Continuity and comfortability are something we always want to come with success. Everyone has a role and the job gets done successfully. But with NBA lineup combinations, this is easier said than done. Matchups, injuries, and internal mismatches make constant change a necessity.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were no stranger to roster turnover under Gersson Rosas. Josh Okogie and Karl-Anthony Towns are the longest-tenured players, and they were drafted in 2015 and 2018, respectfully. Rosas was no stranger to change, which was evident at this year’s trade deadline. After being fired on Wednesday, he’ll never get to see if he found the right combination this season.
Shortly after Rosas removed Ryan Saunders’ interim tag, he handed his new coach a versatile roster with no clear direction on who to start or where the players should play. Saunders was tinkering with the lineups while Rosas was experimenting with the roster. At the time, it made it difficult to have any balance on a nightly basis and create consistency with his best players.
However, it is evident that these lineups changed so often because the roster was overhauled in the middle of the season, and only a handful of players were retained after the deadline. Then the pandemic struck a month after the trade deadline, leaving them in limbo as one of the only teams left out of the bubble. How was Rosas supposed to evaluate this roster when Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Malik Beasley had played less than 10 games together?
DLo, Beasley, James Johnson, and Juancho Hernangómez had hardly played together, and all four were headed into restricted free agency. They had to project their rotation and how the team would fit together based on a small sample size and few statistics about how lineups played together.
Past Season Disappointment
Going into the last season, a fully healthy Wolves roster was expected to be a bubble team, and the 10-seed seemed a realistic option. Of course, this was not the case. KAT and DLo suffered injuries early in the season, Saunders was abruptly fired, and Beasley was suspended and later injured. With all this chaos, it was difficult to get a gauge on the players and team continuity because of changing lineup combinations and the additions of Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels.
This led to 27 total starting lineups through 72 games. Only a few were used regularly, while others would only be used for a game or two, hardly ideal at all when you are trying to sort out a young roster. The promise came from McDaniels and Edwards staying healthy, allowing the new coaching staff to get a good look at how they’ll fit in this year.
This upcoming season we could see even more flexibility. Taurean Prince and Patrick Beverley were acquired via under-the-radar moves and have played various roles in different systems. Beverley has a reputation for playing larger than his size while operating on and off the ball at the 1 and 2 positions. Prince can play the 3 and 4 while hitting open threes. These two are able to adjust to their surroundings and be successful role players.
He moved on from Jarrett Culver, Ricky Rubio, and Hernangómez, all players whose roles were uncertain after how they played last year. Whether it was injuries, coaching changes, disappointing play, or high expectations, Culver never became an impact player in Minnesota. It was wise to move him when they did. Ricky had an expiring deal which lead to the Wolves shedding some of that with a swap with Prince. The Wolves kept Juancho from playing in the Olympics because of his shoulder injury, and it was unlikely he’d get regular minutes this season. Ricky could have been put off by how the Wolves went about Juanchos injury.
It all comes down to who will play best with KAT, Dlo, Ant, and Jaden. The agenda has always been to put spacing and talent around KAT, and Minnesota has more of that than he has had his entire Wolves tenure.
Naz Reid, Jaylen Nowell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Jordan McLaughlin all come back with affordable annual salaries on multi-year contracts, offering more valuable depth. Having players that know the system makes it more likely that they will hold their own if they are forced into action.
This upcoming season we will see more effective starting, situational, and closing lineups. The team has enough continuity, role-oriented players, and systematic fits around KAT to allow Finch to experiment and find winning combinations on a nightly basis.