By: Brian Simonson
They finally did it.
What seemed to be inevitable for months has finally come to fruition.
Another step in what appears to be in the right direction for the franchise has been made.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have traded for D’Angelo Russell.
Things were looking embarrassingly bleak and on the verge of panic halfway through the season. From having the wrong personnel to fit the system, awful shooting percentages, multiple losing streaks, low fan attendance, Karl-Anthony Towns getting “fed up”, Gersson Rosas injects new life into the franchise. He blows the league and Wolves Nation away with multiple trades going down by the deadline on Thursday, February 6. It’s been a crazy last few days.
Here’s a recap of the trades made by the Timberwolves:
This is now the roster of your Minnesota Timberwolves as of February 6, 2020 (including 2-way players):
Rosas has done much more than many have anticipated only halfway into his first year with the Timberwolves. He was able to do a complete overhaul of the roster and bring in D-Lo while having very little wiggle room to work with. Absolutely impressive. This is a testament to his “actions over words” and commitment to this organization taking steps in the right direction for the future. Positive days for the Wolves are few and far in between, but this one is certainly one of the greater highlights for the franchise. Over several trades in one season, Rosas has removed the team’s unfavorable contracts, kept the 2020 1st round pick, brought in solid rotational players from winning organizations which are a better fit for Saunders’ system, and lastly, convinced the Warriors to trade D’Angelo Russell. Because of Rosas, the Wolves now have two All-Stars on the roster.
What is most impressive about the Russell trade portion is that Wolves Nation thought the only way to move Andrew Wiggins was to attach 1st round draft compensation, only to get pennies on the dollar in return. Instead, the Wolves were able to let go of just one first-round pick, one second-round pick, and Wiggins for D-Lo, and receive in return two serviceable bench players who will be given an opportunity to contribute.
After being shipped around the NBA for a few years, Russell has found a new home in Minnesota. He played two years for the Lakers after being drafted No. 2 overall in 2015, but LAL opted to go with Lonzo Ball as its point guard of the future and shipped Russell to the Brooklyn Nets. He played two years in Brooklyn, with the second being his breakout season earning an the first All-Star appearance of his career.
As we know all and well, Russell was offered a maximum contract by the Warriors last summer and took it over finding a permanent home in the league -- something the Wolves were offering should they had cleared up the money to sign him.
Well, he's here now. While the defense needs work, the Wolves now their star point guard and a big man who can score at any time, anywhere on the court. LOCKED IN FOR THE NEXT FOUR YEARS.
The Wolves got their guy. It's up to Russell, KAT, Rosas and Saunders(?) to elevate this team to new heights in the coming years.
Malik was a valuable scoring punch off the bench with the Denver Nuggets in the minutes he was given and shot 40% from three last season. Three-point shooting is a desperate need for the Wolves and Beasley helps close that gap. Now that he’ll be given a chance for more minutes with the Wolves, this is an opportunity for him to showcase more of his potential. Beasley is bringing much needed energy to the roster.
Juancho is the other Nugget coming to town. Like Beasley, Hernangomez was also limited minutes due to extended depth at his position. However, there were periodic flashes. If given the chance, Hernangomez and Beasley could prove to be critical pieces moving forward if the Wolves decide to retain them. Many folks in Denver feel that there’s a possibility of getting a steal with these two.
The third and final Nugget is a G-League player who has logged nine games with the Nuggets, mostly due to an injury to Mason Plumlee. His usage was low in those 9 games, averaging 4.6 minutes each contest.
The Wolves bring in this big man from Golden State who has been a nice young piece for them. Spellman has improved his three-point shot as of late and currently sits at 39 percent from three this season. He was able to help space the floor for Golden State due to this ability of maintaining this. His defense is still in question as he may be used in certain instances as a stretch-five but he may be paired alongside KAT at the four. He’s been logging big minutes for the Warriors while their main core of All Stars are out.
Jacob was averaging 4.7 points a game in 15.3 minutes a game. On top of struggling most of the year, he also missed some time due to a concussion in January.
James is another valuable rotational player who can bring a much needed veteran presence which derives from his experience with the Miami Heat and their highly respected culture and player development system. He’ll be quite serviceable off the bench like he was with the Heat, however at age 32 it is hard to see how he fits in the vision long term.
