By: Alex Berg
This is the fifth piece in a series of articles that will look at each individual position on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster heading into the 2016-17 season. Today we feature the centers.
Even without veteran Nikola Pekovic -- who the team recently announced would miss the entire 2016-17 season (and realistically probably will never play again) -- this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves will be very deep in the middle behind second-year phenom Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns is coming off a unanimous Rookie of the Year award selection and was already starting alongside fellow big man, Gorgui Dieng. Even with the two starters, the Wolves front office committed over $11 million of this season’s payroll to add veterans Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill in free agency.
Depth Chart Breakdown
Starter: Karl-Anthony Towns
What else can be said about the 20-year-old out of Kentucky that hasn’t already been said? Through just 82 NBA games, Towns looks poised and ready to take the Timberwolves to a level they have not reached in 12 years.
By no means, did Towns start his rookie campaign slowly, but his numbers alone in the 28 games after the All-Star break put him among the league’s best big men. While playing 35.7 minutes per game, he averaged 20.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 blocks per contest. He was about as efficient as possible, as he shot 54.2 percent from the floor, 34.1 percent from long distance and 81.1 percent from the charity stripe on the season.
Some argue whether Towns is best fit as a center or a power forward, but realistically, it does not really matter. He’s versatile enough to stretch the floor as a 4 one possession and come back inside as the 5 on the next; this should allow the Wolves to be flexible with rotations.
Backups: Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill
Behind KAT lie two experienced big men in Aldrich and Hill. Both were free agent signings this past summer and should add much-needed depth to the Wolves’ second unit. Although Greg Smith played decent in a limited role at the end of last season, both Hill and Aldrich offer a significant upgrade to the Wolves’ frontline depth.
Aldrich, a Minnesota native who is about a month shy of 28-years-old, gives the Wolves a solid inside presence on both ends of the court. Although not known for his offense, Aldrich was more than serviceable in his five starts last season. While filling in for Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Aldrich averaged 15.8 points and 11.0 rebounds over 29.8 minutes per contest. Defensively, he held a 2.0 defensive win shares -- which would have been fourth on the Wolves behind Towns, Dieng and Ricky Rubio. More impressively, his 5.8 rating in defensive box plus/minus was the best among all NBA players. There is no doubting why he was a target of new head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau this offseason.
Hill, who just turned 29 this summer, averaged 8.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in just 20.7 minutes for the Indiana Pacers last season. It was Hill’s third consecutive season of averaging better than 8.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game and his fourth career season in which he shot over 50.0 percent from the floor.
Others in the rotation: Gorgui Dieng
While Dieng will start at power forward, he is probably technically a center. As the NBA has drifted away from the “traditional 1-5” lineup, Minnesota has as well. The Wolves will start two centers, but will likely feature lineups without a second traditional “post player.” Dieng, Towns and Hill each offer some flexibility to stretch the defense outside the paint, while Aldrich is really the only true interior player.
The biggest strength here is going to be depth. The Wolves are now legitimately four deep at the center position and still have second-year player Nemanja Bjelica to stretch the floor at the forward position. The depth will help limit Towns’ minutes a little bit, while not hurting the team’s performance too much when he is off the floor.
As it has been said throughout this piece, flexibility will be a huge strength for the frontcourt. Having three guys that are versatile to bounce from out from under the basket to the elbow (and beyond in Towns’ case) will be a difficult matchup for opposing teams.
It’s really a stretch to even find a weakness here, honestly. If we are reaching for one, I guess we can be concerned about how two new faces might fit in and mesh with the two existing players in a completely new system. Again, I’m reaching.
I am going to cheat a little here and use both post positions to break up the minutes. I would expect Towns to get around 35 minutes per night, while Dieng should see around 25. That leaves roughly 36 minutes for Hill, Aldrich and Bjelica. I expect Aldrich to see around half of those minutes while Hill and Bjelica will share the remaining 18 minutes. Although, these will likely change game-to-game depending on matchups and how often the Wolves choose to go “small” with a lineup that features one big man (most likely Towns) with a combination of Rubio, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad.
