It doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: the Minnesota Timberwolves are struggling. They haven’t won a game since January 9th against the Portland Trail Blazers. They have the fifth worst record in the NBA and are coming off one of the worst collapses in NBA history. That’s right, going into Monday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, teams with at least a 17-point lead with three minutes or less left in the game have gone a combined 8,378-0. Well, the Minnesota Timberwolves made that record 8,378-1. Following the game on Monday, the Timberwolves held a practice on Tuesday where frustration levels were high. Karl-Anthony Towns held his shortest press conference of the season, seeming increasingly frustrated with the recent losses.
With all that said, I took to Twitter to gather questions from Wolves fans on the state of the franchise and where the team should go from here. Let’s get into it.
Might as well start with the best question that was asked. To this, I would guess a lot more. When your favorite team has made the playoffs once in the last 15 seasons, with that one season leading to another downfall of the franchise in the coming months, that lends to alcohol consumption. Unless you’re not 21 like me, then you just have to deal with it.
If you’re talking about the postseason for this year, that’s out of the picture. The Wolves are 14th in the Western Conference, eight games out of the final playoff spot. In terms of improving the team to be in contention for next season, there’s a lot that needs to be done. To start, they need to find a point guard. Shabazz Napier is a quality guard, but he should be the team’s backup point guard, not starting point guard. Along with the point guard situation, which I will go more in depth on in another question, they need to find the right combination of shooters and defenders to surround Karl-Anthony Towns. In essence, it’s no easy task and Gersson Rosas has his work cut out for him.
Absolutely not. If you were expecting the Wolves to make the playoffs this season, that was probably a misjudgement. Minnesota’s roster is not constructed to make the playoffs, especially in the system they are playing. However, fans have long coveted a modern NBA system, which Saunders has implemented, it will just take time and the right guys on the floor to make the system flourish.
Additionally, Saunders is a rookie coach. He’s learning on the fly. He’s not going to be perfect, and he shouldn’t be expected to be perfect. There have been times when his rotations have been put under question, and rightfully so, but he’s trying to find combinations that work in the system. This year was never about making a playoff run, it was about finding the guys that fit in the system for the years down the road.
This is a great question and one that a lot of fans have started to ponder. I think Towns can be the top option on a championship team, but there needs to be a star guard on the roster with him. I don’t think Towns will be a guy that can single-handedly take a team on a deep playoff run without another star alongside him. His offensive game is off the charts, but his defense is wildly inconsistent, especially without Robert Covington on the floor. Additionally, I think the Wolves offense running through Towns this year has been good, but I think running the offense for Towns would be even better. It may seem like the same thing, but what I’m getting at is having more action with Towns coming off screens and doing more pick-and-roll. This would mean the Wolves need a playmaker to handle the ball and be able to make the necessary reads, something Towns currently does a lot of at the top of the key.
Okay, I’m going to try to answer as many of these questions as possible. Starting with Justin Patton, I don’t think the Wolves would have a ton of interest, but I hope I’m wrong. Patton has looked solid in the G-League this season, but with Towns, Dieng, Vonleh, and Reid on the roster, I don’t see it.
In terms of trading Noah Vonleh, I’m not sure if there would be a lot of interest on the trade market. If a team needs a center depth for a playoff run, I suppose the Wolves might get some calls, but a second-round pick would be the most we would get, especially since Vonleh is on an expiring contract. Vonleh hasn’t played in six straight games, so if the Wolves can get anything for Vonleh, I would do it, especially since I don’t think he has a future here.
For the NBA Draft question, it’s really dependent on what pick the Wolves have and what they could trade the pick for. The 2020 NBA Draft Class is widely perceived as a weaker draft, but there will always be great players in any draft, it’s up to the scouting department to find those talents. With the theme of this mailbag and most of the season being on the point guard position, that’s where I would look if I was making the calls. Call me crazy, but I’m a big fan of LaMelo Ball’s game, and if nothing else, he would sell tickets and not make the Target Center look like a ghost town every night.
Finally, on the D’Angelo Russell trade question, I think that’s the type of offer it would take to pry him out of Golden State, but I’m not sure if I would do it. I have been conflicted on the D’Angelo Russell question for quite some time now. On the positive side, the Wolves need a ball handler that can shoot. D’Angelo Russell checks both of those boxes. Towns and Russell are really good friends. That checks another box. Then, there’s the defense and the contract. The Wolves defense is already one of the worst in the NBA. Trading away one of the best defensive players in the league in Robert Covington for a below-average defender would only make it worse. Along with the defense, D’Angelo Russell is on a max contract. Acquiring Russell without trading Andrew Wiggins would leave them with three players on max contracts. That doesn’t leave a lot of flexibility to add to the supporting cast. If Rosas thinks the Wolves can build a championship contender around Towns, Russell, and Wiggins, make the trade. If not, move ahead and keep chipping away at a roster that moves the needle.
