making and passing game are both very sound, and he makes the right reads on defense. His shooting efficiency is a work on, he ranks in the bottom 20% in the league for effective field goal %. Considering all of the above and that he is only 22 years old, Tyus would be worth bringing back somewhere around the 6 – 7 million a year range. A four year deal in this range may suit both the franchise and Jones.

Derrick Rose is slightly more complicated. Rose was a steadying presence on and off the court in a year where the team struggled with injuries and in house issues. Headlined by a 50 point masterclass against the Jazz, Rose showed an improved three point shot and finished at the rim at a career high also. Bringing him back for the right dollar amount would be a smart move. They can offer him the MLE, but with a long injury history a four year deal may be risky. The injury that had Rose shutdown for the rest of the year was his elbow rather than his troublesome knees. If Wolves medical staff deem that there is no long-term damage to his elbow, then a potential three or four year deal worth approx 30 million may suit both parties.

Taj Gibson and to a lesser extent Luol Deng should the next priorities for the front office. Taj provided excellent leadership on and off the court in his two years with the team. An excellent defender, Taj provided strong offense in both his two years in the twin cities. While a slight decrease in efficiency at the rim this year may be a sign that he is slowing down, Gibson would still be worth bringing back around the four or five million a year range.

Luol Deng languished on the Lakers bench for 81 games in 2018, not playing one single minute after an appearance on opening night. After negotiating a buyout at the end of 2018 he joined the ” Timber-Bulls. ” Coach Thibs deemed him surplus to requirements in the rotation and only played him in garbage time. This changed when Ryan Saunders replaced Thibs, he started playing Deng regularly. In 22 games he was efficient on offense while the team was 14 points better when he was on the court. If Deng could be brought back on the minimum he could be a good end of bench rotation option.

If management decide to make the above moves, this would leave two empty roster spots still. Per Cleaning the Glass, none of the rotation players were in the top 20% finishing at the rim for their respective positions. A slasher who can finish at the rim and provide some impact off the bench would be a nice fit for this team.

Depending on how they choose to spend their MLE, Glenn Robinson could be an interesting prospect for them. Robinson is only 25 and has shown ability to finish at the rim and from three point land. After coming off some injuries he could be an option on a cheap deal. Another option could be Wizards wing Jeff Green. Gone are the days of Green demanding massive salaries, but he can be an efficient scorer and good defender. He was in the top 10% of players for at rim finishing, while shooting the three ball at a league average 35%.

Five NBA players in need of a change of scenery

Every year in the NBA there are injuries, trades and players being waived. Often the best trades a team can make are when a player struggling on their current team is given a second chance on a new team.

Zach Collins

Portland Trail Blazers sophomore Zach Collins is a prototypical NBA center. Seven feet tall with shooting and shot blocking ability, he was a worthy tenth pick in last years draft. Collins had a strong rookie year and looked to be the long term back up to Jusuf Nurkic.

This year it was expected Collins would play in more small ball lineups when Portland looked to stretch the floor. Contrary to this, Portland have played him less as the year went on. Playing 21 minutes a game at the start of the season this is down to 12 in February. Coach Stotts has also played Collins at the four this year. Though a versatile defender, he is not quick enough to defend small ball fours and cant attack off the dribble. With Enes Kanter being acquired on the buyout market, Collins has had nights where he didn’t suit up at all.

Improving in every area statistically while also bulking up, Collins still looks to be a starting center on a good team. It says a lot that Kanter was signed to play backup center ahead of him though. Moving him in the off-season with two years on his rookie deal looks to be the best option for both him and Portland.

Gary Harris

Shooting guard Gary Harris is in his fifth year in the league with the Denver Nuggets. As a three and D wing he is of high value in the league. Drafted 19th in 2019, he has improved his game every year and is the Nuggets best guard defender. Switching often between guard and small forward, Harris has flashed improved play making in half court sets and in transition.

Harris was rewarded for his strong play and potential with a four year 84-million extension. With this in mind it looked likely that Harris would be the starting two guard for Denver.

Injuries to Harris and the development of point guard Monte Morris has meant the Nuggets now need a rethink. As Jamal Murray isn’t a true point guard, playing him with Morris has meant the Nuggets are more well rounded than when Harris and Murray play together. In addition, Denver has had its second best season since the 1976.

Jamal Murray has star potential so this may mean Harris is expendable. Denver fans may see trading Harris away as a negative, but the franchise can pride itself on its talent development. This off-season will be an interesting one for Denver as they shape their team for the coming years.

Bradley Beal

Bradley Beal is one of the best shooting guards in the league. Now a two-time All-Star, Beal has the all round skills and pedigree to be a future Hall of Famer. This year he has mastered using his off hand at the rim and can be now considered an elite scorer.

Though Beal is having the best season of his career, the Washington Wizards are going through their toughest year in recent memory. Superstar John Wall tragically slipped over at his home, rupturing his left Achilles. Wall is predicted to be out for all of next season, just as his 170 million extension is beginning. Washington then traded away young wings Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre at the trade deadline. These moves may signal that a full scale rebuild is imminent.

Beal’s trade value wont be any higher than this summer. At age 26 with two years still left on his deal, Washington are able to get maximum value for him.

Beal may decide he doesn’t want to spend his prime with a team who are in the draft lottery. While Washington may also see the value in moving their best asset for draft picks or young players.

Andrew Wiggins

Much has been made of Andrew Wiggins star potential. With the body and skills made for NBA stardom, the former number one pick’s first 3 years were very promising. Rookie of the year. 23.6 points a game in only his third season and a max deal to boot.

This was as good as it got for Wiggins though. The introduction of Jimmy Butler seemed to hurt him, but he only has himself to blame for his lackadaisical play. Butler’s criticism of Wiggins was on the money. Lack of effort and application on both ends has been the story of the last 2 years for him. At six foot eight with a seven foot wingspan, Wiggins has all the tools to be an All-Star.

A mammoth contract combined with regressing play might mean the Timberwolves try and move him. Ex-Coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t get the best out of Wiggins, but it would take a brave team to punt on him with 121 million salary owed for the next 4 years. The best move for all parties may be sending him to a new team where he can be the focal point on offense.

Jaylen Brown

Jaylen Brown was drafted third by Boston in 2016. Taking a massive leap last year, Brown was one of Bostons best in their unlikely playoff run while Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were injured.

Showcasing a sweet shooting stroke from deep coupled with an improved handle, Brown was a main option in the playoffs. His play in the Conference Finals seems a distant memory now with Boston struggling to integrate Hayward and Irving back into the lineup.

Brown’s best position is small forward. Though able to play at shooting guard, Brown doesn’t have the play making ability to be a second ball handler. Jason Tatum’s ascension to NBA stardom has pushed Brown’s star potential out of the spotlight. Also, Hayward’s max deal means they need to find minutes for the 2017 All-Star.

Boston may think the time is right to free up the logjam on the roster before they have to give Brown a new contract.