By: Zach More
This is the third installation of our series of articles that will look at each individual position on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster heading into the 2016-17 season. Today we feature the small forwards.
Depth Chart Breakdown
Starter: Andrew Wiggins
It seems over the past two years we have gone from "Wiggins is a future MVP" to "Wiggins is a potential all-star" to "Wiggins hasn't established himself like we thought". There is no doubt that Andrew Wiggins is the starting small forward on this team and a darn good one. The question is, how good can he be? Wiggins has the prototypical size for the SF position at 6'8". He can score in bunches (averaged 20.7 ppg in 2015-16) and has the ability to take over games. What we need to see now is the efficiency to increase (FG: 45.9%, FT: 76.1%, 3P: 30%) and for his overall impact on the game to improve. These are both bound to happen this upcoming season with the Wolves finally boasting a consistent starting rotation that can play off each other and feed off Wiggins strengths.
Wiggins the defender
When Wiggins came into the league many believed he could become a lock down defender. Over his first two seasons we have seen some instances of great defense, but way too often just so-so defending from Wiggins. Whether this can be contributed to him playing so many minutes and putting so much energy into the offensive end, lack of positioning or just lack of desire we don't know. If this trend is ever going to turn around it is going to be this year.
Tom Thibodeau has long been known as one of the best defensive minds in the game and he will demand that Wiggins puts in the work to become a good defender. With Thibodeau's knowledge and coaching I expect Wiggins to become the lock-down defender that we all thought he could be. The Wolves need him to be that guy.
I believe that Andrew Wiggins is sitting on a big year. He has no problem taking a back seat to KAT. In fact, he might actually prefer it. He will remind people in a hurry of the all-around talent he is and will be in discussion to be an All-Star this coming season.
Final stat line prediction (per game): 22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists.
Backup: Shabazz Muhammad
Backing up Andrew Wiggins to start out the season will be Shabazz Muhammad or better known as "Bazz". Shabazz is one of those players that fans tend to love or hate. He has that scorer's mentality that he can score on anyone at anytime. This can be a great trait to have, but also can be his downfall. I believe the first two months of the season will be huge for determining Muhammad's future on this team.
As mentioned above, Bazz can go in stretches where he is impossible to stop. With his bulldog mentality and strong left handed post game, he can be a nightmare when he gets low position on smaller guards.
This however wasn't the case as much this past season as Bazz only averaged 10.5 PPG shooting only 46.5% from the floor. When Bazz isn't hitting from the post he has a hard time scoring as he has not improved his ball handling or three point shooting (28.9%) enough yet for those to become big parts of his game. Bazz did however show that he has good touch on the corner trey. The only problem was the offense in the past was not designed to get these shots, but let's not get into that now.
Shabazz on defense
It wouldn't be right to talk about Bazz without talking about his defensive shortcomings. Bazz has always been known as a below average (nice way of saying bad) defender, as teams tend to go right at him when he is on the floor. Last year with his improved conditioning and foot speed Bazz showed a little improvement in that area of his game throughout the season. If anyone can help Bazz on defense it is Thibodeau. I believe Bazz will put a consistent effort in on the defensive end and if he can show improvements he will gain Thibodeau's trust and therefore playing time.
I do believe we will hear Bazz's name come up constantly in trade rumors. I truly believe this is the year that Bazz will get traded at the deadline. If the Wolves are in contention they will be looking for a true 3 and D guy, Bazz will be appealing to other teams. They know he can score and teams are always looking for scorers.
Final stat line (per game - before traded): 9 points, 3 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Will see minutes: Brandon Rush, Nemanja Bjelica
Besides Wiggins and Muhammad we will see Brandon Rush and even Nemanja Bjelica can some meaningful minutes at SF this season. These two players are similar in they could be dark horses on this Wolves team. Early in camp we will see many different rotations of seeing how these two can fit into rotations and what their skill sets can bring to each. Both of these players have potential to make a big impact from the three-point line and the Wolves will need them to if they want to be a serious playoff contender.
