How Do the Wolves Improve On the Margins?

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves had their first taste of playoff experience with the emerging core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell last year. Now it’s time to build upon that. After being the 7-seed in the West, they have set a floor for what constitutes a successful season next year. You always want to get better in the offseason, and the Wolves have a lot of opportunities to do that by improving internally and adding around the margins.

Internal development will be massive for this still-young squad. Ant still has so much room to grow as a scorer and can polish his playmaking and defense. Jaden McDaniels showed shades of his spectacular skill and a high ceiling as a coveted 3-and-D player in this last playoff series. And finally, they have a rising versatile defender in Jarred Vanderbilt. The Wolves have locked them all up contractually for the next two seasons. These are all young players who bring a little bit of everything and are people you want to build around.

Now Minnesota needs to figure out who to put around them.

The Timberwolves started this process with limited resources last offseason, trading away a disgruntled Ricky Rubio for a better team fit in Taurean Prince. Trading Rubio also saved them money, moving them further away from the luxury tax.

Although there wasn’t much player movement, they believed in the core throughout. Even when concern began to build around Malik Beasley and the uncertainty of the bench near the trade deadline, Sachin Gupta kept the group together. Now that they have seen what they can do, they could benefit meaningfully by filling holes from last season’s team.

Allowing Jake Layman and Josh Okogie to walk would be the first place to start – unless Okogie wants to come back on a very team-friendly contract to be depth for the team that has treated him well. Other than that, the Wolves are in a position of strength. They have the 19th, 40th, 48th, and 50th picks in this upcoming draft and the mid-level exception, which could net them another rotational player.

The positions of need include a rim-protecting center and a versatile forward. It also can never hurt to add another shooter. They have multiple options with picks at 19, 40, 42, and 48.

  • Using the 19th pick to add size with a player like Duke C Mark Williams or Ohio St F E.J. Liddell.
  • Trading seconds to move up to early second round and draft someone who falls.
  • The Wolves are likely not going to use all of their 2nd-round picks, so a draft-day trade is very likely.

Competitive teams can find impact players late in the first round or early in the second. The Memphis Grizzlies selected Desmond Bane with the 30th pick in 2020. The Dallas Mavericks took Jalen Brunson with the 33rd pick in 2018. And the Los Angeles Lakers found Kyle Kuzma with the 27th pick in 2017. These are all great examples of players who played multiple years in college and became impact players in the NBA.

Because the Wolves are in win-now mode, they should prioritize high-floor players who fit a need rather than take a risk on a player with high upside who is likely to be a bust. Prospects like Mark Williams and EJ Liddell fit that bill. They are multi-year college players who have already developed immensely throughout their careers.

This year, the Phoenix Suns had the best record in the NBA and entered the playoffs as contenders. The core of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and DeAndre Ayton deserves a lot of the credit, but so do the players who support them.

The Suns took guys who spent multiple years in college, including defender Mikal Bridges and sharpshooter Cam Johnson, who were impact players since their rookie year and still have developed favorably within their system. They complemented Bridges and Johnson’s defense with veteran forward Jae Crowder, who can rough up opponents and provide spacing ability.

They are the perfect tertiary pieces around Phoenix’s dominant pick-and-roll game and Booker and Paul’s playmaking ability. The Wolves should be careful with their moves, even if it’s a low-risk free agent, just to ensure the player is a good team fit rather than an overwhelming talent.

The Wolves do not have a ton of financial flexibility. But they have Gupta, who was the driving force behind many value deals such as Naz Reid and Jaylen Nowell.

This offseason will probably determine whether the Wolves retain Gupta. But he is the right guy for a team that needs to work around the edges to take a leap and become a Western Conference playoffs staple for years to come.

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Photo Credit: Jerome Miron (USA TODAY Sports)

  Real Stupid News MVP, COTY, 6MOTY, Mike Brown, DLol would you rather. In Memoriams: Jazz, Raptors, Nets, Hawks. @Kgformvp211 Kai talks Wolves with us.

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