It’s hard to poke holes in the Jordan Bell signing. With Taj Gibson, Dario Saric and Anthony Tolliver no longer in the picture, there was a definitive need to shore up the frontcourt with players who fit the style of play these new Wolves want to play with. If playing a grab-and-go, up-tempo offense is, in fact, the best way to get the most out of Karl-Anthony Towns, Bell could be a decent replacement. He had plenty of experience with that in Golden State. Further, if the defensive desire is to be more open to switching ball screens, Bell could help there too. He will come into camp as the most capable switching big on the roster.
Better yet, Bell was signed to a very team-friendly contract. Not only was he signed for the minimum, but the Wolves also have his restricted free agency rights next season because he only has two years of NBA experience. The contract will behold Bell to the inherent market depression factors of restricted free agency. By contrast, Noah Vonleh, who signed for $400k more than Bell, will be an unrestricted free agent next summer that is free to pursue the market as he so pleases.
If Bell is able to find a synergy with Towns, it’s likely that his one-year deal in Minnesota won’t be the last contract he signs here. Bell at center and Towns at power forward could be a lineup Wolves fans see for years to come.
Gibson always found pride in being a player who could “defend all five positions.” That was probably a bit hyperbolic. But it was true that Gibson was the best-suited player on the Wolves roster the past two seasons to both be able to get out on the perimeter against a wing while also being able to mix it up on the interior. Bell has a similar skill set. And at 10 years younger than Taj, he may be even better at getting out and shuffling his feet against a guard.
Handling high ball-screen actions have arguably been Towns’ greatest defensive weakness thus far in his career. If Bell is to share the floor with Towns, Ryan Saunders can be strategic about bumping off Bell onto the opponent’s preferred ball-screener. This will not only help the Wolves at the point of attack but it will also keep Towns out of some of the situations he has struggled to read thus far in his career. Bell’s presence could allow Towns to do three things: save up energy; keep him out of fouling situations on the perimeter; and allow him to more often live on the backline of the defense as a pure rim defender. At a minimum, that could be a helpful change of pace.
Bell can play fast. Numerous times this summer, Saunders has brought up the notion of having no problem with Bell snatching a defensive rebound and bringing the ball up the floor himself. The theoretical advantage here comes from taking the outlet pass out of the chain of events in transitioning from offense to defense. If Bell can actually do this, the Wolves offense will zip to the offensive side of the floor.
Even if Bell isn’t grabbing the ball and heading up the floor, he can also serve as a fast flanker in transition. Unlike players from last season, Bell can keep pace running the floor with Jeff Teague. Ball control may be an issue for Bell — sometimes he plays too fast — but his speed will be felt whenever he is on the floor.
The first 3-point shot Bell hits this season will be the first of his career. In two years in Golden State, Bell attempted six total 3s (one of which was a full-court heave). Much as it was with the acquisitions of Jake Layman and Treveon Graham, shooting ability does appear to be a primary motivation behind the move. The hope is that through speed and versatility that a player like Bell can make an impact in areas that have nothing to do with shooting.
Still, it’s a bit of a daunting thought to picture second units that are flush with players who have not historically been successful shooters. Units without Towns, where Bell is flanked by players like Graham and Layman, could get stuffy real quick.
Often times big players that are able to fly around on the perimeter on defense and get out on the break in transition double as menacing rebounders. Physical beasts that outclass the opposition in pursuit of the board. In Golden State, this wasn’t the case with Bell. He has been a player who rarely rebounds outside of his zone. If the ball comes his way, he’s big and springy enough to grab it — but he’s not snagging many unexpected boards (on either side of the floor).
Of course, some of this is an apples and oranges comparison. To look at what he did or did not in Golden State and say that is what he can or cannot do in Minnesota is silly. Turns out the Warriors have been playing hoops differently than the Wolves for the past few years. Either way, the logic stands: Particularly on the defensive end, it would be beneficial if Saunders can get Bell to be a player that delivers more than he has previously promised on the glass. For the past three seasons, the Wolves have not ranked higher than 25th in the league in defensive rebounding rate.
The porous team defense has often been blamed on dismal pick-and-roll breakdowns these past few years, but giving up second chances to the offense has been just as detrimental. Bell will likely helpful in that pick-and-roll portion of the defensive equation but an improvement in the rebounding vein would also be helpful. Better yet, if Bell is snagging more defensive boards, he can more often do that whole “point center” thing we’ve heard so much about.