Timberwolves

What Bolmaro's Arrival Means for the Guards' Minutes

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If you haven’t heard, the Minnesota Timberwolves did not have a draft pick in the most recent draft. However, that does not mean that they will not have a first-round rookie pick playing for them in 2021.

By the time this article is published, it is likely that Leandro Bolmaro will officially be a Timberwolf. Minnesota’s coaching staff and fans have eagerly anticipated Bolmaro’s arrival since he was selected with the 23rd pick in the 2020 draft, right between the Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels selections for Minnesota. In Bolmaro, the Wolves get another prospective combo guard who could, with growth and maturation, fill various roles on the court.

Much has been made about Bolmaro’s arrival and impact. Phil Ford detailed Bolmaro’s looming presence in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The guys over at Canis Hoopus blessed knowledge-hungry Wolves fans everywhere with an incredibly detailed breakdown of his game. Bolmaro was even voted the “Most Spectacular Player” in the Spanish league last year. The excitement surrounding Bolmaro is palpable.

To sum it all up, the Wolves are getting a 6’7” (tall!) point/combo guard who displayed a knack for rabid defensive engagement, electric playmaking, and a rapidly developing outside shot. For those in the counsel who have been clamoring for the franchise to dump everything in order to acquire Ben Simmons, Bolmaro may provide an intriguing alternative who could pique the right mind into wondering if Bolmaro has it in him to reach those heights. The talent is oozing out of his Argentinian fingers, and the onus is now on the Minnesota franchise to develop him similarly to the other 2020 standout picks Edwards and McDaniels.

We could chew the fat about what Bolmaro brings to the table all day, but what needs to be examined is how Bolmaro’s presence impacts the rotations and other final roster choices for the Timberwolves. Barring any “sure, let’s make him play the 4 because he’s tall” nonsense, Bolmaro will be playing primarily as a 1 and may moonlight as a 2 during his limited minutes on the floor. In a league that is trending towards both positionless basketball and therefore “taller” point guards, Bolmaro is the exact mold of a player slated to find success in the NBA.

It is not a question of whether or not Bolmaro will get minutes in the 2021 season. Bolmaro comes to the United States prepared as a reigning Liga ACB champion with Barcelona. The question then becomes who’s minutes Bolmaro takes away from, and how Bolmaro joining the team affects some of the standout players from the undefeated Timberwolves Summer League team.

Jordan McLaughlin

Behind de-facto starting point guard D’Angelo Russell, who is 6’4”, the Timberwolves have a gaggle of 6-foot-ish point guards to fill out the rotation. First to pass the “you must be *this* tall to play for the Timberwolves” test is none other than McLaughlin.

McLaughlin has come quite a long way as a Timberwolf, earning his minutes the hard way through solid G League play for the Iowa Wolves and subsequently forcing his way into the senior team rotation after shining in his time as an injury replacement. What McLaughlin (or Lucky Charm$, as some have affectionately called him) lacks in size he makes up for in heart and nifty offensive play. Beyond the Hallmark cliche, McLaughlin is capable of running an offense and brings a spark off of the bench.

While the Timberwolves still have a qualifying offer extended to McLaughlin, who is an RFA this year, it has been speculated that he will be brought back to the team on a team-friendly multi-year deal. This would all but guarantee that McLaughlin would open the 2021 season as the No. 2 point guard. McLaughlin’s minutes (18.4 per game in 2020) will stay consistent to open the season as the rookie Bolmaro gets used to Minnesota’s systems and play.

However, for a team with playoff aspirations, relying on a sub-6-foot backup point guard is not wise. Gersson Rosas and Chris Finch are surely hoping that Bolmaro’s development will come around sooner rather than later, and if the tea leaves are indeed believably prophetic, that would mean that McLaughlin has the most to lose by Bolmaro’s presence. It would not be unrealistic to see McLaughlin start the year with consistent 20-ish minutes per game, but then to see that number gradually wane as Bolmaro gains comfortability and meshes with his teammates.

It is a tough break once again for McLaughlin. He has done everything that the Timberwolves organization has asked him to do and more, and he has surely earned a multi-year deal for some stability. However, any deal with McLaughlin should be cost-friendly, as his role on the team will dwindle as they turn towards brighter horizons.

