What moves do the Minnesota Timberwolves need to make this offseason
The playoffs are here and we should all be soaking up every minute of that. However, there are 14 unlucky franchises that are missing out on the fun and already looking forward to next year. With them (and their fans) in mind, this series will take a look ahead and help lay out the priorities for this offseason.
Today we’re going to start with the exciting, intriguing, disappointing (in 2017)
(1) diagnose the defensive problems
More than anything else, the biggest surprise of the 20016-17 season was that new coach Tom Thibodeau couldn’t coax more out of his young stars’ on the defensive end. Simply put, they were atrocious. In terms of ESPN’s real +/- metric, Karl-Anthony Towns amounted to a -1.41 on the defensive end, Zach LaVine was a -2.37, and Andrew Wiggins was a -3.17. Yikes. When NBA players struggle on defense, it usually comes down to one of a few factors:
— ABILITY. Some players simply don’t have the physical attributes to succeed on defense, either because of their size or their foot speed. That’s clearly not a problem for Wiggins or LaVine, two of the springiest players in the league. Towns, on the other hand, may have some limitations here. Because he’s big and skilled, people naturally compare him to Anthony Davis — but he’s not quite as quick-twitch as that. All in all, though, these three should be anywhere from decent (KAT) to elite (Wiggins) on defense.
— COMMITMENT. Some young players don’t have the drive or the basketball IQ to embrace their defensive role. By all accounts, Wiggins and KAT are good kids who should be able to work hard to get better on this end.
— COACHING. Shouldn’t be a problem anymore with Thibs, a defensive guru.
— CULTURE. Here’s where we may have some issues. Right now, the Wolves are heavy on young scorers and light on defensive-minded veterans. The T-Wolves did have vets Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Garnett around the locker room in the last few years, but they were on their last legs and not able to help much on the court. The team could use some vets to play alongside their young studs to help them develop better habits on D.
Among the free agent class are a few players who fit that bill, including: PF James Johnson, SF Tony Snell, SF Andre Roberson, and SF P.J. Tucker. Those players all might be a little pricey, but in terms of reasonable acquisitions/contracts, I’d look hard at PF Taj Gibson (obviously a Thibs guy), SF Thabo Sefolosha (still really effective on D), and even SF Matt Barnes (surprisingly still solid at defense).
Adding someone like Taj Gibson or Matt Barnes won’t move the needle much in terms of W-L’s in 2017-18, but it could help make KAT and Wiggins better defensively. And make no mistake about it: the Wolves will NOT be a contender unless those two are good defenders.
(2) find the KAT complement in the draft
Thanks to the disappointing win-loss record, the Timberwolves are slated to have the #6 pick in the draft. Presuming they keep that selection (and don’t move up or down), they should be able to land a solid long-term starter.
I’d try to target a player who may be able to complement KAT in the frontcourt. If you believe Towns’ long-term future is at center (which I do), then the team may be looking for a stretch 4 to slide in next to him. Luckily for the team, two such players may be available in Duke’s SF Jayson Tatum and Florida State SF Jonathan Isaac.
Both Tatum and Isaac would project as small forwards right now, but they have the size to bulk up and play PF as well down the road. Tatum has more star/scoring potential, whereas Isaac has more height and possibly more range. My fear with Isaac is that he’s too passive and too content to be a 3rd or 4th option — but hey, look at that, that’s exactly what this team needs. Isaac or Tatum would give the team a hybrid forward and more flexibility in their lineup going forward.
(3) give Ty a try
Like most of the rookie class, Providence PG Kris Dunn didn’t light the world on fire after being selected #5 by the Wolves. It’s an even bigger concern given that Dunn had been in school for 4 years and recently turned 23 years old. He showed his great defensive potential, but you worry that his shot/offense will never be up to snuff.
Meanwhile, 3rd stringer Tyus Jones continues to show promise as a field general. He led Duke to a title in college and mopped up the Summer League. He’s still cracking the fringes of the roster (with only 12.9 minutes a game this year) but there’s an argument that he should be given more of a chance to shine. He doesn’t have the quickness or physical tools that Dunn has, but he’s a steadier option on offense and more confident running a team. He’s also younger — turning 21 next month.
If I coached the Wolves, I’d make the backup job an open competition, and may even lean to Tyus Jones. If you’re trying to make the playoffs, you can’t force-feed minutes (which is something the Nuggets decided with Emmanuel Mudiay this year.) Dunn may have a bright future, but make him earn that. Hopefully, one of the two will emerge as a solid starter by the time Ricky Rubio‘s contract expires, which would give the team some leverage there.