Brandon Rush wasn't the big-name shooter many wanted the Wolves to sign this off-season but he can come in and help this team. Last year on the mighty Warriors team Rush wasn't asked to do much. He only played 14.6 minutes per game. During that time he averaged 4.2 ppg on 3.6 attempts per game and 41.4% from deep. Rush will no longer be an after thought when he is on the court as he will be one of the Wolves top shooters from behind the arc.
The downfall for Rush his whole career has been his injury issues. Last year Rush played a in 72 games which was a nice surprise for the Warriors. In the three years prior, Rush played in: 2, 38 and 33 games respectively. Most of the time his missed games were with major knee injuries occurring. For the Wolves to get the most out of Rush they will have to manage his minutes and not be tempted to play him too much. Keeping him healthy for a full season will be a key factor.
I believe the Rush signing will be looked at as one of the best "small moves" of the past off-season. The Wolves have enough depth to manage his minutes and keep him fresh and healthy. The mere threat of his shooting alone will make him a productive player when on the court. Rush should see the majority of his minutes at SG.
Stat line (per game): 8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist
I will admit I was one of the biggest Bjelica fans going into last season after watching a lot of his tape from his time for Istanbul. The way he could shoot, dribble and pass I thought his game would translate very well. This however wasn't the case. Bjelica seemed to struggle with his confidence for the majority of the season. During games it often looked like he was overthinking everything, nothing look smoothed. He would pass up open shots to try to make a play and then shoot a contested shot the next possession. This led to a stretch where he played very limited minutes per game. When the season started slipping away and injuries started to mount Bjelica saw his minutes rise again. He was one of the best players the Wolves had down the stretch as you could see some of that flare coming back to his game that he had overseas. Bjelica ended the season with a stat line of 5.1/3.5/1.4
I truly believe that Bjelica is the biggest dark horse on the Wolves roster for the upcoming season. If he can start the year playing like the confident player we saw for stretches last year and use the experience he gained to improve his game the Wolves will have a hard time not giving him minutes.
He has the rare comination of size, playing making ability and outside shooting that could make him a match-up nightmare for the opposition. The Wolves would love to see this from Bjelica as they need all the shooting they can get.
I think Bjelica will still have his moments and the confidence won't always be there. Thibs will play him when the match-ups are right and hopefully he can provide a spark and show something during that time. Bjelica will see time at multiple positions this year, including power forward. His defense and foul trouble will be key factors to how many minutes he gets per game.
Stat line: 7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
The small forward unit as a whole will be a strength this season for the Wolves. The Wolves will count on this group on a nightly basis to put up major points.
- Athleticism: This is an extremely athletic group led by Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins has shown the past two years that he is as athletic as anyone in the game. He can make amazing dunks look easy with his leaping ability and needs to use that athleticism in more facets of the game.
The bench is not lacking athleticism either as Bazz has improved in that part of the game with his body transformation. As mentioned above Bjelica can do a lot of things other guys his size can't do on a basketball court.
- Scoring: All of these players have been considered a scorer at some point of their career and are all capable of lighting up the scoreboard. If shooting numbers can continue to improve the SF's will be putting up a big % of the Wolves points on a nightly basis.
- Depth: The small forward position will be four deep and all four players have a different skill set which is big in how the NBA has turned into such a match-ups league.
As with any positional group there are some weaknesses that come with the SF's of the Wolves.
- Defense: Other than Wiggins there is no doubt that all of these players lack defensive ability. We all know Bazz has always struggled on that end and Rush hasn't been the same defender since his knee injuries. Bjelica showed last year he struggles to defend without fouling. Player's don't usually become a good defender overnight and this is an area where team defense will have to help cover this deficiency.
- Shooting: The top two players on the depth chart (Wiggins and Bazz) have not shown they can be consistent 3 point threats yet in their young careers. We haven't seen enough of Bjelica to say he is a good shooter and Rush is coming into a new system where he will no longer be an afterthought to the defense when he is on the court. This is an area that we very easily can see improvement in this season but as of now it goes in the weakness category.