After starting 10-8, the Wolves took a complete nosedive and have gone 5-27 since, including two 10+ game losing streaks. Recently, they logged a historic loss by blowing a 27 point lead to the Sacramento Kings on January 27. It was clear the roster didn’t work for the style of play, the players were careless with the basketball which generated 15.5 turnovers a game, the shooting was horrendous, and there was zero effort on defense. What started as a season with lots of hype, it quickly turned disastrous.
These trades are coming at the right time and is a much needed breath of fresh air. Rosas created more with less by bringing in players who fit the system better, they’ve slightly improved their three-point shooting, and brought in a few promising pieces that could be a part of the future. Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and Omari Spellman are intriguing pieces to watch. KAT is happy again, as well as the fanbase. This is obviously not the final product Rosas envisioned, but it is certainly the progression we needed and deserves praise for his tenacity to execute these trades.
The primary objective for the remaining 32 games should be to continue to develop the players and the system, work on defense and taking care of the basketball. Games should be much more exciting to watch with D-Lo and KAT doing numerous pick-and-rolls and fans should be more engaged. Let’s hope the new players are able to suit up for the game on Saturday, February 8 against the Clippers. Go Wolves.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
A 3-0 start to the 2019-20 season followed by an impressive stretch of games by the enigmatic Andrew Wiggins injected hope into Timberwolves fans that the team could be competitive.
But realistically, the proof for how the rest of the season would play out was in the pudding. It was always going to be difficult to win when the offense implemented by the head coach and front office -- bombing away from deep -- worked directly against the strengths of the team’s personnel.
A winning formula for the season didn’t necessarily have to include wins. If Karl-Anthony Towns took the leap into a top 10-ish player with improved defense, Andrew Wiggins played up to 80 percent of his $27 million/year max contract, a fringe role player playing on a dime developed into a reliable rotational player (surplus baby!) all while building a culture on and off the floor, the season could have been considered a success.
We are now 45 games into the season and the team sits 15-29, tied for the second-worst record with the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference. Since Dec. 1, the Wolves are an abysmal 5-21. That’s fine with me, as I expected the team to stink. What isn’t fine, however, is the process that led them here. A few worrisome trends are starting to develop, ones that could have a significant impact on the team’s future, but the most worrisome is the biggest question and factor to success regarding the Wolves' future.
Is Karl-Anthony Towns Kevin Love 2.0?
I’ve been trying to think of a good comparison for Towns lately. Someone who puts up great offensive statistics but seems to have little effect on winning. After doing some thinking, I came to a conclusion, and little did I know it was right in front of me this whole time.
KAT has shades of Kevin Love in him.
All-star caliber player playing on a bad team. Poor defensive IQ. Posts big offensive numbers. Questionable leadership ability. Doesn’t help change the win/loss total all that much.
Kinda describes both players, doesn’t it?
Each player in their respective Minnesota tenures have posted great offensive numbers. KAT’s posting a 113.4 O-rating this season. Last year he posted a 112.2 and the year prior 115.3. All just stupid good.
After recovering from a knuckle push up (haha!) injury in 2012-13, Love posted a 110.5 offensive rating in his final season in Minnesota -- the 8th best rating in the league with a minimum 30 minutes per game and 25 usage percentage.
Towns is a superior offensive player to Minnesota-Kevin Love. Sprinkle in his defensive shortcomings though, and his impact on each game doesn’t seem so far off from what Love provided.
Towns has a chance to rise into “superstar” status and help the Wolves develop into a respectable franchise once again. With an offensive skill set that has opposing coaches scurrying for ways to slow him down, the simple, but complex, next step in ascending into one of the league’s top 10 best players starts with one word: defense. This year, he’s failing, and big time. A breakdown:
KAT’s defensive rating is 115.0. As the above numbers make clear, this is awful.
When KAT plays, the defense sucks. If your defense sucks, it’s hard to win. Simple as that.
As a result, it is becoming clear the team must acquire a defensive-minded big to pair with KAT in the frontcourt, which only adds to Gerson Rosas’s lengthy to-do list.
It also emphasizes the importance of landing Towns a star sidekick, as it’s tough to envision the Wolves ever contending with their best player being one of the league’s worst defenders at a vital position.
