The starting lineup is as strong as any and the frontcourt is loaded with talent and veteran leadership. The most glaring hole to be found on what fans hope to be a playoff drought-breaking roster is clearly wing depth.
Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins will carry the lion’s share of responsibility for minutes and productivity at the off-guard and small forward positions but the Wolves are looking to round out their roster with, likely, one more impact player.
This far into free agency, it can seem like options are few and far between but there are three players the Wolves should express serious interest: C.J. Miles, Jamal Crawford, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Why We Like CJ Miles
Miles is the most natural fit with the Wolves as their roster is currently constructed. He is not the cheapest option but would likely only require moving Aldrich to clear enough cap room.
CJ, going into his 13th NBA season, is a veteran coming off the best three point shooting campaign of his career. Miles, a career 36.1% three-point shooter, averaged 41.3% from long range last year with the Pacers. Over the last five years, his shot from distance has been a respectable 37.8%, signifying that his 2016-17 season shouldn’t be viewed as a major outlier.
Miles has adapted his game into a strong off-ball threat heading into his age 30 season, sporting a usage rate of 18.4, tied for the lowest of his career. He also functions mainly as a spot up shooter with a career-high 63.2 3PAr (3-point attempt rate).
His offensive skill set is exactly what the Wolves need for a role player to function alongside higher usage players in the line-up (Butler, Wiggins, and Towns).
In addition to his outstanding offensive fit, Miles fits into Tom Thibodeau’s vision of a defensive wing player. Thibs deeply discounts the value of talented offensive players that serve as a liability on the winning side of the ball.
Miles has posted a positive DWS (Defensive Win Shares) in each of his NBA seasons. Aside from that, his defensive statistics are mostly uninspiring but he is committed to staying in front of his man and contesting shots. His main calling card is not his defense, but he will not be a negative asset in that phase of the game.
Why We Don’t Like CJ Miles
Tom Thibodeau is known league-wide for his penchant to ask the world of his best players. In blowout wins and blowout losses, Thibodeau’s rotations don’t often bend. He will saddle his most important players with heavy minutes night after night, even in games when the end result seems set in stone.
Miles is now on the “wrong” side of the age of thirty and in his thirteenth NBA season. His career has been hampered somewhat by injury, appearing in over 72 games only twice. It is a reasonable concern that the rigors of Thibodeau’s system could lead to extended stints of injury, rehab, and recovery.
The other reason Miles isn’t a perfect fit isn’t remotely his fault. Signing a player of CJ’s caliber will require the cap-strapped Timberwolves to make at least one other coinciding move to dump salary.
Most likely, this would signal the end of local guy Cole Aldrich’s tenure with the team; who signed a three-year, $21.9 million contract before last season.
While that alone seems like a worthwhile opportunity cost, reports indicate that it may also require the Timberwolves to part with the Thunder’s 2018 lotto-protected first round pick acquired in the Rubio trade. That pick, which will almost definitely be conveyed this season, has value to this Wolves team that will be looking for impact role players on affordable rookie scale contracts.
With Wiggins up for an extension this summer and Towns set for the same thing next year, value contracts will be incredibly important to fill out the roster in coming years.
CJ’s durability issues and Minnesota’s lack of cap flexibility are hardly character faults or anything to hold against him. That said, they are legitimate concerns worth weighing against his lights out shooting from distance, perfect off ball fit and serviceable defense.
Why We Like Jamal Crawford
Anyone who has watched much basketball in the last seventeen years has probably grown familiar with J-Crossover’s game. Having spent time with six different NBA franchises, Crawford has been in many different situations in his career but while the jerseys have changed, his sweet shooting and jaw-dropping playmaking have remained. Crawford is no stranger to circus shots, half court heaves, and casually turning elite defenders into turnstiles.
Over the last five seasons with the Clippers, Crawford excelled as an elite sixth man. He was most often the primary ball handler and playmaker for Clippers second units. Last year, he was a league average 36% shooter from long range, attempting just under four shots per game. His solid three point shooting numbers and track record as a bonafide sixth man should be attractive to a Timberwolves team that greatly struggled with second unit scoring last year.
Another value Crawford provides is his projected salary demands. At this point in his career, Crawford has been said to value winning over the number of zeros on his check and that would fit well into the Wolves’ lack of cap space. If he is interested in coming in for a portion of the room exception or the veteran minimum, this would allow the Timberwolves to hold onto their assets for potential future transactions.
Why We Don’t Like Jamal Crawford
Aside from the mystique of Crawford’s improbable playmaking ability and affordability of his potential contract, there is not a lot to make Timberwolves fans optimistic.
