We’ve all seen what’s happening in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Timberwolves front office and new ownership decided to go all-in on trading for one of the greatest defensive centers of all time in a two-big experiment unlike any other in the modern NBA. The transition to this new style of play has not started smoothly, resulting in some frustrating losses to teams with much less talent than the Wolves on paper. Perhaps more concerning, though, has been the near-unanimous criticism of the team’s overall effort level from the Timberwolves coaching staff, players, and analysts. It all culminated in two viral clips of Wolves players seemingly not paying attention to their assignments during the game.
These criticisms have recently seemed to galvanize the team. The last two games have resulted in a high-effort loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and an almost blowout win over a short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers. However, Minnesota’s near-collapse in the 4th quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Darius Garland’s ability to get any bucket he wanted en route to scoring 51 points, signals that the Wolves still have many bumps to smooth out on the road to becoming a threat in the playoffs.
Thus, it has become the all-too-familiar time of year where Wolves fans that need a break from hyper-fixating on the haul of draft picks the team traded away begin to return to the eternal well of optimism for the future by asking themselves an odd question.
What’s going on in Iowa?
This seemingly sad tradition, dating back to the truly dark days of Wolves fandom, has resulted in a lot of gratification for hardcore viewers because the staff in Iowa have done a great job of helping players develop over the last several years. Naz Reid and Jordan McLaughlin climbed the ranks from the Iowa Wolves to the NBA and are now important rotation players on the team.
This year there are several players in Iowa who appear as though they could make a leap to the NBA at some point in their career, including Luka Garza and Wendell Moore Jr. However, Josh Minott has made the biggest leap so far since moving from college to the G League. Minnesota’s second-round pick is currently averaging 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds (3.8 offensive), and 1.8 blocks across his first 4 games.
Minott played one year in college with the Memphis Tigers. Despite ranking 44th in the country in the 2021 high school class by the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, Minott got little opportunity to play in Memphis. He averaged the 9th-most minutes on his team at only 14.6. However, he played great in the minutes Memphis gave him, and his advanced stats made the case that he was one of the most productive players on the team. Minott led the Tigers in Win Shares Per 40 Minutes, had a Defensive Rating of 93.7, and an Offensive Rating of 117.6 per 100 possessions. As a result, many NBA draft analysts believed he was a great high-upside swing for the Wolves to take in the second round.
Defense, rebounding, and hustle were Minott’s calling cards in college. Jarred Vanderbilt is a Wolves-centric player comp that seems to fit Minott. While Vanderbilt is a bit stronger and more physical than Minott at this point, both players play with a (mostly) controlled chaos that brings energy to everyone on the court.
Just like Vando, Minott will often fly out of nowhere to snag an offensive rebound at light speed and have an opportunity to make second-chance points happen. Both players are good at cutting into open space in the paint and have the bounce to get easy dunks when the opportunity arises. While Minott might not develop the elite defensive skills that Vando has, Minott has the upside to become a more versatile offensive player than Vanderbilt. Minott seems to have a better handle when dribbling and a smoother touch around the rim when attempting to score in traffic.
The biggest question scouts seemed to have of Minott during the draft was whether or not he could become a consistent enough shooter to be a threat on offense outside of the paint. While the Wolves have had a turbulent history with if he can figure out how to shoot guys, led by Jarrett Culver, Minott’s three-point shot has been far beyond expectations in the G League. Minot is shooting 42.9% on 3.5 attempts per game, which is extremely impressive, especially considering that he took only 14 total threes in his entire time with Memphis.
While it’s still a small sample size, and the quality of defenders in the G League is undoubtedly worse than in the NBA, hitting open shots with consistency is an important skill for shooters. Minott will likely be a low-usage player on offense in the foreseeable future and will be the beneficiary of open looks created by Minnesota’s talented offensive players if he can make the team. In addition, his height (6’8”) allows him to rise over many wing defenders, which should help his shot translate to the NBA when Minott is facing opponents who are better at closing out to the perimeter. He has also shown the ability to drain some highly-contested threes.
Suppose Minott’s defensive ability in college and the G League transfers to the NBA, and his 3-point shot continues to develop. In that case, we could see him get a real opportunity with the Wolves sooner than expected. Hustle, perimeter defense, and consistent clean-up rebounding are the three things the Wolves need most right now. Minott may be an excellent candidate to fill that void now that Vando and Patrick Beverley are gone. Minott might just be the shot of espresso the Timberwolves need off the bench to wake up during their often sleepy third quarters.
Of course, Minott is still raw, and now that the Wolves have pushed their chips into the middle of the table, they no longer have the luxury of developing rookies during regular season games if they don’t fully believe they’re ready. In addition, the rough start to the season may make it even harder for him to get run because the Wolves may tighten their rotations to give themselves the best opportunity to dig out of this early-season hole. However, if Minott keeps flexing in Iowa and developing his shot, he may force his way into opportunities on the Timberwolves sooner than expected.
Regardless, it’s encouraging to see that Minott, and a few other players in Iowa, look like they could be future rotation players for the Timberwolves. It’s incredibly encouraging for those Wolves fans who feared Tim Connelly walked in and single-handedly blew up a good team and the franchise’s future with the Gobert trade (please, basketball gods, say it isn’t so). At least now you can rest well at night believing that Connelly’s historical ability to draft well, especially in the late first and second rounds, has transferred to Minnesota.