Until he improves his discipline and commitment to the defensive end, he’s basically just Minnesota-Kevin Love. Empty stats on a bad team.
And if this continues, Rosas has a lot more work to do than anticipated.
12/3/2019 0 Comments
By: Dan Slaubaugh
We are just under two weeks away from Dec. 15 -- the date Golden State Warriors star guard D’Angelo Russell is eligible to be traded as he couldn’t be traded twice in the same offseason because he was acquired via a sign-and-trade deal.
If I may remind you, the Timberwolves lost out on the Russell sweepstakes this summer in a league-shocking acquisition by the Warriors who came swinging from the top rope and delivered a drop kick to Minnesota’s mid section by prying away what it thought was their point guard of the future.
The Wolves were all in on Russell. Many don’t realize the drastic sequences that took place to lead Russell to choose Golden State over Minnesota. In “largely believing they had a pathway to acquire D’Angelo Russell”, the Wolves — as rumors suggest -- had a trade mapped out to send Andrew Wiggins to Charlotte. That was Plan A. Plan B was to send Jeff Teague to Phoenix and attach a first to unload Gorgui Dieng's contract. Unfortunately, Charlotte used its money on Terry Rozier (3 years, $58 million) while Phoenix brought in former Wolf Ricky Rubio (who was Minnesota's Plan B!!) to conduct its offense, so the Wolves were left scrambling for other avenues.
Russell then saw money dwindling on the open market and subsequently took the max offer from Golden State instead of hoping the Wolves could clear money for him.
Basically, Minnesota tried really freaking hard to acquire KAT’s best friend, were willing to part ways with Andrew Wiggins, but came up short due to a shortage of funds. At one time, Russell even told KAT he was coming here -- hence the “loading” image KAT posted on Instagram.
This all leads us to the question at hand. Will the Wolves make another run at the 23-year old guard?
There are many smart people who believe Minnesota is going to, but this time around, it’s probable the thought process behind the potential proposal will be different.
There are many more questions to ask.
With Andrew Wiggins in the middle of a breakout season, flourishing with the ball in his hands due to an improved handle, would bringing in another ball handler interrupt his resurgence?
It can’t be overstated how huge Wiggins’ breakout is for the franchise. He has single-handedly made the retainment of Ryan Saunders look wise. He has propelled the team from a bottom four team in the West to a fringe playoff team with a foundation again. Most importantly, he has erased $27.5 million deadweight money off the payroll.
At his best as a primary ball handler, the Wolves could risk Wiggins — averaging career highs of 24.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.2 blocks per game on a career-best 46.2 percent from the field and a 51.7 effective field goal percentage -- returning to a form of his passive self by bringing in a playmaking point guard.
For example, we have to look no further than Jeff Teague. Wiggins often performs better when Teague is out, as he and the Wolves have no other choice but to give Wiggins the ball and let him go to work (yeah yeah I know KAT still lives but he doesn’t conduct the offense).
While Russell doesn’t dribble the air out of the ball as much as Teague, he still flourishes most with the rock in his hands -- as does Wiggs. If the Wolves have faith the two can play together, stay engaged off the ball and dominate the perimeter then it’s worth a shot.
The stats suggest it could work with the ball in Wiggins' hands. Given Wiggins’ ability to consistently drive and kick for corner threes, it’s important he’s passing to good shooters. Last year in Brooklyn, Russell shot 39.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes on 3.3 attempts per game. While that doesn’t alone indicate the two would be a good fit, it is a promising statistic.
Why you say? For starters, the ball should continue to run through Wiggins on the perimeter. You’re really going to make Wiggins adjust his game again when he’s finally producing like a real, legitimate all-star?
Ideally, Wiggins could perform as he is with a DLo type. If the Wolves get a few stand still shooters, it might maximize when Wiggins has the ball in his hands but doesn’t account for nights he is being locked down by a great defender, is having an off night or when he isn’t on the floor. They likely need another playmaker who can make plays himself when needed, score in the pick-and-roll with Towns AND shoot when he doesn’t have the ball.
However, with Wiggins and Towns, the Wolves have a foundation to build upon again. Given Wiggins’ resurgence and history of disappearing when he’s not the focal point of the offense, unintentionally asking him to take a step back in the offense could backfire.
