On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we'll be examining the impact of the NBA's current on hiatus on each team in the league. Today, the Minnesota Timberwolves are up.
With the third-worst record in the NBA at the time of the suspension of regular season play (19-45), the Minnesota Timberwolves have some critical decisions to make.
Gersson Rosas is completing his first year as the head of basketball operations in the Twin Cities, and extended a vote of confidence to young head coach Ryan Saunders mid-season. But is Saunders the right man to continue the rebuild? And can the Timberwolves build a winning team around former All-Stars Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell? Or will Rosas need to explore trading one of the two for several assets?
Rosas worked for the ultra-aggressive Daryl Morey in the Houston Rockets’ front office, and he made several trades in his first year on the job in Minnesota — moving Andrew Wiggins, Dario Saric, Jeff Teague, Robert Covington, Gorgui Dieng, Jordan Bell and Shabazz Napier off the roster while acquiring Russell, Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangómez, James Johnson, Evan Turner, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman.
Russell and Towns are good friends, and there is potential for them to form a lethal pick-and-roll combination. Towns averaged 26.5 points and 10.8 rebounds over 35 games in an injury-riddled season, and can be effective rolling to the basket or popping out for 3-point shots. He’s one of the top scoring centers in the NBA.
Russell averaged 21.7 points and 6.6 assists in the 12 games he played for Minnesota, but concerns persist about his shot selection and willingness to be a facilitator in half-court sets.
Still, Towns and Russell figure to be the offensive mainstays for whoever is coaching the Timberwolves next season. The bigger concern is finding three other starters who can effectively complement the high-scoring duo.
Rookie Jarrett Culver was a major disappointment, averaging just 9.2 points on 40.4% shooting from the field and 29.9% from 3-point range. Culver was the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft after leading Texas Tech to the NCAA championship game, but he failed to show any consistency at the offensive end, and only started 35 of the 63 games he played.
Beasley played well in 14 games with the Timberwolves, averaging 20.7 points and hitting 42.6% of his 3 point attempts. But he’ll be a restricted free agent at season’s end, as will Hernangomez.
The Timberwolves also like the potential of rookie big man Naz Reid and defensive-minded second-year swingman Josh Okogie.
Start with the coaching staff, where the Timberwolves have strong feelings for Saunders, who is the son of former head coach and front office executive Flip Saunders. Still, it’s been a bumpy start for one of the league’s youngest head coaches, and Rosas might decide to bring in a more experienced leader to help develop the players he’s added to the roster.
The Timberwolves would love to bring Beasley back after his strong showing as a starter, but with so few impact players available on the free agent market, he could get an offer sheet higher than what the organization is comfortable paying. Rosas will have some money to spend on free agents this offseason with only $75.3 million in guaranteed contracts on the books, but he’ll have to be careful not to get drawn into long-term commitments for players who don’t fit well with Towns and Russell.
Minnesota is currently owns the third-best lottery odds in the upcoming draft and could be in position to add a wing scorer like Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball to play alongside Russell in the backcourt. They might consider drafting a power forward like NCAA Player of the Year Obi Toppin to help Towns up front.
The Timberwolves also have an additional first round pick acquired from the Brooklyn Nets that figures to be somewhere in the the 15-17 range.
Rosas spent his first year on the job evaluating the coaching staff and the talent on the roster, and already has made a number of moves to try to re-shape the team in the style of play he favors. The problem is both Towns and Russell can be very stubborn when it comes to shot selection and team play, and it will be interesting to see if their personal friendship makes them more willing to sacrifice individual numbers for team success.
The Timberwolves need to land an impact starter with their high lottery pick and hopefully pick up a couple high-character veterans in free agency who can help on the court and in the locker room. Bringing Beasley back as a starter at shooting guard or small forward would be a good first step, and the Timberwolves are counting on Culver to bounce back from a shaky rookie season to be a more consistent contributor going forward.
It’s always a plus to have a pair of young former All-Stars on your roster to build around, but the Timberwolves clearly have a lot of work to do to become a playoff team again.
Check back in on Wednesday, when we examine the Atlanta Hawks.