Timberwolves

Hear Me Out, the Wolves Should Kick the Tires On Kemba Walker

Photo Credit: Brad Penner (USA TODAY Sports)

On Sunday, the Minnesota Timberwolves pulled out a gutsy victory against the Portland Trailblazers. The 116-111 win broke Minnesota’s five-game losing streak and put the Wolves ahead of Portland in the chase for the play-in. This win proves that the Wolves are good again, and the fans have nothing to worry about. Good Wolves are back, baby!

In all seriousness, they needed this one. The Wolves were on their second significant losing skid of the young season. These types of streaks are deflating for a franchise and a fanbase. Last night’s win felt very good, especially after the beatdowns Minnesota took last week. Granted, the Trailblazers are not in the same tier of teams like the Atlanta Hawks, Utah Jazz, and Cleveland Cavaliers, but a win is still a win.

It was great to see D’Angelo Russell back in the starting lineup. His absence left a big hole in the Wolves’ rotation. Of course, he made two huge 3-point shots in the clutch to help lift the Wolves to victory in his first game back. They may have lost that game were it not for his efforts. He finished with 18 points, five assists, and five rebounds, and he led the Wolves in plus/minus at plus-20. His performance was crucial.

Even though the Wolves pulled a win out, there is still work to be done if they hope to persevere. The roster is still flawed. Something needs to change. Most look at the Timberwolves’ big problem as their biggest problem. By that I mean, the team is small. However, I’m not sure if that’s the main issue here. I think the Wolves’ most significant need is a player who can run their bench unit.

Currently, the Wolves bench unit has the third-worst net rating in the league at -3.7. The only two teams worse are the Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic. The Nuggets, by my count, are missing half their roster due to injury. Okay, not actually half, but with Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and P.J. Dozier injured, players are being foisted into roles that are above their heads. The Magic are currently relying on R.J. Hampton as their backup point guard, which is a lot to ask of a second-year player.

A look around the league shows that there aren’t a ton of point guards readily available, which is why I argued that the Wolves should give Caris LeVert a look. He is certainly not a traditional point guard, but when he was really cookin’ in Brooklyn, he played the lead guard role off the bench to perfection.

One name does come to mind, though. To be honest, I hesitate to write this because it feels a little bit crazy. But, if the Wolves wanted to give their bench unit a boost, they could look to swing a deal for Kemba Walker.

Hear me out.

First, I’m certainly not opposed to the Wolves swinging a deal to bring in another big man. But it’s got to be the right one. I wrote last week about Myles Turner and the issues that come with trading for him. In short, I’m interested in the fit, but I don’t think that it’s hard to finish big games with your best players on the court when two of those players are centers.

The other issue I failed to mention is the cost to get Turner. I have to imagine the package would involve Malik Beasley, a young guy like Jaden McDaniels or Naz Reid, and a first-round pick. That feels like a lot for a player who may be a questionable fit. There are other centers that the Wolves could target who would not be as significant an asset investment. In Houston, Daniel Theis has been minimized as they look to find more minutes for their rookie big man, Alperen Sengun. Theis can provide some of what Turner brings to the table, for likely a much lower cost. He can space the floor and use his surprisingly stellar bounce to provide solid rim protection.

If the Wolves decide to add another big man, I hope they would opt to do so on the cheap to address the lack of creation off the bench. Kemba might be the solution to that problem.

After beginning the year in the starting lineup, Kemba Walker has been pulled from the New York Knicks’ rotation. Tom Thibodeau made the decision because the Knicks’ starting unit was one of the worst in the league. Their most-used lineup of Kemba, Evan “Google my name” Fournier, R.J. Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson has a net rating of minus-15.9, per Cleaning the Glass. That’s really bad. On the other hand, their bench unit has played phenomenally, posting a plus-30.4 net rating. For those keeping track at home, that’s 34.1 points per 100 possessions better than the Wolves bench. Since taking Kemba out of the rotation, the Knicks have gone 2-6. I wonder how Bing Bong guy is doing?

Let me be clear here, I understand Kemba is not the same player he was for the Boston Celtics a few years ago. He’s certainly not the same player we saw in Charlotte. He’s got arthritis in his knees, and it’s had a real effect on his game. But in 18 games this season, Walker has averaged 11.7 points, 3.1 assists, and shot 41% from the 3-point line. He’s been running offenses in the NBA for a long time. If he could accept a bench role with the Wolves, he could provide a significant lift for the second unit. Even though New York is his home, I would think that he’d rather come off the bench for the Wolves than ride the bench with the Knicks.

Kemba is also a low-risk addition because I don’t think it will cost much to acquire him, and he’s got a pretty affordable contract. He is already out of the rotation, and Thibs has carved out a semi-decent guard rotation between Alec Burks, Immanuel Quickley, and Derrick Rose. Josh Okogie and Jake Layman would make the salaries match, but how much more would it cost? If the deal could get done with Okogie, Layman, and a decently protected first-round pick, I think it’s worth the gamble. The Wolves need someone to stabilize their bench unit, badly.

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