By: Jake Paynting
With the Minnesota Timberwolves firmly in offseason mode, Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau, General Manager Scott Layden and Owner Glen Taylor must quickly turn their focus to the upcoming NBA Draft.
Before they can cross that bridge though there is a very important question that needs to be addressed, should the front office cohorts keep the 20th pick they are currently allocated or try to use it as a sweetener in a trade.
The case for keeping the pick
With Andrew Wiggins' $148 million contract due to kick in this upcoming season, Karl-Anthony Towns' now boosted $188 million max extension due to be worked out this summer and Jimmy Butler's contract coming to an end after the 2018-19 campaign, it's fair to say the Timberwolves are strapped for cash.
With this in mind, bringing in young players on a rookie scale contracts suddenly becomes an essential part of building this team. While pick 20 isn't the most seductive selection, it is certainly in a range where the Wolves can pluck someone who can immediately contribute to a bench that had major problems this season.
The proof is in the pudding. Over the last five drafts, studs like Kyle Kuzma, Dejounte Murray, Clint Capela, Rudy Gobert and Minnesota's own Tyus Jones are among the dozens of reliable rotation players that have been selected in the 20s. The key for Thibs and company is to nail that pick, especially while the jury is still out on 2017 selection Justin Patton.
As well as the cap implications, keeping the pick enables the Wolves to select and mold a player of their choosing, rather than having to take on a slightly better albatross of a contract to get rid of a team-hampering contract like Gorgui Dieng's. The 28-year-old Dieng watched his production fall off a cliff in his reserve role behind Towns and Taj Gibson but is slated to make $50 million over the next three seasons.
If the Timberwolves want to keep one eye on the future while they continue to build into a perennial playoff member then holding on to their 2018 draft pick is probably a solid option.
The case for trading the pick
While a draftee on a rookie contract playing his way into the rotation has shown to be a triumphant plan for front offices in the past, we have enough evidence by now to know that draft picks are the quintessential 'hit or miss' situation, and Thibodeau, Layden and Taylor are in no position to be swinging at stray pitches.
Sure, projected mid-late first round picks like Creighton's Khyri Thomas, Duke's Gary Trent Jr. and Villanova's Final Four Most Outstanding Player Donte DiVincenzo seem like sure things now, but we all know that isn't how it works when some draft prospects roll around to the big leagues.
If the Timberwolves can find a way to move Gorgui Dieng and the pick for a proven, reliable role player who can help the aforementioned bench struggles, that is a far safer bet than trying to hit a draft home run - especially with Thibs' tendency to completely ignore first-year players.
Zone Coverage's Dane Moore floated a trade idea that would send the Timberwolves reserve big to Brooklyn along with the pick in question, in return Minnesota would take on Demarre Carroll - averaged 13.5 points on 37 percent from deep this season - and his 2-year $30 million contract. This was just an suggestion and not a report of any kind, but dumping Dieng's $50 million and taking on a similar contract with fewer years on it is possible, throw in that 20th pick and that player could be a serviceable rotation guy like Carroll.
If the front office decide to keep the pick, the avenue of options opens wider, but if the Timberwolves can conjure up the right move it may just be the best option while Thibodeau, Layden and Taylor look to kick this win-now franchise into the next gear.
A very important summer awaits.
By: Jake Paynting
As the dust continues to settle on a bittersweet Timberwolves season, questions around what to do with Andrew Wiggins are arising.
It was a disappointing season for the 23-year-old, who seemed to slightly regress in his new found third wheel role behind Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, and with his 5-year max extension due to kick in next season, somethings gotta give - and he knows it.
"I don't think I had the best season. It's motivation for the summer." He told Pioneer Press reporter Jace Frederick.
According to Basketball Reference, Wiggins averaged 23.6 points on 45.2 percent shooting per game last season, contributing3.3 Total Offensive Win Shares (OWS) to the squad to boot. In 2017-18 that lauded offensive game plummeted, he put up just 17.7 points per game at 43.8 percent from the field and added just 0.5 OWS. His defense clearly improved in his fourth season, but not enough to outweigh his offensive backslide.
While there is plenty of chatter from fans about the Timberwolves potentially moving Wiggins, most signs point towards the 2014 first overall pick staying put in Minnesota and trying to fulfill his seam splitting potential.
