By: OTP Staff
This is the fourth piece in a series of articles that will look at each individual position on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster heading into the 2017-18 season. Today we feature the power forwards.
In the transcript below, On The Prowl writers Dan Slaubaugh, Zach More, Cal Colbert, and Jonah Sprinkel discuss what the arrival of Taj Gibson means to the Timberwolves, then debate what Nemanja Bjelica needs to do to become an impact player in Tom Thibodeau's rotation. This conversation has been lightly edited.
Dan: TAJ GIBSON WELCOME TO MINNESOTA!
Jonah: Well Dan, your wish came true. Taj Gibson is a Timberwolf.
Dan: Haha! I feel like I’ve been predicting this signing for two years now. I’m not entirely sure if I was predicting it because I thought he would actually sign here or if I just really wanted him in a Timberwolves uniform. He was a bit spendy (28 million over two years), but I like what he brings to this team in toughness and defensive grit. He’s a winner.
Zach: With Gibson you know you are going to get a guy who is going to be a leader on and off the court. You know he is going to give you 100% effort all of the time. His defense is what this team really needs. He is very versatile and can guard multiple positions. The guy lives on the offensive boards and does damage around the rim. The one thing we have seen so far this preseason is his ability to stretch the floor, something that hasn’t been seen in the past. If Taj can be a consistent 3 point shooter, even if it’s just in the corners that makes his value even higher than it was and makes that contract look a lot better.
Cal: I completely agree with you Zach. Taj is definitely a better fit for this Wolves team, and I think the younger players will learn a lot more from Taj than they would have than someone like Pattrick Patterson. I just can’t get over the fact that we paid 2 years $28 million for him. Just seems steep.
Jonah: I feel like I have to point out that Taj’s skillset is quickly becoming extinct in the NBA. It should be interesting to see how he’s used against the smaller and more mobile teams.
Zach: That’s a good point Jonah, I do believe if a team is going so small that Taj can’t guard the 4 guard that will be the times we see Butler at the 4. Taj should be able to handle most 4’s, as he still moves his feet pretty well on the defensive end.
Jonah: Could we see Taj play some 5?
Dan: I think the only time we would see Taj at the 5 is if/when he shares the court with Nemanja Bjelica. I can’t see that happening very often, so I’d say we won’t see Taj at the 5 much this season. I’m just not sure there are many productive lineups with Taj at the 5.
Zach: Yeah, I don’t see Taj playing much 5, this season. I think we all can agree on though that he is going to be a big help to the front court.
Dan: Taj brings a skillset to this team that was needed the most heading into the offseason - defense. If Minnesota can even sniff the league average on defense, they could be a real and immediate problem. Gibson’s toughness and versatility (which many people will be surprised about) on defense will go a long way in accomplishing that feat.
Dan: I feel like we literally could copy and paste last year’s season preview for Bjelica and no one would notice. If he can play adequate defense and stretch the floor by hitting threes, he will serve a nice role in the second unit. If he can’t, he doesn’t do much on the court. That said, his defense has improved since he’s arrived from overseas.
Jonah: Bjelica’s three point percentage dropped by nearly seven percent last year. That needs to come back up. But, I was a big fan of the hot streak he went on at the end of last year before he got injured. Man, that killed the season.
Zach: I agree Dan, Bjelica seems to be in the exact situation he was last year. Bjelica did show some flashes however down the stretch last season before injury. For Bjelica to be effective and good for the second unit he needs to become the stretch 4 the Wolves need. At times it looks like Bjelica doesn’t exactly know what he is. Sometimes he tries to be a playmaker and sometimes he wants to be a shot taker. Bjelica seems to make his mind up too early at times. He drives when he should shoot and shoots when he should drive.
Dan: All great points, Zach. Before his injury last season he was playing well, providing serviceable minutes off the league’s least productive bench.
Zach: For sure! I think the game is starting to slow down a bit for him, which is the first step. Now he needs to become that catch and shoot threat from deep for him to take the next step. If not, the Wolves could be looking for a player to replace him. This is why Bjelica is the X factor. If he plays well he could be the 4 to close out games as the shooting stretch. If he doesn’t play well he could see very limited time and Wolves could look to replace him.
Dan: I think it all comes down to Bjelica knocking down threes at a 35% clip. Like you were saying Jonah, his three point percentage dropped by nearly seven percent last year. We’ve always said Bjelica would be a nice pairing in the frontcourt with KAT, opening up space for the offensively skilled center, barring he serves as the stretch four he was suggested to be when coming over from Serbia.