Timberwolves

The Wolves Need To Discover Their Backcourt Rotation In the Preseason

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker (USA TODAY Sports)

Time flies. It feels like just yesterday that the Minnesota Timberwolves had traded for Rudy Gobert using what felt like the most extensive trade package in human history. However, we are just about a week away from Minnesota’s preseason opener against the Miami Heat on Oct. 4. It’s been over five months since we last saw them in action. After losing a nip and tuck first-round series to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Wolves will enter this season with a revamped squad. Fans are eager to see how this new-look team meshes through these first few preseason games.

There are plenty of things to assess and look forward to during Minnesota’s five preseason games before their regular season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Of course, there’s seeing how Gobert will play alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and the rest of the team. Still, there are also a few other intriguing aspects to look forward to, including DLo’s level of play entering a contract year following his first-round blunder last season and Jaden McDaniels‘ improvement entering his third season.

However, one thing I will keep my eye on through this preseason slate of games will be how Chris Finch and the rest of the coaching staff divide the minutes amongst Minnesota’s plethora of backcourt players.

We expect to see Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell likely take the majority of the minutes at the guard positions, having averaged 34 and 32 minutes per game last season, respectively. However, other guards on the roster could still serve as vital contributors to the team, but we don’t know to what extent just yet.

The Wolves still have Jordan McLaughlin and Jaylen Nowell on the roster, both of whom played some pretty sizable roles last season, especially when the team ran into injury trouble. After trading former guards Malik Beasley and Patrick Beverley for Gobert in the offseason, many expect McLaughlin and Nowell to get more playing time. They should have an opportunity to showcase their potential as crucial backcourt players in the rotation.

Last season, McLaughlin essentially served as the third point guard behind Beverley, averaging 14.5 minutes per game through 62 games played. Although he only averaged under 4.0 points and 3.0 assists per game, McLaughlin was often an efficient player that helped facilitate the offense. Entering this season, McLaughlin could serve as the primary backup point guard for the team and get a boost in playing time.

Nowell averaged around 15 minutes per game last season and proved to be one of Minnesota’s most efficient scorers. Nowell averaged 8.5 points per game and shot an efficient 49% from mid-range. He was one of the team’s best three-point shooters, averaging over 39% from behind the arc. However, Beasley was often higher than Nowell in the pecking order. But with Beasley gone, Chris Finch has expressed hopes for finding a more significant role for Nowell. Therefore, Finch likely increases Nowell’s minutes and finds a larger role in the backcourt.

The backcourt depth does not end there for the Timberwolves, though. During the offseason, the Wolves signed two additional guards to the team in backcourt veterans Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes. While Nowell and McLaughlin are Minnesota’s homegrown players, Rivers and Forbes could pose a barrier to their increased playing time and roles on the team because they are more proven in the league.

Rivers and Forbes played for the Denver Nuggets last season and served fairly impactful roles on the Nuggets’ backcourt rotation. Rivers served as the backup point guard on the team, averaging 22 minutes per game. While he only averaged 6 points per game last season, we have seen Rivers play significant roles in the past when he came off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Houston Rockets. Rivers has always had the potential of going off for 20 points or more in a game with his quick crossover dribble moves and his ability to pull up from three.

On the other hand, Forbes served as one of Denver’s more relied upon three-point shooters last season. Recognized as one of the better three-point shooters in the league, Forbes continued to live up to that reputation last season, shooting 41% from three and averaging over 17 minutes played per game for the Nuggets.

These players are highly capable of serving as effective backcourt pieces. But the preseason will be an important time for Minnesota’s coaching staff to determine how to manage their minutes.

It could be worth doing some experimentation, primarily in the preseason when the games don’t count for much, to see which backcourt players fit well together on the court simultaneously and which should switch in for one another in-game. Forbes and Nowell seem like players who could play alongside Ant or another primary ball handler like DLo or even McLaughlin, considering they are efficient spot-up shooters from three and could play more off the ball. Rivers and McLaughlin are more effective with the ball in their hands, facilitating the offense. Therefore, they could split minutes at the point guard spot and set up Ant for scoring opportunities or kick out to one of their shooters from three.

It’s unclear how Finch will divide time for Minnesota’s impressive but crowded backcourt depth. Therefore, the preseason could be the perfect time to test out different rotations and determine the most effective way to allow all these players to shine in their most optimal roles for this up-and-coming Wolves team.

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Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker (USA TODAY Sports)

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