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.