There’s no real doubt that the Minnesota Timberwolves season so far has been subpar and has failed to meet the expectation of Wolves fans in many regards.
While the Wolves were able to celebrate a relieving win this past week against the Cleveland Cavaliers, one of the better teams in the East this year, it is noteworthy to acknowledge that the Cavs were without two of their all-stars, Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen. And even despite that, the game still came down to the wire. Darius Garland had a career-high 51-point performance that almost single-handedly willed the Cavaliers to victory.
Aside from that lone celebratory moment for the Timberwolves, there has been more losing than winning this season. It is fairly clear in watching the Wolves play this season that adjustments need to be made to not only their play sets and level of energy on the court but also potentially some roster changes to change the trajectory of this team this year.
With that said, the Wolves did just that this week by bringing on A.J. Lawson after signing him to a two-way deal.
The Wolves had previously signed Lawson to a two-way deal back in July. But after the team decided to award their second two-way contract slot to forward Luka Garza in mid-October, the team had to waive Lawson, 22.
However, the Wolves waived Eric Paschall last month, who occupied the other two-way contract on the team along with Garza. And last week, the Wolves added Lawson to the team again.
At first, it may seem like a minor roster move with limited impact. But bringing on Lawson to the team could have just enough of an effect to help the team with some of its early-season woes.
Three-point shooting is one of the initial areas where Lawson could provide a boost offensively. With Gobert manning the paint and not stretching the floor anytime soon, Minnesota’s floor spacing has been a major concern throughout the first quarter of the season.
Last year, the Timberwolves shot pretty well from three, averaging 36% as a team for the season. But this year has been a different tale. Through the first 14 games, the Wolves are shooting 33.5% from three on roughly 33 attempts per game, which ranks them 24th in the league in three-point shooting percentage.
The poor shooting of Minnesota’s guards this year has been even more disappointing, though.
None of the Wolves’ three primary guards, Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and Jaylen Nowell, is shooting better than 34% from beyond the arc. Ant is averaging 34% on 6.9 three-point attempts per game, DLo is averaging 32.9% on 5.9 attempts per game, and Jaylen Nowell is averaging 30.9% on 3.9 attempts per game.
Three-point shooting has been nearly nonexistent for Jordan McLaughlin and Bryn Forbes, the other key backup guards on the team. They have shot 10.5% and 28.6% from three, respectively, on less than two three-point attempts per game for each of them.
Due to this poor shooting from three, especially from the guards on the team, the Wolves have often struggled with their offensive output. Why? Because of their ineffectiveness shooting well from the perimeter around such a centralizing force in Gobert.
However, Lawson is a potential alleviation for the guards’ shooting struggles.
While playing for the G-League’s College Park Skyhawks this season, Lawson averaged an impressive 52.9% from three on 4.3 attempts per game. While only a four-game sample size in the G-League, it still indicates that Lawson has focused on that area of his game. He shot only 33% from three in the G-League last season on 2.5 attempts per game.
Lawson also shot well from deep with the Dallas Mavericks summer league team this year. Lawson shot 50% from three on 5.2 attempts per game in the five games he played.
He will obviously have to have his efficient shooting translate to the NBA for there to be any real merit to this. But if it does, Lawson’s shooting could help provide some of the much-needed spacing and efficient three-point shooting for this Wolves team that could benefit greatly from having a guard that can consistently knock down threes.
Aside from the shooting, Lawson could also provide some added help on the defensive side of the ball. Through 14 games, the Timberwolves rank 18th in the league in defensive rating at 112.4, which is surprising when you consider that Gobert, a three-time defensive player of the year, is on the squad. However, while Gobert has helped the team protect the paint, the Wolves have had some issues closing out on threes. Minnesota is allowing opposing teams to shoot 37.5% from three this season through 14 games, ranking them 23rd in the league in that category.
Standing at roughly 6’7”, Lawson will be the tallest player in Minnesota’s backcourt, and thus he could provide more of an impact on defense by using his added height to close out on opposing guards and even forwards from three. While Lawson’s wingspan is only about 6’7”, he has good lateral quickness. By simply serving as a taller guard, he could have more of an effect on opposing teams’ three-point shooting if Lawson consistently puts a hand up in shooters’ faces and makes the added effort to contest shots from three-point range.
Besides those two main areas, Lawson’s ability to create off the dribble and as a slasher are also ways in which he could additionally help this team. Lawson can occasionally create shots and also continue to move the ball. Lawson can shoot well from three and cut to the rim when appropriate.
The Wolves have had a fair share of success in the recent past with their final roster sports, with the likes of Nowell, J-Mac, and Naz Reid serving as prime examples. The hope will now be that Lawson could follow that trend and ultimately contribute to this Wolves team on both sides of the ball, especially with Minnesota’s slow start this season.