Early trade rumors in the NBA have been few and far between this season. With much of the league waiting to see how the Ben Simmons situation plays out in Philadelphia, there seems to be some resistance to engaging in substantial trade conversations. But the Indiana Pacers have helped clear the way with the decision to put Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert, and Myles Turner on the trading block.
Turner has long been the apple of many Minnesota Timberwolves fans’ eyes. His skills as a rim protector and a floor spacer make him a seemingly perfect front-court fit with Karl-Anthony Towns. There has been a discourse in the Timberwolves fan community that Towns, despite playing almost all of his minutes at the center position, is a power forward. However, I have never agreed with this school of thought.
Having a center who can shoot above 40% from the 3-point line, attack off the dribble, and create in the post is special. There are very few 3-level scoring centers in the NBA. There are even fewer who can shoot like Towns can. In my mind, he has got to continue to play most of his minutes at the 4.
This idea has been floating around that Towns is a poor rim protector and the Wolves need to shore up their defense at the rim. Well, it’s time we check our assumptions. The Wolves have been about league average protecting the rim over the past four seasons. He hasn’t had a negative Defensive Box Plus/Minus rating since his sophomore season. While he may not be elite, KAT has made strides defensively throughout his career. His elite offensive skill set more than makes up for his defensive weaknesses. As long as Towns can maintain a league average ability to protect the rim, then he is an elite player. They may be different players, but no one is calling for Nikola Jokic to be paired with a rim-protecting center.
Beyond the rim protection that Turner could bring to the Timberwolves’ roster, Turner has a lot of high-level skills as a big man. But rebounding is not one of them. He has pulled down 191 rebounds this season (7.3 per game) which ranks 32nd in the entire league. Miles Bridges, Dejounte Murray, and Minnesota’s own Jarred Vanderbilt have all grabbed more rebounds than Turner. Murray and Vando have done it in fewer games than Turner has played.
Some might point to the fact that Turner has played with Sabonis his whole career as a reason that he grabs so few rebounds. But the numbers don’t look much better using rebound percentage, which estimates total potential rebounds grabbed, with or without Sabonis.
However, my primary argument why the Wolves should look to add a perimeter player rather than another big stems from the current state of the league. In the biggest moments, most teams go small. Take the Los Angeles Lakers, for example. They started Anthony Davis next to a traditional center during their title season. But when push came to shove in the playoffs, Davis slid over to the center position. Last year’s champion Milwaukee Bucks played Giannis Antetokounmpo at center when the game was on the line.
If the Wolves do indeed make it to the playoffs with Turner and Towns paired in the backcourt, what happens at the end of a tight game? In all likelihood, the Wolves wouldn’t be able to get their five best players on the court to close out. If the roster is constructed so that the best players can’t be on the court at the same time in the biggest moments, then it is flawed.
If the Wolves do wish to acquire a player from the Pacers, I think Caris LeVert makes far more sense. This roster suffers from a lack of perimeter creation. When D’Angelo Russell doesn’t play, the Timberwolves’ offense feels it. The Wolves are desperate for some additional creation off the bench. Beverly has been impressive this year, but he has never been a primary option on the ball. Leandro Bolmaro has shown promise but still needs a lot of development. Jordan McLaughlin has been a solid third guard for the Wolves, but his size is a limiting factor both offensively and defensively.
Malik Beasley can put it in the bucket, but he’s far better off the catch than he is with the ball in his hands. A decent measure of a player’s ability to create off the dribble is to look at how many pick-and-rolls they run. This year only 5% of Malik Beasley’s shot attempts have come as the pick-and-roll ball handler. The Wolves need someone who can play with the ball in their hands on the second unit.
Finch has tried to address the problem staggering Anthony Edwards and Russell. Edwards has taken huge strides this season, but using Cleaning the Glass lineups, the team with Ant and without DLo is on average 15 points per 100 possessions worse than lineups with DLo and no Ant. He hasn’t put all the pieces together to really be the center of an efficient NBA offense.
The oft-injured LeVert is certainly a risk. He’s struggled to stay on the court his whole career. But, at his best, he is a dynamic scorer off the pick-and-roll or in isolation. He can get his own shot and make the right reads to get his teammates good looks at the basket. It’s been a down year for him in Indiana. He is assisting, rebounding, and shooting at his worst rates since his rookie season. He might just be worth the risk, though. After all, the healthiest year of his career was 2017-18 when he was backing up DLo in Brooklyn. Whether or not LeVert is the right option, the Wolves should look to add another guard to this roster.