If not Russell, than who?
Three things are true: 1) The Wolves shoot the fourth-most threes in the NBA (39.4 3PA), 2) They shoot the fourth-worst percentage from three in the NBA and 3) They currently give consistent minutes to five players who shoot 31 percent or worse on at least one catch-and-shoot three per game.
Minnesota literally employs a system that works directly against its personnel and still ranks a bad, but not terrible 20th in offensive rating (106.2).
Given their three-point happy offense, the Wolves getting shooters around Towns and Wiggins is, well, everything. It’s their new identity. Fun fact: they are on pace to shoot 871 more threes this year than last.
Instead of bringing in another max contract, it’s fair to suggest keeping Wiggins and setting their eyes on bringing in cheaper complementary pieces that fit around Wiggins and Towns is the logical move rather than capping out the roster by bringing in Russell. A free agent next summer, Brooklyn Nets sniper Joe Harris -- shooting 46.2 percent on catch-and-shoot threes — intrigues me as a great fit for the Wolves to throw $45 million over three years at.
If Rosas and co. believe Wiggins’ performance is the new norm, then he has to factor into the Wolves’ long-term plans as the primary perimeter scorer. If they have doubts about sustainability and think another scorer is necessary to build a contender, then they should attempt to pry away Russell from The Bay. That’s how the Wolves should prioritize this.
The championship question
The championship question perhaps is the most important. In bringing in Russell, the Wolves wouldn’t be making the move to make the playoffs but rather with a belief that their Big 3 can develop into a perennial title contender as they’d have little to no financial flexibility remaining with KAT, Wiggs, and DLo.
With Towns (24), Wiggins (24) and Russell (23), the Wolves would have a big three whose timelines fit perfectly with one another.
The Timberwolves’ interest in Russell is no secret and in a bottle, the trade makes sense. Towns wants him here. Robert Covington seems like the perfect Andre Iguodala replacement for the Warriors. While Wiggins has balled as a playmaker this year, they still need a long-term option at point guard.
However, and I recognize the incredibly small sample size, the Wolves boast the only duo outside of L.A. averaging more than 25 points per game. Wiggins is putting up career highs in points, assists, rebounds and field goal percentage. Towns is hitting 40 percent of his threes on nine attempts per game. The Wolves, for now, have a foundation again.
Bringing in Russell could work, but if I’m Rosas, I’d roll the dice on Wiggins continuing to improve alongside Towns (who Bill Simmons ranked the NBA’s 10th best player a few weeks ago) while retaining cap flexibility over giving up a plethora of assets to acquire a max contract who may not be an ideal fit.
With Jeff Teague ($19 million/year) off the books next summer and Gorgui Dieng ($16 million/year) the summer after that, Rosas will have an opportunity to surround Towns and Wiggins with valuable role players who fit the team.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, and I wouldn’t be upset if they did as it COULD work. But…
Because of the breakout of Mr. Wiggins, the Wolves would be wise to not trade for D’Angelo Russell.
By: Brendan Hedtke
Everybody grows and learns at a different pace in their life. Some babies walk much earlier than others. Some take longer to accomplish this feat. Yes, it may be frustrating to witness the pains of failure that occur. However, it is encouraging to see babies try again and again. They never lose confidence in their ability to walk.
In many ways, Jarrett Culver is like a baby that is struggling to learn to walk. I know, I know, Culver is 6 foot 6, weighs 195 pounds, and clearly has been walking for years. That’s not the point. The similarities lie in his struggles to adjust to the NBA. He has had many ups and downs throughout the first 19 games of his young career, but he has kept the same mentality as the baby who is trying to walk. Persistence and confidence.
Culver has not given up on himself nor shied away from playing his style of basketball. The stats do not show that he is doing great things on the court, but Wolves fans can find solace in his confidence and demeanor on the court. We see him slashing to the basket and going hard at the rim. We see him pull the trigger on the perimeter. Although he is converting only 28 percent of his 3-point attempts, he still is confident enough to take 3.9 threes per game in under 24 minutes a night.
