The beginning of the season invites speculation on the roster and rotation. The Minnesota Timberwolves had a lot of decisions to make regarding playing time, given the roster turnover. Patrick Beverley slots right in. Jaden McDaniels and Jarred Vanderbilt earned their minutes last season. And bringing over Leandro Bolmaro from Spain meant that there were a lot of options on the fringe of the rotation.
As the season progresses, you need the reserves to be ready to step in for injuries, illness, or rotation players who need to take a game off for personal reasons. Everyone has to be prepared to fill a role; it’s what separates good teams from bad teams. The Denver Nuggets have done a great job at this over the years with their extensive injury history. They always have a litany of guards to choose from.
Finding the right combinations with the newcomers was evident at the beginning of the season. Chris Finch started the year by placing multiple combinations of players around Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards. We saw him try Josh Okogie, Taurean Prince, and McDaniels with the Big 3. But things clicked when Vanderbilt got his spot back, and Beverley became a permanent starter.
Here are the first 15 games of the season alone:
Beyond finding the right starting five, Finch has had to figure out what to do when players have foul trouble, slump, or get injured. These are typical growing pains for new teams. The faster they figure it out, the better. Finch did so with Vanderbilt and Beverely becoming the mainstays in the starting lineup. Victories followed, and he found ways for the top scorers to be involved did as well. He used Beverley’s ball-handling skills to allow DLo to go to the bench early, then brought him back with the bench unit.
It is not that these combinations were so awful that they needed to be changed immediately. It was more about finding the best opportunities for everyone and letting things fall into place. Finch’s ability to put the right guys in the right position is a huge reason they had a five-game win streak and a double-overtime win over the Philadelphia 76ers after losing to the Charlotte Hornets.
Fluctuation of Bench Roles
The majority of tinkering has come on the fringes of the rotation, depending on the game environment. We might see more Naz Reid minutes if they are playing a larger team, but we could see more Okogie to lock up guards if they are playing a smaller team. Lastly, Prince gets deployed when a team goes to a 2-3 zone and forces the Wolves to shoot more as the Indiana Pacers did on Monday.
Having this sort of flexibility amongst reserves and bench pieces is a positive thing. It’s vital for developing a winning culture. If players are in and out of the rotation, but the team is doing well, it means they are making the most of their opportunities. Having people who can step up towards a winning environment is an exceptional direction.
Okogie, Jordan McLaughlin, and Bolmaro have become the swinging doors at the end of the rotation.
Okogie saw starts early on, but it resulted in lackluster play, and he had a lingering back issue. Therefore, he was pushed out of the rotation until his stellar game against the Pacers. He started in place of Vanderbilt, a late scratch, and did the dirty work — including a game-saving block. He may have earned his spot back. At worst, he is a scrappy defender who can step in at any moment for the team.
McLaughlin was a mainstay in the rotation to begin the year, receiving 10-to-20 minutes per game as a backup. However, his play was poor, and others stepped up around him, and he lost his spot. This change ended up working for the Wolves. Beverley received more minutes and made a significant impact. McLaughlin is on a three-year, $6.46 million contract, and the final year is not guaranteed. So it’s not as though they have a lot of money sitting on the bench.
Finally, Bolmaro is a new addition to the fun. He has been killing it in the G-League, averaging 17 points, six rebounds, and six assists, showing that he is better than most players at that level. He has been rewarded with a rotational spot recently as Finch’s first sub against Indiana and Philadelphia. He’s created a role for himself with his on-ball defending, ability to play mistake-free basketball, and do whatever he can to get his teammates going. All it took was some minutes in the right situation.
Chaos will happen throughout the season. We are only a quarter through it, and there will be challenges ahead. But for the Wolves to assert themselves as a potential playoff team, they must continue to fight through hardship. If they can stay afloat and always find a way to compete in games with who they have, the wins will come.