This means that this offseason will be the most momentous in Maple Jordan's polarizing career, improving overall and adjusting to life as a third-string scorer is crucial.
When watching Andrew Wiggins, his shooting woes are the major weakness that jumps off the screen and punches you in the face. Not only his inability to consistently make jumpers, but his shot selection too.
Over the summer, the former Kansas standout needs to completely abolish the Kobe Bryant-esque post fadeaway from his game, as well as any other mid-range jumper. He attempted31.6 percent of his field goal attempts from between 10 feet and the 3-point arc this past season but made just 33.4 percent of those long two-pointers.
Rather than revolving his offseason plans around improving the most outdated shot selection in basketball, Wiggins would be better served completely removing it from his offensive skill set. This would allow him to split his time between attacking the rim - where he is elite - and firing off 3-point jumpers.
As you can see from the graphic below, that evolution has already begun:
The only problem with Wiggins analytically improving his shot selection is that, by all statistical accounts, he has gotten worse as a long-range shooter. In order to be an effective player next season, the Canadian will have to prioritize refining his outside game over just about everything else.
Like much of his game, Wiggins' shooting problems could be boosted with some extra strength, toughness, and stamina. If we're being honest, we knew that it would take that wiry kid who first stepped into Target Center a while to fill out his growing body. Another summer of pumping iron and getting up shots will do him well toward the end of games ... especially in Tom Thibodeau's star-draining rotation.
If Wiggins can use that motivation he spoke about to eliminate the mid-range shots and take a step back toward league average from behind the arc, opinions of him may be very different this time next year.
Off the ball
It is imperative that Andrew Wiggins improves his shooting and decision-making when he has the orange in his hands, but with his place in the offensive pecking order slipping it is just as important that Wiggins works on becoming a true threat without the ball in his grasp.
Wiggins is often caught ball watching while his teammates are in possession, a trait that the best third wheels in the league would balk at. When he finds himself standing in the weak side corner or wing, the 23-year-old must learn to dive into the paint and get himself easy buckets on a consistent basis.
If Maple Jordan does maximize his cutting abilities, the league will have a tough time dealing with Minnesota's offense. Wiggins shoots 75 percent and scores 1.52 points per possession on cuts, ranking him in the 91st percentile per NBA stats. The problem is that he isn't putting himself in the positions you see below often enough, finishing with only 94 such plays for the 17-18' campaign.
With his size, freakish vertical leaping ability and a first step that rivals your average cheetah, there is absolutely no reason Wiggins shouldn't be getting at least two of these plays every night, however, some of that blame will understandably fall on Head Coach Tom Thibodeau.
If Thibs can find a way to involve Wiggins in the offense more often without sticking him in an ineffective isolation or pick-and-roll play it will go a long way to rebuilding some of the Canadian's reputation. The gravity created by a diving Wiggins will also allow Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and the rest of the gang more offensive freedom of their own.
While Wiggins' aforementioned defense in the 2017-18 season was certainly an improvement over his first three professional years, he has only just started to scratch the surface of what fans in the Twin Cities are holding out for.
He improved his defensive rating from110.4 in 16-17 to 107.4 this time around and upped his total defensive win shares from 0.9 to 1.6, but another offseason sharpening his defensive technique and gaining strength in order to deal with the wings of the NBA will only push those numbers into a more encouraging territory.
Wiggins has shown promise since day dot as an on-ball defender, where he uses his length and quickness to stifle would-be scorers. It's the tendency to fall asleep on off-ball rotations that are the chief hindrance to his defensive development.
He has publicly stated before that he needs to improve in this area, and he did take a few small steps this season, but the 22nd ranked Timberwolves defense needs him to take Neil Armstrong style leaps heading into next season.
Jimmy Butler was supposed to be the defensive savior for Maple Jordan when the three-time All-Star touched down in Minneapolis last June, perhaps another summer nailing his young prodigy to the wall will do the trick. Just ask Jimmy Buckets himself, he knows what's possible.
"Wigs is the most talented player by far. I see him do things and I'm like wow, like how?" he said to the Star Tribune. "The crazy part is that he was at 40 percent. Just think if you're 80 percent or what if you just go as hard as you can, 100? Wigs is easily the most talented person on this team." He said.
Big praise from a big player. Let's hope Andrew Wiggins can up the ante next season.
It all starts with this tremendously important summer.
