Since his arrival last May, Tim Connelly has been swift in his attempt to retool the Minnesota Timberwolves for the future. You all know the story by now. Connelly sent an abundance of assets out the door for a player who is already 30. You’d think after making a move of such magnitude, a normal front office member would call it quits for the summer.
But Connelly’s work was far from finished.
Following the blockbuster trade, which brought in NBA All-Star Rudy Gobert, the Wolves signed Kyle Anderson in free agency. Along with the Anderson acquisition came the signing of two more league veterans in Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes. Connelly knew both players from his time with the Denver Nuggets.
Connelly and the front office brought in all these new players because they could help benefit the team. But a competent FO cannot just put any group of skillful players together and expect the wins to roll in. Each member of a roster, whether it be the franchise player or a two-way signee, has to mesh with one another and with the coaching staff’s plan of attack.
Gobert can defend the rim and secure rebounds — two areas of weakness highlighted during Minnesota’s opening-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Anderson is the sort of Swiss army knife player that every contender needs in the postseason. Recently, Rivers has shown the ability to play on and off the ball offensively while pestering opposing defenses on the perimeter. Forbes? C’mon, who doesn’t love a 40% career 3-point shooter?
And while these players were brought in with the entire roster in mind, it would be naive to believe that Connelly and Co. didn’t have the franchise’s two cornerstones in Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns (and maybe even Jaden McDaniels) in the forefront of their minds.
The Connelly era is in full effect. Therefore, I felt now was as good a time as ever to see how his newest additions fit alongside the first major move of the short-lived Gersson Rosas era, D’Angelo Russell.
Side note: Rookies, two-way, and training camp players will not be discussed due to the uncertainty of their playing time alongside Russell this season.
I’m just going to get it out of the way. Watching Russell and Forbes share even a second of playing time together makes me a little uneasy. Even with his improved defensive efforts last season, the Wolves need to surround DLo with able defenders when he’s out on the floor. Forbes is far from that. At just 6’2″, he tends to struggle to guard an average player at his position. That won’t wow anyone anytime soon with his speed; any competent NBA backcourt would likely make light work of a Russell-Forbes combination.
But that’s not to say Forbes won’t see any playing time with the Wolves. After losing Malik Beasley in the Gobert deal, Chris Finch will likely look to Forbes for some much-needed marksmanship from the perimeter throughout the season. It’s just that, for Finch to roll out a lineup including Russell and Forbes, he’ll likely need to give them the best 3-man supporting cast the team has to offer. But then again, the DLo-Beasley experiment wasn’t all that bad.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I am super amped to see Rivers in a Timberwolves jersey. He’s a scrappy defender who constantly gives his all when defending out on the perimeter. Plus, he’s a Mighty Ducks fan. And that’s why I believe a Russell-Rivers backcourt can work in short spurts.
Everything DLo is, Rivers is not, and vice versa. It’s the Towns-Gobert thing the team has going but to a much lesser degree. Russell is a crafty shot creator from outside the restricted area who struggles defensively. Rivers is a player who excels at attacking the basket from the outside, and he also takes pride in locking up his opponent on the other end of the floor. But they can also play with or without the rock in their hands, a vital asset many coaching staffs around the league covet.
It’s hard to know how much Rivers will play right away. But with players like Jordan McLaughlin and Jaylen Nowell likely occupying a large chunk of the team’s rotational minutes at guard, we might not see a lot of Russell and Rivers together. Both players are proven playmakers, and a coach can never have too many playmakers on the floor at once.
Watching Anderson and Russell together should be fun for all of the wrong reasons. Neither will blow you away with their elite athleticism. Yet Anderson and Russell are seemingly a match made in basketball heaven. Like Rivers, Anderson is also an exceptional playmaker for his teammates. He could allow Finch to mix up DLo’s play on and off the ball. As stated earlier, Russell likely won’t be bringing home any Defensive Player of the Year awards anytime soon. But that’s where Anderson can come in. With a ginormous 7’2″ wingspan and a high defensive IQ, Anderson appears to be the lengthy, switchable defender DLo needs when between the lines.
The only real downside I can see with playing Russell and Anderson together? They lack the sort of explosiveness often needed to bypass NBA defenses. But with Finch’s love for pace-and-space play, I don’t see why they can’t share the floor for large chunks at a time.
It also doesn’t hurt that their nicknames rhyme.
If the Gobert acquisition helps any player more than it does KAT, it undoubtedly is DLo. Russell needs to play with solid defenders, and Rudy is one of the best in the league. But in all seriousness, it’s hard to see the Gobert-Russell pairing being anything but a positive for the team. Gobert has played with sub-par defenders most of his career, so we can expect to see him assist Russell in the defensive department. On the other end of the court, Russell has yet to play with as good of a PnR roll man as Gobert since his All-Star days with Jarrett Allen and the Brooklyn Nets.
Connelly and Co. had a plan in mind this summer. But it’s far too early to predict how it will unfold right now. Training camp has just begun, and Finch has yet to see how his team’s newest members will perform, particularly with Russell at the helm, outside of practice. And while Rosas brought Russell to Minnesota, it’s clear that the front office’s moves this summer kept him in mind for years to come.