As the NBA started back up late last week, there have been a lot of conversations about NBA awards.
Of course, play in the bubble doesn’t count in the award-giving process which doesn’t make much sense to me. If LeBron can lead the Lakers to a 7-1 record and average 30 points per game while Giannis struggles and the Bucks go 4-4, shouldn’t that matter?
Do you know what else doesn’t make much sense? Giving team awards for the third-worst team in the NBA. But it’s early-August, the draft is more than a month away and there’s not much else to write about when it comes to the Timberwolves. It reminds me of being hungry at my grandparents’ house as a kid and the only snack they had was stale cereal.
Here are your 2019-20 Timberwolves’ season awards voted on by a staff that includes myself, among nobody else.
Rookie of the Year: Jordan McLaughlin
Going into the season, Jarrett Culver was the runaway favorite for this award considering he was picked sixth overall. It’s a huge disappointment that he’s not winning it (we’ll have more on this later).
I loved McLaughlin in Summer League, so I’ll give myself credit for that.
Great job, Kyle!
But I didn’t think for a second that he would end up being Minnesota’s backup point guard (and a pretty good one at that!) by the end of the season.
Per 36 minutes, McLaughlin averaged 14 points, 7.6 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game while shooting 48.9% from the field and 38.2% from the 3-point line. McLaughlin especially shined after the trade deadline when there were more shooters around him.
During that stretch, McLaughlin’s per 36 numbers averaged out to 16.4 points, 8.6 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 2.2 steals. And he shot a scorching 56.7% from the field and 45.7% from the 3-point line!
The fact that McLaughlin did all of this while missing practices because of rules regarding two-way players is remarkable. I’ve written about this plenty, but McLaughlin would do an individual workout after the team had its full practice. McLaughlin wasn’t even able to watch the team practice.
I’d be surprised if the Wolves didn’t try to bring McLaughlin, who will be a free agent, back in 2020-21. The team will probably bring in another point guard for depth and to provide some competition behind D’Angelo Russell. Even so, I’d expect McLaughlin to be Minnesota’s backup point guard next season.
MVP: Karl-Anthony Towns
Even with Towns playing in 12 less games with the team than Covington and seven less than Wiggins, Towns was plenty more valuable and it wasn’t particularly close. Towns had 5.1 win shares. Second on the team was Covington, who came in with 2.3. Wiggins was -39.9.
(Just kidding about the Wiggins stat. But it might have been close.)
On the season, Towns averaged what-would-have-been career-highs of 26.5 points and 4.4 assists per game to go with 10.8 rebounds. He also shot 50.8% from the field and 41.2% from the 3-point line.
That’s AMAZING for any player in the NBA, let alone a center. Of course, Towns leaves much to be desired on the defensive end, but at 24 years old, Towns isn’t even in his prime yet.
It’s also worth noting that Towns is not an injury-prone player. He didn’t miss a game in the first three years of his career and missed just five in 2018-19. The hope is we’ll look back at this season as the outlier in his career and Towns will be in the conversation for an MVP award that I don’t have a vote for.
Most Improved: Malik Beasley
Also in consideration here was Josh Okogie and Jake Layman, so hats off to those fine fellows. Okogie continued his progression and was a bit more under control in his second season. As for Layman, he played in just 23 games due to a nasty toe injury, but it was easy to see how well he fit this team when he was in the lineup.
But Beasley. Man oh man. The NBA Twitter world thought Beasley had more to offer than what he was given the opportunity to showcase while in Denver, but I don’t think anyone expected a player averaging 20 points while shooting 42.6% from the 3-point line.
Bealey’s career splits are pretty wild. Obviously when you play more minutes, you’re expected to have more points, rebounds, etc. But Beasley actually gets more efficient the more he plays.
In 31 career games when he’s played 30-39 minutes per game, he’s shooting 48.9% from the field and 42.4% from the 3-point line. Compare that to 59 games when Beasley has played 20-29 minutes, he shot 45.2% from the field and 40.2% from the 3-point line. Still very good numbers!
Defensively, there’s plenty of work to do for Beasley (along with the rest of the Wolves), but offensively, he’s going to fit right into Ryan Saunders’ system.
The strong play couldn’t have come at a better time for Beasley, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason. His play in Minnesota earned him a big pay day moving forward.
Best Move: Acquiring D’Angelo Russell
It was the league’s worst-kept secret (probably by design) that the Timberwolves were willing to do almost anything to acquire Russell last offseason. If you had Jeff Teague as your starting point guard, you’d probably do the same!
Ultimately, Russell ended up landing with the Warriors in a sign-and-trade deal.
The fit in Golden State never really made a lot of sense. The Timberwolves pounced at the opportunity to acquire Russell at the trade deadline. It wasn’t cheap. The team had to deal Wiggins and a first-round pick in a loaded 2021 draft class.
The Wolves have someone to star alongside Towns. He’s not as good as Jimmy Butler, but he’s not as prickly, either. Plus, Russell fits the Timberwolves’ timeline much better.
Worst Move: Draft Night Trade For Jarrett Culver
I don’t think Culver is going to be a bad player in the NBA. He works too hard and cares too much for that to be the case. Let’s get that out of the way first.
But . . .
I would guess Minnesota’s front office probably wishes it could re-do the 2019 draft.
A quick recap: The Wolves traded the 11th pick and Dario Saric to the Suns for the sixth pick to acquire Culver, although there were reports the Timberwolves were targeting Darius Garland, who ended up going fifth to Cleveland.
Culver’s rookie season was ehhhh. His shot needs some fixing (his elbow pops out in a weird way that it most definitely should not). He didn’t become the ball-handler type we were told he could be after the draft. Plus, Culver shot 46.2% from the free-throw line which tells us there are some mental games at play here.
You could argue the Timberwolves would have been much better off just picking Cameron Johnson, who the Suns picked at 11. While Johnson is three years older than Culver, he did shoot 39.7% from the 3-point line and proved he was more than just a shooter.
Culver is already a solid defender and that will only get better as he continues his NBA career, but there are so many names the Wolves could have had in this draft that will end up haunting them: Coby White, Rui Hachimura, Cam Reddish, Tyler Herro, Matisse Thybulle and Brandon Clarke spark more optimism than Culver does.
Missing on a pick isn’t great, but in fairness, it happens all the time. However, missing on a player you traded up for (and especially when it wasn’t the actual player you were targeting) is far worse.
I hope Culver changes the narrative. He’s a great kid and works hard. He deserves to be a really good player. But Ricky Rubio worked really hard on his shooting and never became a good shooter. Zach LaVine works as hard as anyone and he’s still a bad defender. Corey Brewer was one of the nicest guys around and his nickname is the Drunken Dribbler.
The lingering question here is if the Timberwolves retain Beasley and draft another guard (someone like Anthony Edwards), where does that leave Culver?