It’s tough, there’s no doubt about it. On the other hand, Karl-Anthony Towns is a joy to watch and always has the chance to do something special. I don’t blame anyone that has checked out on the Wolves this season, but when Rosas makes the right moves to turn this team in the right direction, Minnesota is a great basketball state and people will come.
I don’t see a great match with Sacramento. Despite moving Hield to the bench, the Kings have shown no inclination that they are trying to trade Hield. Plus, Hiled is on the “Poison Pill Provision” since he just signed a new contract with Sacramento, making the salaries very difficult to match. As for Bogdanovic, I don’t see a great trade scenario either. There’s no doubt that Bogdanovic would fit Minnesota’s system very well, but he’s due big money this offseason, and there’s no certainty he would want to stay in Minnesota down the road.
This is a tricky question. On the court, I think the point guard position is what needs to be addressed, no doubt about it. However, if/when the Wolves acquire a point guard, all their problems aren’t going to go away in an instant. If I was placing bets on who would be on the Timberwolves roster next year at this same time, the only comfortable name I could give would be Karl-Anthony Towns. Every other player could be had for the right price, and I think rightfully so. Now, will that actually be the case? No. I don’t see Jarrett Culver or Jake Layman being moved. Andrew Wiggins will continue to be hard to move because of his contract, despite his increased engagement outside of scoring this season. But, if this team can find quality starters to play any position outside of center, and a spot for Robert Covington if he’s in the long-term plans, that would be an upgrade to the roster.
For point guard specifically, I think they need to find a pass-first guy that can defend. Does that sound like anyone to you? Oh yeah, Ricky Rubio. He played in a Timberwolves uniform for six years, and he’s just the type of player we need right now. I talked a little bit earlier about running the offense for Towns instead of through him, and Rubio would be the type of guy that could orchestrate that. I don’t think the Wolves need a point guard who can score 20 points per game. They need a solid guy that will get others easy looks and play great defense. Plus, Andrew Wiggins had his most efficient seasons with Rubio on board.
Now, obviously Ricky Rubio will not likely be traded to Minnesota, but that’s the type of point guard I think the Wolves should pursue. Lonzo Ball is another name that comes to mind, if Minnesota could convince New Orleans to part ways with him. On a smaller scale, I wouldn’t mind a low-risk, medium-reward move for Dennis Smith Jr. if that’s all that can be done this season. It never hurts to get new faces in the building to see how they gel with the core guys, or guy in this case, then go from there.
The Timberwolves currently have four guys on expiring contracts this season, not including the two-way players: Allen Crabbe, Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh, and Jordan Bell. It’s hard to judge whether or not Allen Crabbe will be back next season since the trade with Atlanta to acquire him was so recent, but if he shoots well and flows with the offense after he comes back from his injury, I think there’s a good chance Minnesota tries to re-sign him. I think Shabazz Napier is the most likely out of all four to be back. Napier has had a good season thus far, and in my opinion, is a really good option for the backup point guard role. He got off to a slow start dealing with injuries, but in the month of January, he’s averaging 11.1 points and 6.3 assists per game on 40% shooting from deep. As for Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell, I wouldn’t expect them back in a Timberwolves uniform based on the amount of time they’ve played this season, but there’s always a chance when filling out the roster with 15 guys.
If someone has the answer to this question, let Gersson Rosas and the Timberwolves know. In my opinion, they have to address the point guard play and get more shooters around Towns. Minnesota is not going to have a lot of wiggle room with money this summer, so they’re going to have to get creative. They will need to nail their lottery pick, or trade it for an established player. I don’t think it’s a one-move away type of offseason for the Wolves. It’s going to take serious movement around the edges of the roster. Getting Jake Layman healthy will help as he looked really good playing next to Towns, and it will take equally good and even better finds this summer to bolt the Wolves into playoff contention.
Hard to say. It doesn’t sound like the Trade Deadline is going to be very active this year. Dennis Smith Jr. seems the most “likely” since he wouldn’t require top assets to get, and his name has been floating around the rumor mill a lot. Dennis Schroder is another name that has come up. I would have to think the Wolves will acquire some type of point guard help since Shabazz Napier and Jordan McLaughlin are the only two “true” point guards on the roster right now. However, it always takes two to tango with trades, so if the deadline passes without any additional deals made from the Wolves, I wouldn’t be too shocked either.