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By Jake Paynting
When Taj Gibson arrived in the Twin Cities after signing a two-year $14 million contract this summer, there was mixed reactions around the Timberwolves fan base. Questions rightly flew around about why the money wasn't used on a 3-point shooting wing, while others were quick to defend Tom Thibodeau's decision to bring his former Bulls bench spark to the Land Of 10,000 Lakes.
Now, with his first season in the books, there should be no more questions about the importance of Taj Gibson to this Wolves squad. He produced more than anyone - maybe even including himself - could have predicted or expected.
However maybe we should have, the 32-year-old told us exactly what he was going to bring when he attended his first interview with Timberwolves radio announcer Alan Horton before his inaugural Wolves season tipped off.
"Guys can tend to enjoy playing with me because of how unselfish i am. I try to be a veteran, try to be a guy that tries to help guys learn. I'm capable of playing any situation ... it's all about really winning with me," he said.
After 87 games, that isn't a typo he really played every single game, it's safe to say that Gibson brings that unselfishness, veteran presence and winning traits that he promised us he would. What was unexpected though is the pure productiveness the nine year vet would bring.
Chicago fans and anyone who had previously watched Taj Gibson knew what he was about offensively well before he headed north to join his former coach in Minnesota. the 6-foot-9 bruiser stays in his lane, using a combination of post scoring, mid-range jumpers and hard cutting to get his sprinkling of points each and every night, hard hat and lunch pail included.
His 2017-18 season was exactly that, just on steroids.
Gibson dropped 12.2 points per game, his highest per game average since he scored 13 a night back in 13-14', the amazing thing is the aging forward's shooting percentages didn't drop, they actually increased exponentially.
The big man's 57.7 percent shooting from the field annihilates his previous career-best (52.6%) and despite shooting and missing more than double the amount of 3-pointers than ever before, Gibson still finished with an effective field goal percentage (58.1%) almost 6 percentage points higher than his previous benchmark. For reference, that's around the same difference between Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant.
This increased efficiency is largely the result of coach Thibs allowing Gibson to flourish in post-up situations. With Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns usually sharing the court, opposing teams can't afford to send an extra man over to help Gibson's primary defender, leaving Gibson to feast.
On one post-up, he will probe into the middle and rip a left shoulder spin to bamboozle the defender and get an easy bucket, the next he will aggressively attack the middle and put up a hook shot that floats through the hoop like a snowflake floating through Downtown Minneapolis. A truly elite post talent that Timberwolves fans have grown to admire.
While Gibson lacks the range or ball handling to beat opposing defenders from outside, he does have something going for him every time he steps on to the court - he is going to work his butt off on every single play.
Running the floor and finding himself in a position to get easy points is a specialty for the veteran. While rival big men tend to take plays off in transition, Gibson excels on the run. His 69.2 percent field goal percentage and 1.30 points per possession rank the human hard hat in the 86th percentile for transition basketball, according to NBA stats.
In summary, Taj Gibson was an unexpected surprise on the offensive end this season. His continuous hard work earned him big minutes and big respect around the organization.
While Gibson's offensive brilliance was unheralded for him coming into the 2017-18 campaign, his defensive toughness and versatility has been his calling card since he was a 22-year-old emerging out of the University of Southern California. Now 32-years-old, Gibson doesn't seem like he has lost a single step.
He was the perfect option for the defense-crazy Tom Thibodeau, with his ability to guard bigs effectively and switch onto guards and contain them being a major key in helping the Timberwolves on the less flashy end of the floor. Had the big man not been around, Minnesota's 22nd ranked defense may have actually been worse.
As you can see from his defensive highlight reel above, Gibson does it all. He has quick, active hands, the will to bang with the big boys down low and still enough athleticism and timing to tee up some swats.
While the veteran's defensive rating (107.1) isn't at the elite level it has been in previous seasons, the trio of lineups that regularly featured Gibson (starters, starters with Jones instead of Teague and starters with Bjelica instead of Butler) posted an average rating of 101. That would have ranked as the best defense in the league if the defense didn't crumble when Gibson and the rest of the starters sat.
And of course, there was the steal from Nikola Jokic to seal one of the most memorable Timberwolves triumphs in franchise history.
Much like his offensive season, Gibson was great on the defense, It was a joy to watch the work he put it this season on both ends.
Let's hope that he can come back and provide the same sort of impact in his sophomore Minnesota season.