This is always a tough prediction as so many different variables can happen. The depth that the Wolves have at this position makes it even harder to predict. Thibs is known for playing his players big minutes and usuing his bench on a match-up type basis which make this even harder to predict. Here is my prediction on how I see the minutes breaking down at the SF position only on a nightly basis. This does not take into consideration the minutes these players will get at other positions.
Wiggins - 28
Muhammad - 10
** All stats are referenced from NBA.com
By: Tim Parochka
Power forward is a difficult position to examine because different situations will dictate who is in that slot. Is Gorgui Dieng or Karl-Anthony Towns a power forward? Is Jordan Hill a power forward? What's next for Nemanja Bjelica and Adreian Payne?
Honestly, it doesn't matter if Karl-Anthony Towns or Gorgui Dieng officially "start" at the power forward position. They both will start so, frankly, I'm not focused on which one will be the power forward.
Karl-Anthony Towns is on the verge of greatness and it feels like we're watching a career take shape similar to the career that has just ended. Towns displayed a repertoire of inside post pivots, outside jabs, ball-handling, nifty passing and a jump shot extended to three point range. The kid has the entire package -- possibly a package good enough to end the longest drought without a spot in the playoffs.
Dieng boasts some of the same skills Towns does, but they're not as advanced. The former Louisville Cardinal has shown the ability to shoot the ball and over the past few seasons including a funky one-footed falling away jump-shot off the glass. Gorgui can score inside and stretch the defense just beyond the free-throw line.
It appeared that Towns & Dieng generated a synergy and chemistry together last season. They played well off each other and it makes sense for them to start together because both of them can shoot which opens the lanes for not just each other, but the other three players on the floor as well.
The Final Days
The most known power forward in franchise history is headed to retirement. I'm not going to spend to much time on it because I wrote an article in August that summoned my thoughts on Kevin Garnett.
Garnett's presence will be missed in the locker-room and it will be missed on the court, too. KG played 43 games in his second stint with the Wolves so it's difficult to explain how his presence will be missed on the court, but even at KG's age, he was still, remarkably, one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in the NBA.
Hopefully Towns & Dieng can take what Garnett taught them and put it into use on the court. Garnett's leadership will be missed but in Towns, there's no one better he could pass the torch to.
Let's get Creative
The power forward spot allows for creativity and maneuverability.
Two years ago, the Golden State Warriors initiated a "death lineup", which put their power forward, Draymond Green, at the center position and their small forward, Andre Iquodala, at the power forward spot.
This is where it gets interesting because the Minnesota Timberwolves roster has the ability to generate some sort of small-ball attack. A focus this off-season from Andrew Wiggins was getting bigger and stronger which means he could slide down to the power forward spot if he's comfortable with it.
The power forward is the trickiest spot in a small-ball lineup. Typically, power forwards can guard centers, point guards and shooting guards are interchangeable as well as shooting guards and small forwards. But you need a small-forward who's able and willing to guard the opposing power forward.
Can Andrew Wiggins become that guy? Or maybe it could be Shabazz Muhammad?
A lineup featuring Ricky Rubio or Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Shabazz, Wiggins & Towns definitely has some fire to it and it's sure to give opposing team some fits as Minnesota's version of the "death lineup."
Off The Bench
Another interesting tidbit in the power forward conundrum is the guys up next. Cole Aldrich is sure to be the backup center, so who would be the best fit next to him?
Jordan Hill was a nice off-season addition because he is one of those guys that will work for every loose ball and fight for every rebound, but is he someone that should receive consistent minutes?
In my mind, Hill is a player who should receive sporadic minutes. Meaning, if the Wolves are struggling to rebound or just lack hustle, substitute Jordan Hill because those are two things he's sure to bring.
