The Minnesota Timberwolves win over the Boston Celtics on Monday night was an incredible display of toughness and heart. However, they are still facing many hardships and are about to enter a challenging set of games.
The Wolves will be facing the Utah Jazz, who currently have only nine losses and three teams hovering around .500: the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Los Angeles Clippers. Given their current record, if the Wolves were fully healthy, it would be reasonable to predict that they would win two out of four of these games. However, we’ve hit a point in the season where it’s become almost impossible to predict anything.
The Timberwolves currently have six players out due to health and safety protocols, including three core players: Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Jarred Vanderbilt. It’s great news to hear that Patrick Beverley and Josh Okogie are back and healthy, but we may need to limit our expectations for playing time for both players. COVID-19 sometimes has lasting effects on a player’s lung capacity while reconditioning. Similarly, Anthony Edwards just cleared health and safety protocols, but how soon he will return to playing is unclear.
Regardless, the Timberwolves team we will see in Tuesday night’s game will hardly look anything like the one we’ve come to know and love over the beginning of this season.
Optimistically, the Timberwolves rotation will consist of the following players:
Die-hard Timberwolves fans know and love most of the names on this list, even if few of them have name recognition across the league or receive regular playing time. But even the most optimistic of us can look at this set of rotation players and see that it will be hard to win in the next four games while Minnesota’s usual starters get healthy.
Even if we aren’t expecting wins, we should be expecting the Wolves to use these games as an opportunity to learn about their roster. There are a few things that will be exciting to watch while the starters are out that may give us a better idea of what this team’s peak form can be.
Jaden McDaniels may get the chance to be one of the primary creators on the team, similar to his role in this year’s Summer League. In the four games McDaniels played in Las Vegas, he averaged 16.3 points per game while shooting 49% from the field. He also averaged 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game.
Jaden has had a tougher time scoring consistently against full-time NBA-level defenders so far this season, averaging only 7.4 points per game on 40% shooting from the field. However, because the Wolves are short-handed, they should empower McDaniels to take a few more shots and put the ball in his hands with some room to create for other players. It’s essential to let young players in the NBA have time to develop. Allowing Jaden to get more repetitions in a real game as a scorer may help him find the comfortability and confidence he has seemed to lack so far this season. If he can build upon his solid outing last night against the Celtics, then that confidence could blossom.
It’ll also be fun to watch Nathan Knight in a more prominent role. Knight has hardly seen the court so far this season with the Wolves. He has only played in 15 games so far, and in 10 of those 15 games, he played fewer than five minutes. Last night, however, Knight got his first start for the Timberwolves and looked great, putting up a double-double with 10 rebounds and 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Knight also hit two threes, one of which was so smooth it prompted Dave Benz to get into his bag of puns and say, “It is Knight time here in Minneapolis.”
Knight also showed flashes of being a strong backup big man in his rookie season last year with the Atlanta Hawks. In a game against the Memphis Grizzlies, he came off the bench and scored 14 points in 8.5 minutes, including two made threes and an authoritative dunk off of a lob from Trae Young. In addition, he had three other games where he scored over 10 points when he was allowed to play more, including a double-double in the Hawks’ final game of the year.
If Knight can keep playing well while most of the Wolves frontcourt is out, he should earn more minutes in the regular rotation. The Wolves need a strong 4 who can score and space the floor, and Knight could be that player if given the chance.
The Timberwolves also signed veteran Greg Monroe to a 10-day contract. In his first NBA game since 2019, Monroe nearly got himself a double-double, scoring 11 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and dishing an impressive six assists. The Wolves could use another stabilizing veteran both on the court and in the locker room. If Monroe can put together a few more strong performances on this 10-day contract, then the Wolves should strongly consider signing him permanently.
Chris Finch and the Timberwolves coaching staff will get to see a lot of minutes from these three players in the next four games and should learn a lot about each of their playstyles. Hopefully, Finch will update the rotations to reflect their performances.