The NBA is back (kinda), ladies and gents!
Since today is the first Wolves action since April 13th (4:30 today vs. the Heat), it’s natural to wonder what kind of experimentation Tom Thibodeau will throw out there to start the season. Not only is he new to this team, but so is most of the bench. The big man rotation, especially, will need time to get used to each other, with newcomers Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill, and possibly Brandon Rush needing time at the frontcourt positions in addition to KAT, Dieng, Bjelica, ‘Bazz and in desperate cases, Adriean Payne.
For the most part, each of the new Wolfpack bigs is a specialist. Aldrich plays defense, grabs boards, and rocks some goofy hook shots.
He’s an advanced stats darling, but he’s averaged over 15 minutes per game in just one season, 2014-2015, for a Knicks team that won 17 games. Can you say small sample size? The numbers say he’s elite defensively, yet he’s never gained a coach’s full trust.
Jordan Hill is also a bit of an odd duck. He’s two years removed from a season in which he averaged 16.2 and 10.7 per 36 minutes for a bad Lakers team, but he lost his starting job to a rookie last season (though that was more due to Myles Turner’s general bad-assery than Hill’s mediocrity). He really embodies the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none,” and at this point, is pretty much a rebounder who can hit a midrange shot, especially on the baseline, and play decent team defense.
Brandon Rush, as we know, is the flamethrower.
Given his skillset and experience with the team, Bjelica should probably be the first big off the bench, if he can impress Thibs this preseason. I want to see Dunn and Bjelly come in together to form a Dunn-LaVine-Wiggins-Bjelica-KAT unit that will be ridiculously fun and guaranteed to flat out get buckets.
Of course, everything we know about Thibs would indicate that KAT will be playing a lot of minutes. It will be interesting to see what he thinks of the Towns-Dieng combo, and how much he staggers their time off the floor.
During all-bench runs, which again, will probably be infrequent, Aldrich seems like the natural fit next to Bjelly and/or Rush. Big Cole’s defense and post presence compliment the more perimeter-based games of the small-ball fours, whereas Hill’s hybrid game fits better next to KAT or Dieng, who are versatile enough to take the tougher mark defensively and cover up for weakness on both ends.
There of course is a bigger problem, which is that the team is too heavy on centers and point guards and too light on wings. An injury (God forbid) to any of LaVine, Wiggins, or Shabazz would put the Wolves in a very tight spot. The market is pretty dry for centers right now, and a couple other teams (Milwaukee, Orlando, Philly) may soon be dangling more enticing frontcourt players than the Wolves have to offer, so if Thibs and Layman see an opportunity, they might be wise to snatch it up quickly.