Nemanja Bjelica makes a lot of sense next to Aldrich because he can stretch the floor. Nemanja had a great start to last season and a solid finish. However, he was awful during the middle of the year which is worrisome because Nemanja is on the court to shoot and if he isn't shooting well, he can't be on the floor.
Lastly, Adreian Payne. Nobody really knows what his future entails but most believe it's not with the Wolves. It's tough because Payne has obvious talent and athletic ability, but the smarts are just not there. Payne may get cut in training camp which opens a spot for one of Thibodeau's former players who signed small contracts in the off-season.
The power forwards off the bench have me concerned and I will be interested in seeing if Thibodeau creates a small-ball "death lineup" of his own because he certainly has the tools.
The next thing to watch for is who gets the power forward minutes off the bench because Hill and Bjelica are complete opposite players. Will Thibodeau go with a floor spacing option or will he go with a hard-nosed tougher option in Hill?
Whatever this season brings, it shall be interesting at the Power Forward position.
By: Ryan Schmidt
âKevin Garnett has officially retired from the NBA.
However, the Kevin Garnett Era in Minnesota ended for me April 9th, 2007 vs the Toronto Raptors at Target Center. KG scored 17 points on 7 of 23 shooting, grabbed 10 rebounds and had 6 assists. Garnett was traded just 2 months later to Boston. On February 25th, 2015 Garnett made his return to his first NBA home. He had 5 points and 8 rebounds in just over 18 minutes of play but the moment his name was announced to the capacity crowd that night it felt special. Unlike the end of the Garnett era game in 2007, 2015 felt great. It felt as if Flip Saunders brought Garnett back for another purpose.
Saunders was the one in 1995 who drafted the phenom fresh out of high school. Sports Illustrated that year put Garnett on their cover and titled itâReady or Not.â When my older brother bought that magazine and I read about KG, that was the player I was hoping the Timberwolves would draft. We never imagined how much he would change the NBA.
It was just a few years earlier when I became a real Wolves fan because of another player the Wolves drafted. That player was JR Rider. Rider excited the fan base with his dunks but they were also tired of his attitude. When Garnett show up, we didnât know heâd be the guy Minnesota fans gravitate towards. Only a few short games into his rookie year, and stories, which now have became legend, demonstrate Garnett as a tireless worker. Jonathan Abrams details stories in his book,âBoys Among Men,' of Garnett as a teenager in Chicago and his first year in Minnesota.
The final two years of Kevin Garnett in Minnesota werenât exactly magical. He played in just 43 games and some of those games there wasnât a whole lot of minutes for him. I know many including myself wondered aloud what Garnett at 38 years old would bring to a young promising Wolves roster. Other than nostalgia for us fans who grew up watching him, it didnât seem like Garnett would be a torchbearer.
But his encouragement on the bench to younger players could be seen often. His teachings were routinely praised and welcomed. Garnettâs fire has been seen in Karl-Anthony Towns. Rubio constantly displays signs of his competitiveness. Zach LaVine was in awe of him, âHe was playing in this league before I was born!â, and âwhen you see him in practice and see how he works, itâs just a blessing that we have him."
To understand what Garnett means to the Minnesota Timberwolves fan base can be summed up in three parts. Before, during, and after. Before Kevin Garnett the Timberwolves won 126 games and lost 366. The Wolves lost 60 games in every single season except one before Garnett. From 1995 to 2007 the Wolves won 501 games. They made the playoffs in eight of those seasons culminating with a #1 seed 2003-2004 season and Garnettâs MVP. Since 2007-08 season to now the Wolves have won more 30 games twice. They lost more than 60 games in four seasons after Garnett.
If you breakdown every bit and piece of Timberwolves history before, during and after KG youâd see the shortcomings and missteps of a franchise. Youâd also come to a greater understanding of why one player meant so much to one team. Youâd see some parts of that fan base believe KG didnât do enough. Youâd see many counter that claim that KG never had enough. One thing nobody ever will claim was KG didnât try hard enough.