McKinley Wright IV

Wright has had a great showing in the NBA Summer League, starting every game for the Wolves and leading them to an undefeated 4-0 record. The Champlin Park native showcased everything he was advertised to do: defensive tenacity, comfortability running an offense, making smart plays, and taking care of the basketball. Jonah Maves created a blueprint for Wright to follow last week.

Unfortunately for Wright, without Bolmaro, he likely would have assumed the McLaughlin role: an effective two-way energy guy who gives it his all when one of the two starting PGs invariably gets injured. Wright is basically built for that role, both situationally and physically as yet another “6’0” with shoes” guy. The similarities are striking.

As the team will be eager to give Bolmaro minutes, Wright may see most of his two-way contract time go to the Iowa Wolves. Barring an injury or shocking mis-development of Bolmaro, Wright will likely be kept in the reserves until further notice.

Isaiah Miller

Everybody is rooting for Miller to make the team. Unfortunately, that situation becomes murkier by the day.

Miller played clear minutes behind Wright in the Summer League despite his thunderous offensive showings and Tasmanian Devil-esque energy displays. Oftentimes, he appeared to be the more dynamic player between the two. When a guy keeps doing stuff like this, it is hard to not get excited about him:

At this point, I’ve lost count of how many 10/10 poster dunks that Miller has destroyed people with. Just last week, I was applauding Miller’s standout performance at the Summer Jam Session, and he had somehow found a way to eclipse those highs from when he dunked McDaniels back into diapers. The guy keeps getting better, and has displayed a level of commitment that is hard to come by when watching many players at the NBA level.

It’s too bad that Miller is third in line of Timberwolves backup point guards, who are arguably too small to make a large impact at the senior level. His current Exhibit 10 contract warrants turning into a two-way solely due to the athleticism and drive that has been on full display in Las Vegas. In some capacity, tying Miller to the Iowa Wolves would be a smart move by a franchise that is looking to keep around as much talent as possible.

However, it does not seem realistic for Miller to crack the rotation at any point. Minnesota cannot afford to overcommit itself to too many smurf-guards, and it is unfortunate that Miller gets the shortest end of that stick.

Non-Point Guard Players

Jaylen Nowell‘s name comes to mind when thinking about how Bolmaro will affect the rotation, solely due to the team’s commitment to utilizing Nowell as a ball-handler during the Summer League. The results were great, and Nowell proved that he has earned a spot in the rotation. He will operate as a complement to Malik Beasley this season, with a strikingly similar skill-set that has just enough variations to keep each other fresh as opposed to a like-for-like replacement. Nowell should not see his minutes impacted by Bolmaro this year.

Jarrett Culver is another name that is, for whatever reason, still on the better part of the Minnesota fanbase’s conscience. The team did not trade him, nor did they waive him, so it would appear that we are stuck with Culver for another year. Despite a rip-roaring start to the 2020 season that had Culver believers feeling like deities, Culver has largely whiffed on his opportunities to show that he is worthy of a spot in the rotation in the first place. Bolmaro’s arrival complicates that even further.

This year Culver’s leash gets even shorter. He is still an intriguing talent, but his inability to get out of his own way has thus far projected to be his NBA demise. The experiments with Culver as a ball-handler appeared to be on to something briefly, as they seemed to be a cheap way to boost his confidence.

However, here’s the reality: It is year 3 for JC, and the team cannot afford to coddle Culver any longer in the interest of making Rosas’ first-ever draft pick not look like a bust. Bolmaro possesses almost the entire skill set that made Culver so tantalizing on draft night in the first place, so Culver’s expendability only gets magnified as the days go on. The sunken-cost fallacy should no longer apply for a team that is in dire straits to make it back to the playoffs this season. Culver should almost certainly not see minutes in the wake of Bolmaro’s arrival. Send him to Iowa and see what happens.

Bolmaro’s presence alone will make for an intriguing start to the 2021 season. Finch will have his hands full as he attempts to divvy up playing time amongst a group of young and talented Wolves. Here’s to hoping he makes the right decisions; he has yet to do anything that would suggest he won’t.

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