Now that most franchises have played between eight to 11 games – nearly all in spite of COVID-19 issues popping up around the league – we’re beginning to see who looks like contenders and which seem destined for the lottery. This week at Basketball Insiders, we’re looking at those off to poor starts and how they can turn it around in our annual Fixing series beginning with the Washington Wizards earlier today.
Today, the Minnesota Timberwolves sit at 3-7, a disappointing mark for a team that has spent its time changing up the core of its roster over the last calendar year.
However, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the Timberwolves as injuries have really plagued this team, thus preventing this Minnesota roster from reaching its full potential. On the other hand, there are plenty of things that could use some patchwork, beginning with the starting lineup.
When the Timberwolves are completely healthy, and that is very rare, they’re actually a super competitive and fun team despite their record. Somehow, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell have played in just four games together since Russell was shipped to Minnesota at the trade deadline last year.
The Wolves largely switched up their roster last season, adding Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez along with Russell at the deadline, trading for Ricky Rubio in the offseason and drafting Anthony Edwards with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, it’s been nearly impossible to see how these acquisitions all mesh together considering Towns has only played in three games to begin the season. In the games Towns has been available, the Wolves are 2-1 with a +7 score differential. However, when Towns has missed time, the Wolves are 1-6 with a -112 score differential. And, well, yikes.
Another exciting development for this team has been the play of Edwards, which definitely hasn’t been perfect but has given enough flashes to generate hype. Edwards is averaging 15.1 points per game off the bench on mediocre shooting splits and his defense needs serious work – however, his ability to play starter minutes with a big scoring output has been a plus for Minnesota.
It’s evident to see that Minnesota is a completely different team when Towns plays, so it should be reassuring to know that nothing at this moment in time needs to be blown up.
What Isn’t Working?
Even with Towns, the Wolves have a glaring hole at the power forward position. Hernangomez played exceptionally well when he was acquired last season, re-signing with the intention of continuing that streak – sadly, that has not been the case to begin the season.
Hernangomez is a good player but he works best in a backup role and Minnesota needs to set its eyes on other players to add to its frontcourt rotation.
Naz Reid has been a pleasant surprise and Ed Davis is a stable veteran presence but Minnesota needs something more. The team had Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on its training camp roster but cut him before the season began to maintain roster flexibility. Needless to say, that move made little sense at the time and seeing the product on-court has made the move even more of a head-scratcher.
Hollis-Jefferson would be the best frontcourt defender outside of Towns on the roster and the team should look to re-sign him before he’s swept out of the free agency market by a team that will actually use him.
What Needs To Change?
There are other free agents that could appeal to Minnesota if they so choose but after Hollis-Jefferson, there is a substantial drop off – especially now that Taj Gibson re-upped with the New York Knicks.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thabo Sefolosha, Luc Mbah a Moute, DeMarre Carroll, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova and Noah Vonleh comprise of some of the available veterans that the Wolves could add to their power forward rotation.
Slightly more appealing for this season, however, would be to add a forward off the trade market. Thaddeus Young, LaMarcus Aldridge, Aron Baynes, Rudy Gay, Trevor Ariza and Jabari Parker feature some of the prominent names that could be on the market, although Aldridge is unlikely due to the Wolves having traded away their first round pick this year and likely need a younger option at that spot.
Because of the lack of true problem-solving options, the Wolves could look to add a stopgap player at the four and focus on that position through the upcoming free agency period, the draft and development of Jarred Vanderbilt and Jaden McDaniels.
Speaking of Vanderbilt, the young forward should absolutely get more minutes for this team as he has impressed greatly in limited minutes. Making him a part of the rotation could solve the power forward conundrum, at least defensively.
If Minnesota continues to struggle, they can rest easy with top-three protection on the pick in the upcoming draft that is owed to the Golden State Warriors in the aftermath of the D’Angelo Russell-Andrew Wiggins swap. If that pick does land in the top three, the Timberwolves could focus on adding someone like the G League Ignite’s Jonathan Kuminga or USC’s Evan Mobley to complete their rotation.
Another position that needs to be addressed is the backup point guard spot as Rubio has really struggled to kick off the year, putting up only 6.1 points and 5.2 assists in nearly 25 minutes per contest. Rubio was expected to be a strong veteran presence in a familiar place but will need to pick up his play if Minnesota wishes to reach the playoffs.
So while a 3-7 record looks disappointing on paper, the Timberwolves have a borderline playoff roster when fully healthy and plenty of young talent like Edwards, Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver to develop around the nucleus of Towns and Russell. Around midseason, the team and its fans should get a clearer idea of what this team is, hopefully with the knowledge that they’re just a few pieces away from being a playoff contender, if not already.
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