The last thing Iâll leave you with other than "Thank you KG for the 20 year career", is Kevin Garnettâs last NBA dunk. By the way, you'll want to make sure you watch all of the last video to see Karl Anthony Townsâ excitement.
This is the second piece in a series of articles that will look at each individual position on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster heading into the 2016-17 season. Today we feature the shooting guards.
Looking back at last season, it’s sad to think about what the Wolves had going at the 2-guard before Zach LaVine took hold of the position in the second half of the year. There were times when you had Kevin Martin playing significant minutes. Or, you had Andrew Wiggins, a natural and potentially dominant small forward, starting at shooting guard. Sam Mitchell experimented with LaVine at point guard at times and really didn’t settle on a solid rotation until after the All-Star break, which is when the Wolves looked like a developing playoff contender. That’s when it became clear LaVine has the potential to be a solid shooting guard in the league. With the addition of Brandon Rush through free agency, Minnesota might just have found a combo that can reliably knock down open shots and stifle opposing guards on the defensive end.
Depth Chart Breakdown
Starter: Zach LaVine
With as much hype as Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns get as future superstars, LaVine sometimes gets overlooked for what he has the potential to be. Entering his third season, there is no denying his ridiculous athletic ability – refer to his back-to-back slam dunk titles. But in the second half of last year, the 6-foot-5 UCLA product showed he can shoot at a high level and has the potential to become an adequate defender, especially under the tutelage of new Wolves boss Tom Thibodeau.
I can go on and on about LaVine’s versatility and maturation over the course of last season, but all you really have to do is look at the numbers.
Major takeaways from LaVine’s stats breakdown for last season:
Drawing conclusions and looking forward to 2016-17, we can expect to see an improved version of the post All-Star break LaVine from Day 1 this season, which is a seismic upgrade from what the Wolves had to open last season.
Backup: Brandon Rush
As I’ve written here before, I think Rush was a solid pickup in the offseason, even though he didn’t provide the splash some Wolves fans were hoping for. If he can stay healthy, he can contribute as a proven outside shooter who can defend. Additionally, he was a part of the developing championship culture with the Warriors.
Outside shooting and defense obviously were both areas of weakness for the Wolves last season, but with LaVine (shooting) and Rush (improved defense from the 2) could be an area of strength this year.
The beauty of adding Rush as a sort of underwhelming free agent addition is that he won’t be under pressure to make a giant impact when he’s on the floor. He’s going to be a leader for younger players and will knock down open shots when teams double down on KAT or when perimeter guys like Wiggins, Dunn, LaVine and Rubio implement the drive-and-kick.
Others in the Rotation: Kris Dunn, Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad
Even with the more established order at shooting guard, don’t be surprised to see situational lineups that feature Dunn, Wiggs, or Bazz at the position. Each has strengths and skills that could play to certain matchups and give the Wolves the upper hand. So, the Wolves are deeper at the 2 than it might look on paper.
Both LaVine and Rush have proven they can knock down close to 45% of their shots from beyond the arc. That’s going to be huge not only for the shooting guard position, but for the ability of KAT, Wiggs, Rubio, and Dunn to make plays in other areas of the floor. You really can’t overstate the value of having a reliable shooting threat on the floor.
Rush and LaVine have the agility and athleticism to match up with any 2-guard in the league. I’m intrigued to see how they develop under Thibs, who turned Jimmy Butler into a top-flight shooting guard on both ends of the floor in Chicago.
On paper, depth looks to be an issue, and it probably is with LaVine and Rush the only pure shooting guards on the roster. However, as mentioned above, I expect Dunn, Wiggs, and Bazz to provide depth at the position.
The thing the Wolves really can’t afford is for LaVine to go down with an injury. That would force Thibodeau to adjust some things at other positions that would really compromise how the Wolves play the game.
Expect LaVine to play 35+ minutes a night and to really blossom into the mainstay at the shooting guard. I look for Rush to play 10-15 minutes a night depending on his rhythm, with Dunn, Wiggs, and Bazz also seeing time to take advantage of certain matchups.