Timberwolves

The Wolves Have Too Many Guards and Not Enough Shooters

Photo Credit: David Berding (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves left Wednesday’s draft with a lot of roster churn beneath the scenes, though they only added one veteran player.

While almost all Wolves fans are happy to see Ricky Rubio return (myself included), the move is actually a very surprising one, and it will have implications for several players already on the roster — implications that we will only understand once the season starts. Simply put, the Wolves have a ton of guards now, and there just won’t be enough minutes to go around.

This is the list of players the Wolves have currently under contract that I would consider to be a guard: D’Angelo Russell, Ricky Rubio, Anthony Edwards, Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie, Jordan McLaughlin, Jaylen Nowell and Jacob Evans.

Also, very importantly, Malik Beasley is not technically under contract, but he is a restricted free agent as of noon today, and the crown jewel of the Robert Covington trade from February.

So, yes, the Wolves already have literally eight guards currently under contract, with the strong potential for Bealsey being the 9th one (10, if you count Wednesday two-way signee Ashton Hagans).

So, let’s do some house cleaning. Let’s just assume that Evans, McLaughlin, Nowell and Hagans are non-factors, all of which appear to be pretty safe assumptions. Another practically ironclad assumption: Russell will start and play roughly 32 minutes a night. Barring a trade, something has gone catastrophically bad if this isn’t the case.

So, under those sets of assumptions, the Wolves have 66 minutes up for grabs at their two guard positions, and these are the players competing for those minutes:

  • Edwards: The No. 1 overall pick
  • Culver: Last season’s sixth overall pick, who also represents additional sunken cost of Dario Saric’s departure, which facilitated the trade up to No. 6 to select him
  • Rubio: The fan favorite, career starter who was traded for on draft night
  • Okogie: The previous regime’s holdover 20th overall pick, entering his third season, who this is not looking good for

And, oh yeah, this guy might also be returning:

  • Beasley: Mid-season addition who averaged 21 PPG and shot 43% from three in 14 starts for his new team, and who over the fall got charged with a felony for threats of violence

So yeah, if anybody has a crystal ball, feel free to tell me how on earth these four players are going to fit into this backcourt’s remaining 66 minutes of playing time a night, never mind if Beasley is brought back. Somebody is clearly an odd man out, and it also clearly will not be Edwards or Rubio. My suspicion is that Culver is on thin ice, and Okogie is currently beyond him on the outside, looking in.

Even if the plan is to move on from Beasley and start Edwards at small forward, that’s far from a long-term solution, and arguably shouldn’t even be viewed as a short-term one, either. If Edwards starts at small forward, he’ll immediately be not only one of the shortest starting small forwards in the NBA at 6’5”, he’ll also likely be one of the worst-shooting ones, too. And, what marginal benefit would these downsides bring the team? The right to start either Rubio (an improved shooter, but not one I’d be ready to fully trust yet) or Culver (one of the worst perimeter shooters in the NBA last season) opposite of DLo.

If your idea is to bring back Beasley because his shooting would be more important than ever, congratulations, the Wolves just paid a ton of money and invested a first overall pick into a team that’s going to start four of the worst defenders at their position in the entire NBA on opening night.

When you’re assessing a situation where either Beasley or Edwards is likely to be the team’s second-best defender (pending whoever is signing at power forward), you’ve really screwed up. If the Wolves go this route, they would need to sign Cthulhu to start at Power Forward to plug all of these defensive holes.

So, not only is there not enough minutes to go around, there isn’t even a fit that makes sense with the five guards that the Wolves have compiled in just the time since Gersson Rosas took over. Worse yet, unless Culver is going to be used as an expensive freight cost in a sign-and-trade, the Wolves weren’t able to dump any of these players on draft night, their last good opportunity to flip existing assets into other players before the season begins.

Then, you have the Beasley situation.

And even if somebody is able to come up with a minute allocation that they’re happy with, that doesn’t mean that this was executed well by the Timberwolves brass. These moves are almost certainly going to end with Josh Okogie or Jarrett Culver racking up DNP-CD’s, while the other plays nightly spot minutes that broadcast to any potential trading partner that, no, this player is not in the long-term plans of the team.

Put simply, the message from the organization and voices around the team has been Gersson is smart and he knows what he’s doing since the moment Rosas was hired as the President of Basketball Operations in 2018. After two drafts, the Wolves are staring at a guard-heavy roster that doesn’t adequately value shooting enough, and doesn’t value defense at all, and a cap sheet that is could easily go from, “There are some pricey players here,” to massively bloated in a single swipe of the pen from Malik Beasley. So yeah, I’m starting to question what the plan is here.

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