Timberwolves

Minnesota's Player Development Has Already Made This Season A Success

Photo Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves know Malik Beasley‘s heart rate at any given moment. They know how fast he got up and down the court at practice and how much he exerted himself getting to the basket in live-action.

“[The coaches] can track everything,” said Chris Finch. “We track everything. We know exactly what their work rate and workload and heart rate and intensity is. We’re on top of that.”

As a shooter who tends to work himself out of rhythm, the Wolves want to strike a balance with Beasley. He needs to put in the work to be the player they traded for last year, but he can’t overwork himself and start clanking threes.

“[Beasley is] one of our hardest workers,” said Finch. “If you’re not careful, he’ll just work himself out of rhythm. He’s just trying to find that balance.”

Gersson Rosas unearthed Beasley from the depth of the Denver Nuggets roster, and he immediately became the floor-spacer Minnesota desperately needed. It looked like a steal for the Timberwolves when Beasley signed a four-year, $60 million extension in February 2020. However, the contract looked like an albatross after Beasley was arrested and lost his shooting touch early in the season.

“I actually lightened up my workouts, so that’s helped a lot,” Beasley said in early February. “My body is starting to feel it a little bit. I’ve been able to push back a little bit, so less is more.”

Now Beasley is looking like his old self, though, and has improved defensively. And he’s not the only young Wolves player who’s gotten significantly better this year. We’re not sure how far Minnesota will go this season. It could end in the play-in tournament or after the first round. Maybe they surprise some people and go on a run. But, ultimately, we know they can develop players.

  • Minnesota signed Naz Reid as an undrafted free agent in 2019, and he’s become a floor-spacing big who can backup Karl-Anthony Towns.
  • The Wolves drafted Jaylen Nowell in the second round that year, and he stepped up when COVID depleted Minnesota’s roster in December.
  • Like Reid, Jordan McLaughlin is an undrafted player. The Brooklyn Nets waived him in October 2018, and the 5’11” point guard has become one of Finch’s most trusted players after three years in Minnesota.

“He is a coach’s dream,” Finch recently said of McLaughlin. “He plays hard, he plays the right way, he sets the tone.”

Jaden McDaniels, the 28th-overall pick in 2020, was struggling a one-dimensional corner-three shooter at the beginning of the year. Finch encouraged him to become a more dynamic scorer, and McDaniels has flourished offensive while remaining a stout defender.

“[With] where our offense was [and] where [McDaniels] was earlier on, he basically just got spot shots,” said Finch. “We just told him, ‘Do more than that. You are more than that.’ And that’s who he is as a player. He’s not just a shooter. He’s an all-around good player.”

Jarred Vanderbilt might be the Wolves’ biggest developmental success story, though. The Orlando Magic took him in the second round of the 2018 draft and then traded him to the Denver Nuggets. After two years in Denver, the Nuggets tossed him in the four-team, 12-player trade that sent Beasley to Minnesota.

Vanderbilt has gone from an oft-injured big man to the Timberwolves’ starting power forward. He can’t space the floor, but he’s a good defender who grabs rebounds. Most of his scoring comes off of passes from D’Angelo Russell, with whom Vanderbilt has developed chemistry.

“If it’s dynamic rollers like Naz around and a Vando next to [KAT], I try to run more pick-and-rolls,” said Russell in late February. “I’m just always trying to quarterback the game.”

There naturally will be a lot of focus on Anthony Edwards‘ development, as there should be. Once a controversial No. 1-overall pick, Edwards’ empyrean play and effervescent personality have won over a cynical fan base. He’s gone from a raw athlete to a player who can use his physicality to get to the basket, and he recently became the fastest player to convert 300 three-point shots.

The Timberwolves have their Big 3 for the first time since Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, and Latrell Sprewell in 2003-04. Edwards, Towns, and Russell can form a holy triumvirate, so long as Ant can consistently play like a divine being.

But Edwards and KAT are No. 1-overall picks; the Los Angeles Lakers took DLo second in 2015. The Wolves are past the stage where they can justify tanking to draft first overall. However, they continue to develop players, and they’ll have plenty of late-firsts and second-round picks and can always sign an undrafted player or two.

By improving the player-development part of their operation, they’ve created a virtuous cycle. There will always be a way for them to build a deep roster so long as they keep their core players in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves will go as far as Edwards, Towns, and Russell take them. But they can’t go on a playoff run on their own. They need players like Vanderbilt, Beasley, and McDaniels surrounding them. Fortunately, they have them, and their continued development will be crucial to Minnesota’s success in the future. They’re the heartbeat of the team.

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Photo Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

In a three-game season series against the Phoenix Suns, the Minnesota Timberwolves struggled to get anything going offensively or defensively. The Suns affected Minnesota’s flow, forcing them […]

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