Nothing replaces Karl-Anthony Towns. The Minnesota Timberwolves have been competitive for a combined nine quarters during this six-game losing streak. Without Karl, this is possibly not even the best G-League team.
I may be in the minority, but in my opinion, Jarrett Culver is a somewhat effective replacement for Josh Okogie, along with more minutes for Ricky Rubio and Malik Beasley. Sure, Damian Lillard just went for 39 in 29 minutes, Jamal Murray went for 36 in 36 minutes, and Bradley Beal got 31 in 28 minutes, but those guys can do that against any defender when they’re feeling it. I’m not arguing that there isn’t a dropoff with Okogie injured. I’m saying that there isn’t a Grand Canyon, especially when factoring in Okogie’s offensive issues.
At center, on the other hand, there are multiple Grand Canyons between Towns and the next best on the roster.
I broke down some caveman (Caveperson because we don’t genderize cave folx. Come on people it’s 2021!) stats by finding how many more points centers have scored on the Timberwolves than their average on the season:
On average, the Wolves have given up 4.3 extra points to opposing starting centers. For both of the centers in the rotation, that number is 8.5. In fact, Marc Gasol, Jusuf Nurkić, Serge Ibaka, JaMychal Green (1st and 2nd), Ivica Zubac (tie), and Robin Lopez have their season highs thus far in scoring against Minnesota. Some of these point totals could have been even higher with Harry Giles, Anžejs Pasečņiks, Daniel Oturu, and Kostas Antetokounmpo receiving human victory cigar minutes.
So what can Ryan Saunders do about this? Well, not much with the options at hand…
I’m pretty sure we accidentally received this Ed in the trade with the Knicks:
Here he is, pictured with Jusuf Nurkić lurking in the background.
I am sick of hearing about how important Davis’ screen-setting is. His viability in the pick-and-roll is irrelevant if he CANNOT MAKE A LAYUP. He is 5-of-16 at the rim. D’Angelo Russell did seem to see an uptick in production, but the most important production during the Ed Davis starter era came in the 3rd quarter of the Denver Nuggets game on Tuesday night, with Davis on the bench and Jarred Vanderbilt running PnR. Davis was absolutely bodied by Jokic and Nurkic over the last three games, and I’m not sure if there is a worse starting option.
Vanderbilt is a desperate man’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He may be a more quality rim runner, but both of these guys are garbage time energy that we Wolves fans mistake every year for hope. He has no shooting or strength around the rim, and he can’t make his free throws either. He did look great on a couple of alley-oops and finished 4-7 from the field, but he was especially undersized defensively against both Nurkić and Enes Kanter.
That being said, I haven’t seen anything from Davis to make me think that there’s much of a difference in productivity, and he has been able to set some effective screens. If the veteran isn’t helping the Timberwolves stay in the game for even three quarters, then it’s time to pivot to developing the young player to see what you have.
Naz is the other young player who teases us. He has looked competent at times, but ultimately he needs to make more than 6-of-18 three-point attempts if he wants to be of use on the perimeter. He doesn’t have quick enough feet to set screens at an NBA level, and he has a bad habit of picking up fouls in a hurry. On Tuesday, he had three fouls with over nine minutes left in the second quarter.
Here is a picture of sad Naz coming out after his second foul against the Nuggets:
He is often caught standing too far upright, which, as an otherwise smart and gritty player, is where he most often gets caught out of position. Some Wolves Twitter folk would like to have Reid and Vanderbilt starting on together, but I don’t think that Naz spreads the floor enough or moves elegantly enough to play 30 minutes of defense against starting centers in the league.
Juancho “El Launcho” Hernangomez has finally found his stroke, and at 6’9” with a 7’0” wingspan, he isn’t any smaller than Jarred Vanderbilt or Ed Davis. He hasn’t looked good guarding power forwards, and he’s ended up on the wrong end of some switches this season. But with his length, he may be able to function better in the drop back system that the Wolves employ.
He also has some experience at the position from last year. Because his skills don’t lie in the pick-and-roll, it may be useful to have him be the small-ball 5 off the bench, especially if he can continue to his pace. He’s 7-of-13 from three over the last two games.
The Good News
After sustaining a dislocated left wrist, Towns has been able to use a ball on the basketball court. That’s about as much information as we can expect out of this front office. Okogie has been listed as questionable for the last two contests, so hopefully, we can see a fully healthy squad in the next week or two. Otherwise, it’s going to be tough sledding, especially without a starting center.