A mega 12-player trade among four teams last month was centered around Clint Capela and Robert Covington. The big man has still not been able to suit up for the Atlanta Hawks. Covington has been an exceptional fit in Houston as they experiment with their shorter lineup.
But the one player in this deal that has shined brightest in his new situation is Malik Beasley, who left a crowded backcourt in Denver.
The new shooting guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves has been able to blossom in his first 13 games with the team. In this small sample size, Beasley is averaging nearly double the minutes that he received in Denver. His production has increased dramatically, as he is more than doubling his numbers in every relevant statistical category.
In his 41 games this season with the Denver Nuggets, Beasley averaged 7.9 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game. In the 13 games since being traded, he is averaging 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists per contest. He had a 29 points last Friday in Orlando, and his effective field goal shooting has gone from 48.5 percent to now 59.5 percent. Finally, Beasley’s three-point shooting has increased from 35.9 percent to 43.6 percent with the Timberwolves.
These numbers may serve as evidence that opportunity equals production, but it is much more than that. Playing more minutes should equate to higher totals, but the percentages and the overall team play are the main factors to concentrate on. Minnesota is not punishing opponents by any stretch of the imagination, but they have been playing solid basketball all while missing their best player.
Karl-Anthony Towns has only been able to play in 35 games so far this season, as he continues to recover from a fractured wrist he suffered two weeks ago. The team announced recently that he will be re-evaluated in two more weeks. The two-time All-Star has been unstoppable when he does play, averaging 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists on the season. Towns is under contract through the 2023-24 season, and now has his best friend alongside him.
The deal to acquire D’Angelo Russell was multi-faceted. The front office was able to land a cornerstone All-Star point guard to pair with their franchise big man. They were the top two players taken in the 2015 draft and have become extremely close friends. Keeping Towns happy was a major aspect of this deal.
The third benefit of making this trade was being able to move on from the highly-paid and inconsistent Andrew Wiggins. For whatever reason, it just never worked out and both sides were finally able to move on. Another overlooked aspect of this particular trade was that the Timberwolves also obtained a first-round draft pick from Brooklyn, through Atlanta.
Using that pick to fill out their roster will be one component that management will need to hit on this summer. The continued development of rookie Jarrett Culver and sophomore swingman Josh Okogie is important, but being able to retain Beasley should also be a priority as he enters free agency for the first time once the season concludes.
A young and dynamic core of Towns, Russell, Beasley, Culver, and Okogie should not be overlooked. Both Towns and Russell have been in and out all season, in what is essentially a throw-away year for each of them. With a focus on next season and making sure they are fully healthy, Minnesota has a chance to build something special.
On paper, this group appears to fit together very well. They are a very young team, as their core five players are all 24 years old or younger. In fact, there is only one player on their entire roster (James Johnson) with more than four years of experience.
Beasley is used to being a third or fourth option on offense, having played a similar role in Denver. While he is a solid marksman as a spot-up shooter, he has excellent timing and knows exactly when and where to cut. Culver is a big body that is capable of finishing at the rim and Okogie has shown the ability to play multiple roles over the course of his career.
All of these, of course, will be secondary actions to the pick-and-roll element that should be one of the most lethal in the league. Russell is capable of getting to the rim whenever he wants to and is an elite shooter from the perimeter. Towns’ ability to roll or pop out will wreak havoc on the opposition. Even if the defense tries to take one of them away, both players are exceptional isolation players that will either create a shot for themselves or an open teammate.
The real key to future success for the Wolves is not a player on their roster, but the man leading them. Ryan Saunders has a 36-67 career record as a head coach. After being named the interim head coach 15 months ago, he has not been able to show that he is undoubtedly the right man for the job. He has a decade of experience as an assistant coach, but unless he can put his fingerprint on this team, this writer believes he could be on the hot seat.
Minnesota’s biggest concern should be on defense, where they rank 27th in the league. They have a top-10 offense and are one of the top teams in terms of pace of play. They rank last among all teams in fan attendance, but that shouldn’t be a major surprise given their record over the past two seasons. Adding a talented player like Russell will help, as there will be plenty of highlight plays in the coming years.
Fans should be excited for the potential of their new one-two punch, as long as they are on the floor together. They should also be hoping that Gersson Rosas, Wolves president of basketball operations, is able to keep Beasley around as he will play a major role there alongside those two. The proof is in the pudding as he continues to flourish in his new environment.
Whether or not the Wolves are already a playoff team next season is up for debate. What shouldn’t be is the fact that Minnesota got a major steal in that monster 12-player deal.
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