Timberwolves

Why Hasn't Rosas Been Able to Find a Big to Put Next to KAT?

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker (USA TODAY Sports)

Black holes are considered to be the darkest places in the universe. So dark that no light can even escape. They suck things in, and they disappear and become worthless — as if they never existed. Stellar black holes, the largest and most poetic type, are said to be the remains of collapsed stars. They are the stuff of nightmares, floating abysses in space.

However, there is one larger, more depressing hole in this universe. A one of a kind phenomenon studied only by a small group of very, very sad people.

I am, of course, referring to the ongoing hole on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster at the 4-spot.

In the lead-up to the hiring of Gersson Rosas, that hole was filled by Dario Saric, Taj Gibson, Anthony Tolliver, Gorgui Dieng, and Robert Covington at different times in the 2018-19 NBA season.

Another thing the 4-spot on the Timberwolves roster has in common with black holes is that black holes have a much larger mass than appears feasible. There is a lot more shoved in there than one can possibly imagine. They are not only the darkest places in the universe but the densest. The Wolves have tried to shove a whole lot of unimaginable things into that hole at the 4, but it never seems to be filled. It is endless and all-consuming; nothing can escape it or fill it.

The group of power forwards, or power forward wannabes, that Rosas inherited was an absolute slop-fest. Taj was the only real fit. The best lineup for that season was Tyus Jones, Andrew Wiggins, Covington, Gibson, and Karl-Anthony Towns. They played 163 possessions together and were plus-15.8. Only Gibson and Saric played more than 100 possessions at the 4 while KAT played center, and Dario’s best differential was plus-4.3 while playing with Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, Wiggins, and KAT.

Rosas’ actions in his first offseason must be marked on a scale. We are talking about a team whose biggest free-agent signing of the past decade is Teague. Filling the 4 hadn’t really ever been done before, so why should we think he could in his first hit at the pinata?

However, one must try, and try he did. Taj entered the home of all half-decent power forwards, the New York Knicks. Dario, the second-best option, was traded to the Phoenix Suns in the Jarrett Culver deal. To replace them, Rosas did what Rosas does: he traded. What he got back for Boban Dublijevic and Lior Eliyahu (pronounced Eli-Yah-Who?) was nothing short of amazing, considering neither has played a single NBA minute. Sadly, amazing only came in the form of Treveon Graham and Jake Layman.

In the 2019-20 season, Graham played 136 possessions at minus-0.7, and Layman played 30 possessions next to KAT at plus-52.3. WAIT!? Have we found the answer to this search? No. This year Layman got more minutes at the 4 and was sucked into the hole, playing 60 possessions at minus-31.65.

Still, both those guys only got small portions of the spot, and both did more than our European comrades the Wolves sadly parted with to acquire them. When marking a GM, that is all you can ask for. Plus, Layman seems to be by far the favorite player of the Timberwolves PR team, so there is some joy coming from this, no matter how eyebrow-raising it is.

There were others brought in too, and some hardened soldiers that kept on at it.

Noah Vonleh was brought in at the minimum and never played a minute by KAT’s side. RoCo played solid minutes as a part of a small lineup doing hard yards. Kelan Martin and Keita Bates-Diop played valiantly but not very successfully.

Then the trade deadline came around, and Rosas took his cue once more. RoCo was swept up in Rosas’ roster overhaul, replacing him with Juancho Hernangómez and James Johnson. There was the fun and mostly meaningless run with them, and then we were back at the beginning, with a new commitment to small ball. Josh Okogie played the most minutes of anyone at the four next to KAT this year. He was followed by the springy-but-lets-call-him-a-3 Jaden McDaniels with 225 possessions. Then there was he with a heart of champion and hands of a saucepan, Jarred Vanderbilt, with 223. Juancho, who most assumed would be the go-to man, played 589 possessions* at the four next to KAT, but not in a single lineup that played at least 100 possessions.

Now we are here, in the time of hindsight, reflection, and speculation. Some argue to end this mess by trying to fill the gap with Minnesota’s best player, Towns, and find a defensive-minded center to plop next to him and call it a day. I’d call it a day at that too. A day where the paint becomes more clogged than a share-house kitchen sink and the Wolves slowly crush the obsessive joy of Anthony Edwards, another victim of the even compiling hole at the 4. Unless that defensive-minded center can shoot the ball, the idea seems without merit to me.

No, perhaps in another two years when we look back again, this will be the stick that Rosas will be measured by — whether he can fill the unfillable.

*An earlier version of this article stated that he played 589 minutes next to Towns. We regret the error.

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