This is the third and final addition of a three-part series breaking down the Minnesota Timberwolves position by position. However, this is not a typical breakdown, operating out the team in three categories: Ball handlers, wings and bigs. In the final part of this series we are tackling the big men.
This is a really fascinating position group because of the amount of change that has taken place in the NBA, which has changed the center and power forward spots drastically. These positions are now expected to run the floor and spread a defense more than ever before. They are expected to play the boards, protect the rim, and still display a decent perimeter game. New talent is mixing with old school veterans.
Time for the break down.
Power Forwards: Taj Gibson, Nemanja Bjelica.
Centers: Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Justin Patton and Cole Aldrich.
The power forward sport might be the weakest sport for the Timberwolves, though the Gibson addition should help the team. He played just 15 minutes per game last season in Oklahoma City, but is expected to start this season and help lead the defense with fellow incomer – and Thibs University graduate – Jimmy Butler.
Behind him, Bjelica has had even less time on the floor to back him up. He averaged 18.3 minutes per game and still hasn’t shown an ability to play consistently on either end of the floor.
Dieng is most likely the plug for the spot, listed as a center but can slide over to the four spot. He averaged 32.4 minutes per game last season and is a solid rim defender. He had 7.9 rebounds per game and 1.2 blocks. He can flip between the four and the five, which can help with depth and give the Timberwolves lineup flexibility.
As for the remainder of the starting five, Towns is possibly the most exciting player on the roster. We all are familiar with his offensive prowess, averaging 25.1 points per game. His versatility and on offense is the perfect illustration for how the position has changed.
The center is no longer supposed to just clean up around the rim and control the paint. Now, they need to be fast and extend their shot out to the three-point line. Towns is one of those players, often showing the ability to create your own shot while taking shots from every spot on the floor.
Towns is a great hybrid center on offense, but now he needs to make the jump on the defensive side. He needs to be a better rim defender, giving up less in the paint and play stout defense when the team is up against players like DeMarcus Cousins or Marc Gasol.
Even with Dieng possibly sliding around a lot, the backup centers will not be seeing a lot of time on the court. Aldrich is the very old school center and will not see a lot of minutes because of it.
The rookie Patton is an interesting prospect out of Creighton, with great size as another 7’0″, 236 pound center. He has a quick step and nice shot that is consistent out to at least 18 feet. He has a couple moves – a quick turn and shoot and his cut plays getting to the basket – that will translate to the NBA because of his size and speed combination. While he will not see the court much, and will likely spend a lot of time in the G League, he is another fun piece down the road that can grow under Towns.
Overall – The bigs have the the most exciting player on the Timberwolves – Towns – who is the franchise player. That alone makes this group important. However, the group is not cluttered with people that can both play lots of minutes and be big contributors. The second best player will be between Dieng and Gibson, neither of whom will score much when played with Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague. They’ll have to earn their keep on the defensive end, as they have in years past. Patton has some great upside, but that is down the road and his earliest impact is the last few months of the season, optimistically.
Yet still the position is vital because of what Towns brings to the lineup. His offensive ability is an incredible matchup problem for other teams. His ability to stretch the floor makes it hard to expect a old school center to guard him, while his size give him an advantage against power forwards. The last piece is his defense taking a big jump to make him elite. Towns makes this squad good because of how many minutes he will play to compensate for the mediocre talent around him.