The age-old question of all slow starts is, “Will it get better, or is this what we will get?” My answer is that it will get better. Maybe not this year, but it will get better. If you look at the evidence that Culver has given us, all signs point to improvement coming. During his freshman year at Texas Tech, Culver averaged 11.2 PTS, 4.8 REB, and 1.8 AST per game. Those numbers do not strike anyone as the stats of the No. 6 overall pick in the NBA Draft. One year later, during his sophomore season for the Red Raiders, Culver improved in all of those statistical categories. His points per game jumped to 18.5, he nabbed over 1.5 more rebounds per game and assisted on 1.9 more shots per game.
Along with his improvement in traditional stat categories, Culver’s defensive rating went from 93.4 during his freshman season, to 86.7 his second season. His improvement defensively showed up in the national ranks as he was not in the top ten for defensive rating or defensive win shares his freshman year. During his sophomore year, Culver ranked 6th in defensive rating and led the country in defensive win-shares, with 3.5 according to Sports Reference – College Basketball.
Some NBA players burst onto the scene their rookie year and take the league by storm. Recently we have seen this done by Luka Doncic and Trae Young. If we go further back, we see fast starts from players like Blake Griffin and LeBron James. Unless things turn around quick, I don’t foresee Culver’s name being mentioned alongside these players when we discuss great rookie seasons.
With that being said, many players have had slow starts to their careers and turned out to be quality NBA players. Kemba Walker, Paul Millsap, J.J. Reddick, and Kyle Lowry all had underwhelming starts to their careers. Another player who had a slow start is Khris Middleton. Middelton only averaged 6.1 PPG his rookie season and shot 31.1 percent from three, he is currently a career 38.8 percent three-point shooter, which is a respectable clip. His per 36-minute stats during his rookie campaign were 12.5 PTS, 3.8 REB, and 2.1 ASTS. Compare those numbers to Culver’s per 36 stats of 13.9 PTS, 4.9 REB, and 3.4 ASTS. Culver statistically is having a better rookie season than Middleton. Last season, Middleton was the second-best player for a Milwaukee Bucks team that won 60 games and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. This is proof that players can and do improve immensely after their rookie season.
I’m not saying Culver will for sure turn into Khris Middleton. Middleton is a much better shooter than Culver will likely become. The comparison was less of a player comparison and more of a look into a player with similar rookie stats. It is worth taking a look at these stats and coming to the realization that maybe Culver isn’t the fastest learner and that’s okay. We saw how it took a season for him to adjust to the college game at Texas Tech and maybe it is going to take him a season to adjust to the NBA game. Many rookies require time to adjust to the NBA. Not everyone will turn into Luka Doncic.
Now what everyone wants to know, how does Culver stack up against the other rookies? I pulled stats for four players that have a connection to the Wolves or Culver and wanted to see how their numbers compared to Culver’s 9.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists on 28% three-point percentage and 37.2% from the field in 23.7 minutes per game. DeAndre Hunter, Darius Garland, Coby White, and Cameron Johnson were the four players that were chosen.
Hunter and Culver squared off in Minneapolis during the Final Four for the NCAA National Championship in April. Hunter was the 4th overall selection in the 2019 NBA draft and is a key rotational piece for Atlanta, averaging 31.7 minutes per game and contributing 11.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 36.6 percent from three and 39.4 percent from the field. The only stat that stands out is the three-point percentage.
Darius Garland was a coveted prospect by Wolves fans and there was hope that trading to the 6th pick would allow us to take him. Due to the surprise of many, Cleveland took Garland 5th overall, even though they have a second-year point guard in Collin Sexton. Some think Minnesota swung and missed on Garland and were forced to take Culver, but I believe they knew Culver was a realistic option and were comfortable with taking him at No. 6. Garland has played in 19 games with the Cavs, averaging 10.9 points, 1.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 38.1 percent from three and 38 percent from the field in 28.2 minutes per game. Again, these numbers do not stand out, aside from the three-point shooting percentage. Also to note, Culver plays much better defense than Garland does, which is worth something.
Once Garland was taken, Wolves fans were praying that Rosas and co. would decide to draft Coby White from UNC. This was not the case and White ended up in Chicago, playing 25.4 minutes per night with averages of 13 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists on 32.5 percent from three and 36.7 percent from the field. White averages nearly four more points per game than Culver, but their rebounding and assist stats are similar. White is a better shooter than Culver, but again Culver is the better defender of the two.