Crawford touts the highest usage and turnover rates of the three players being compared (22.7/12.3) as well as the lowest win shares, PER, box plus minus, and value over replacement player (1.9/12.0/-3.0/-0.6).
Crawford also shoots a high percentage of his shots from just inside the three-point arc. Last year, 29.2% of his field goal attempts came between sixteen feet and the three-point arc. Based on shot analytics, this range is the lowest risk/reward location on the court.
Observing Crawford’s game over the last couple years as he continues to age, a reasonable comparison can be made to J.J. Barea in his three seasons with the Wolves.
Barea was an undersized, ball dominant guard with a knack for taking (and occasionally making) low percentage shots.
Thinking back to that era, I remember the occasional feeling of relief when Barea would miss a circus shot, hoping (often unrealistically) that the miss would deter him from taking that shot again. Barea, the irrational confidence superstar, would more often hit one of those shots and spend the rest of the game thinking it was a sustainable form of offense to pursue.
37-year-old Crawford possesses a level of basketball IQ that Barea never had, but the efficiency and productivity of Crossover’s possessions will likely continue to deteriorate each year of his career.
Jamal Crawford has put together an impressive career over the last seventeen seasons and has a bag full of offensive tricks that could ignite the Wolves’ second unit if he ends up here.
More realistically, his playmaking ability and productivity will continue to decline, leaving the team with a high volume, low-efficiency shooter who lacks the defensive skills to make a positive impact in Tom Thibodeau’s scheme.
He is still the most realistic signing if the Wolves value their trade assets over any of the available names on the market.
Why We Like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
KCP, the 24-year-old wing drafted in 2013 by Detroit, has surprisingly found himself on the unrestricted free agent market. Yesterday, after trading Marcus Morris for Avery Bradley, the Pistons decided to rescind their qualifying offer to KCP, leaving him as the most desirable fish left in a sea in which most of the fishermen have already pulled up their lines.
Few teams have the money left to offer him the long-term, big money deal he expected as a restricted free agent.
KCP’s stats don’t exactly jump off the page. He’s an average three-point shooter at 35% and scored 13.9 points per game last year. On the other hand, his PER has risen every year of his young career (12.8 in 2016-17) and boasts the highest win shares (4.5) of the three players referenced. His average three-point percentage is also the highest of his career and, at age 24, it can reasonably be expected to continue to progress.
Perhaps most important about Caldwell-Pope and his fit with the Timberwolves is the long term projection of his game alongside the team’s young core. Finding a way to bring him in would minimize the effects of Lavine’s exodus in the Butler trade.
Like Towns and Wiggins, who are expected to continue their trajectories in the league, KCP would provide the Wolves with another win now player that still has many areas of growth at his disposal.
Why We Don’t Like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
This is where things get tricky. Any effort to bring KCP in, on a short or long-term deal, would almost certainly require the team to find another team to take on Gorgui Dieng and potentially Cole Aldrich.
I mentioned above what it would likely take to move Aldrich’s contract but there should at least be a handful of teams interested in Gorgui Dieng and his reasonable contract. Those two moves would also leave the Timberwolves’ frontcourt pretty lean, especially with rookie Justin Patton sidelined after his foot surgery.
A strong argument could be made that it is much easier to find cheap bigs that can fit into Thibodeau’s system than affordable wings that can provide value. This argument doesn’t make it any easier to move two big men, one of which has substantial value to the team.
Thibodeau has shown that he is a shrewd executive unwilling to mindlessly dump contracts at any cost, but should there be a scenario worthy of extreme front office maneuvering, this may be it. This is an extremely rare instance of an opportunity to buy low on a very talented, versatile young player that could be molded into the floor spacing defensive stalwart this team desires.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The Timberwolves seem to have options. Do they pursue the win now option with sharp shooting yet far from durable CJ Miles? Do they prioritize contract value and experience in Crawford? Do they follow up the big splash they made on draft night trading for Jimmy Butler by adding another young core piece in KCP?
Realistically, they may strike out on all three of these pursuits. Miles is reported to have drawn considerable interest from Brooklyn if the Wizards match their offer sheet for Otto Porter. Jamal Crawford may decide that, in the twilight of his career, he’d rather team up with Lebron in Cleveland. Thibodeau may balk at the cost associated with chasing Caldwell-Pope or struggle to find suitors for his trade assets.
In the end, the team is facing a major question of identity and how they want to stack the deck going forward. Any of these players could be a great fit on the team based on the role in which they’re cast. Whatever route the team chooses can set the organization up for a success Minnesota fans may not comprehend. To be talking seriously about playoff and championship contention so seriously in July is something we’re still learning how to do. Hopefully one of these moves helps us continue down that path.
All stats referenced courtesy of Basketball Reference