Timberwolves

Taurean Prince Is Exactly What the Wolves Need

Photo Credit: Mary Holt (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ offseason was certainly quieter than anticipated. At least, it was quiet by the set of standards that have accompanied Gersson Rosas throughout his tenure in Minnesota. Anything short of a blockbuster deal gets overlooked, as the fans grow impatient with the team’s well-documented lack of success.

Of course, those that follow the team closely know that the few moves he made this offseason have drastically improved the roster. Trading Patrick Beverley for Juancho Hernangómez and Jarrett Culver was, at worst, addition by subtraction. Grabbing Nathan Knight on a two-way deal appears to be a shrewd move on the margins that will pay off in the long run. Even Rosas’ economical moves in the past (see: Naz Reid) should speak volumes about his acumen for roster improvement on one of the worst teams in the NBA.

Of course, this includes the recent Ricky Rubio trade. Even though Rubio is a beloved Minnesota basketball icon, the decision to trade him to the Cleveland Cavaliers for forward Taurean Prince was the right move. The trade nets the Timberwolves a bonafide power forward, some financial flexibility, and a 2022 second-round pick to boot. All of this was acquired in return for a backup point guard who is coming off of his worst statistical season as a pro. Sentimental attachment to Rubio aside, this is a win for a team that is in a make-or-break year.

Prince’s on-court impact has been overlooked in the trade. Provided he sticks around, he will fulfill a role for the Timberwolves that Hernangómez was supposed to fill but never lived up to. Prince will provide reliable outside shooting and positional flexibility, and he has a willingness to commit to the defensive end.

The Guy can Make Shots

To put it bluntly, Hernangómez was traded for and re-signed because he can allegedly shoot the piss out the ball. The on-court product that the Timberwolves received from Hernangómez in the 2020-21 season was far removed from the offensive firecracker who showed up for 14 games in the 2019-20 season. Conversely, Prince may never be a dynamic scorer, but at least he can be relied upon to put the ball in the hoop when he has open looks.

Prince is a career 37% 3-point shooter, which is both above the league average for 2020-21 (35.2%) and lower than all but three of his seasons. Prince shot 41.5% from three in 29 games after the Brooklyn Nets traded him to Cleveland last season. This comes on a Cavaliers team that lacks true shot-makers outside of Kevin Love to space the floor around him, so the trend upwards is encouraging.

Per Stat Muse, Prince has shot a blistering 45.4% from the right corner during his career. He should work from the corners with ease as defenses focus on Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards in a Minnesota offensive system that regularly spaces the floor and tries to get guys to their spots. Defenses should gravitate to the true threats on the team, and rightly so, though Prince should finally be a role-player for the Timberwolves who can make defenses pay for doubling.

Positional Flexibility

While slated to primarily play at power forward for the Timberwolves, Prince carved out a role for himself in the NBA at the small forward position.

In 196 games at the 3, Prince averaged 11.4 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, 2 assists per game, and shot 38% from three at 25.5 minutes per game, most of which were during his time spent with the Atlanta Hawks. He played all 82 games in his sophomore campaign with the Hawks and put up a career-best 14.1 ppg at 30 mpg. With a long leash and starter’s minutes, Prince thrived at the 3 in Atlanta.

However, he started getting minutes at the 4 when he was moved to Brooklyn for the 2019-20 season. In 105 total games at PF, Prince has averaged 11.1 ppg, 5 rpg, 1.8 apg, and shot 3s at a 35.5% clip in 26.3 minutes per game. His scoring numbers stayed the same, though his rebounding went up due to the positional change.

But his shooting suffered when he changed position, although this dip in percentage is a bit of a misnomer. He shot 33.9% from 3 on 6.7 attempts per game across 64 games in the 2019-20 season with the Nets. In the 41 games he has played since then, he has shot an even 40% on 3pt shots on 3.8 attempts per game. If you ignore the inefficiencies in Brooklyn, Prince’s outside shooting is still well above league average.

Head coach Chris Finch has demonstrated a willingness to roll with the hot hand in close late-game rotations, so Prince’s flexibility and history will come in handy for the Wolves. If he can find a consistent shooting stroke, expect him to play meaningful minutes for a team that is desperately looking for anyone outside of the big three to knock down shots. Capable outside shooting is one half of the fabled two-way player build that Rosas has been looking to stock up on, and it would appear that Prince has at least one of those ways built into his game.

Defensive Willingness

Much has been made about Hernangómez’s defensive apathy. Hell, that could be said about the entire Timberwolves roster outside of Jaden McDaniels, Josh Okogie, and Jarred Vanderbilt. However, Prince should be able to provide more tenacity at the position than Hernangómez ever did.

It is important to try and attach a statistical metric to these defensive shortcomings. For comparison, Hernangómez has averaged 0.4 steals per game and 0.2 blocks per game in his career, which are about right on par with his averages for his final season in Minnesota. Prince, who has played the same amount of years in the NBA as Hernangómez, has doubled his stocks with 0.9 spg and 0.5 bpg for his career.

Simply looking at steals and blocks does not tell an entire tale of defensive impact, but what they do suggest is a willingness to do some of the little things on the defensive end that contribute to overall success beyond, well, just standing there. Prince’s career defensive rating is 110.8, nearly two points better than Hernangómez (112.6), and almost a full 5.0 points better than the Timberwolves team defensive rating for the 2020-21 season (115.0). For reference, Vanderbilt was Minnesota’s best defensive player by rating last season with 109.7.

If Prince can play up to Vanderbilt’s level defensively, fans will fall in love with him sooner rather than later. Any player can express intensity and commitment regardless of talent level, and the Wolves need more players that are mentally willing to make an impact on that end of the floor. Rosas knew that he could affordably acquire a true two-way talent in Prince, and that move looks like it will pay dividends in the upcoming NBA season.

I would be remiss at this juncture to ignore the possibility of flipping Prince in a package for Ben Simmons down the road. However, if Prince sticks around, he should showcase that he is a great fit for a team that needs two-way talent and toughness from their forwards. If this is the group that Rosas is willing to rock with for the whole season, the playoffs should be an expectation and not a hope for Wolves fans.

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