Lastly, I want to compare Jarrett with the player he was traded for on draft night, Cameron Johnson of the Phoenix Suns. Johnson has appeared in 16 games for the Suns and plays 19.2 minutes per night. During his time on the court, he has scored 8.9 points, nabbed 2.9 rebounds, and assisted on 1.6 shots per game while shooting an efficient 40 percent from three and 42.5 percent from the field. Johnson is a much better shooter than Culver, but his play outside of that is nothing to call home about.
The common theme when comparing these rookies to Culver is the increased shooting percentage from three. Culver has had his struggles thus far this season, but things should continue to improve for him as he becomes more comfortable in the NBA and gets used to the added distance for the three-point arc. While Jarrett lacks an efficient offensive game right now, he has shown many flashes of quality defense that should set him up to be a good defender in the NBA. His start is slow, but it isn’t astronomically bad. Wolves fans should not be overly concerned by Culver’s play thus far. It’s been less than a quarter of a season, give him some more time. Jarrett’s performance in the first 19 games of his NBA career will not define him as an NBA player when it is all said and done. Many signs point to Culver improving and becoming who we all thought he would be coming out of the draft
*Stats provided by Basketball Reference and are updated through 12/2/201
By: Dan Slaubaugh
For a team projected to finish with a win total in the mid-to-low 30s entering the season, the Timberwolves, 4-3 overall, offered many storylines to follow from the get-go. To name a few: Will Karl-Anthony Towns take the next step into tier 1 of superstars category? What do the Wolves have in Jarrett Culver? Are the Wolves still an above-average team when Robert Covington is on the court?
All important storylines, but the trajectory of the upcoming season — much like the last few years — sat in the hands of the enigma that is Andrew Wiggins.
These were all important questions to consider of the player who’s held the key to Minnesota’s ceiling since he signed his John Hancock at the bottom of his max contract extension.
It’s a small sample size in seven games, but the early returns on Wiggins’ performance are promising.
Wiggins is launching from deep 6.7 times per game — up from 4.8 a season ago — at a competent 34 percent. More importantly, Wiggins has drastically cut down on the number of long twos taken.
More threes and shots at the rim, less long twos. That’s been the theme of the Wolves' new modern NBA offense and frankly, one they are far behind the league in implementing.
With an increased focus on optimal shots, Wiggins has started to transform his shot selection.
These numbers represent a drastic change in Wiggins' shot selection and are a significant indication that the coaching staff is getting through to him. He's cut way down on the number of long two attempts while increasing his number of shots from deep. This has spearheaded a bump in eFG% at .508 compared to last year's .461 (again, still extremely early).
Wiggins scoring average through the Wolves' first seven games is 22.4 points - an increase of over four points from last season. With a continued focus to develop his long-range shooting, there are sure to be more big nights from the new-look Wiggins.
After starting the season shooting 40 percent (16-40) from the field and 0-7 from three in the first two games, Wiggs has come into his own. Beginning with the Miami game where he went berserk in the fourth quarter, he's averaging 24 points and 4.2 rebounds on 46.7 percent (43-92) shooting from the field and 40 percent (16-40) shooting from deep and looking confident while doing it. Look at the skip in his step as he runs back to his end mid-shot before burying this three.
With Wiggins, we've been hoping for consistency and hopefully, this is the start. When he is efficient behind the arc, it opens up his game with opponents having to respect the jump shot.
In the play below, Ja Morant goes on top of the screen to prevent an open three. Wiggins, who has shown an improved IQ, sees the open lane and utilizes his best attribute -- his athleticism -- to get to the rim and finish for the layup. I mean, this is a play I'm 99 percent confident last year's Wiggs would stop at the free throw line and pull the trigger on a mid-range jumper.
Given the small sample size, Wiggins could see regression after a hot start. The important thing, this year, is that he's taking the right shots and playing the right way. So, it's fair to suggest that if regression were to happen, it wouldn't be as steep.
This "Max" Wiggins is a Wiggins we can get on board with.
Wiggins looks to continue building an efficient start to the season 7 p.m. Friday as the Wolves welcome the Golden State Warriors to Target Center.