While the Minnesota Timberwolves’ season ended after the first round, they still have so much they can start building on as they gear up for next year. A good place to start is looking at the team composition of other successful playoff teams: the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, and Dallas Mavericks. Specifically, these teams have exceptional stars such as Jimmy Butler, Steph Curry, Jayson Tatum, and Luka Doncic. Still, those stars alone cannot carry their teams. Secondary stars like Bam Adebayo and Jaylen Brown help carry the load, but there is always more to the success of these teams.
The most successful playoff teams have valuable depth of all sorts of players from different backgrounds. The deepest teams have exceptional player development staffs. Miami is a perfect example. They’re known for finding overlooked prospects and developing them into solid role players to build around their transcendent stars.
Udonis Haslem was the prototype. But recently, they built around undrafted free agents Max Strus and Gabe Vincent. Strus is a sharpshooter who bounced around before signing with the Heat. Vincent is a scrappy backup guard who also was passed on in the draft. Both have been staples of Miami’s rotation in the playoffs.
The Heat picked Strus and Vincent on minimum deals with team options for the next season, setting them up perfectly regardless of play, setting a low bar on expectations to beat. It’s something Sachin Gupta has done in the past with Naz Reid and Jaylen Nowell. He signed both to multiyear minimum deals that give the Timberwolves a lot of flexibility. He did the same thing with Jordan McLaughlin and Jarred Vanderbilt last offseason. They returned on favorable contracts and provided a lot of value with their play last year.
These contracts’ lengths also align perfectly with the rest of the roster. Jaden McDaniels has 3-and-D upside. Malik Beasley is a proven sharpshooter. And ESPN pundit Patrick Beverley brings fire, energy, and defense. Therefore, team improvement will have to be internal, coming from existing players rather than outside acquisitions.
Why should the Wolves expect internal improvement? McDaniels, 21, and Vanderbilt, 23, are still young. Minnesota has a lot of talent and upside at forward, but inconsistency often plagues this position group. Vanderbilt is limited offensively because he only produces around the rim, and he can still improve upon that. Foul trouble is McDaniels’ Achilles heel, ranking 7th in the league in fouls per game and the 8th percentile in foul percentage.
Comparatively, other playoff teams have found ways to quickly develop players to fit the scheme of the core star building blocks. For example, the Boston Celtics have quickly developed Robert Williams into a legitimate rim protector and lob threat. Grant Williams has also become a versatile player who can hit the three. Both were late 1st round draft picks who took time to incubate, but they look like they are worth the investment. They drove a lot of Boston’s success during their turnaround.
Internal success doesn’t always need to mean a young player completely overhauls his game. However, if they can just tweak some of their skills, it can take a load off the stars. It could mean keeping Jaden on the floor more for his spacing and excellent point-of-attack defense. Or maybe using Vanderbilt for his switchability as a defender, assuming he becomes more capable offensively by adding a corner three.
Taurean Prince will be a free agent this offseason. While he should be easy to retain, if he leaves, it would open up playing time for Nowell and Beasley, perhaps making them more reliable shooters. Both struggled to find their footing this past season. Malik had trouble with his shooting rhythm, and Nowell deserved more playing time.
Overall, Nowell and Beasley need to gain some traction with the cast already in place because the Wolves will be retaining 10 of the 11 contributing rotational players. The continuity and synergy of this team will translate to this upcoming season. It will also allow them to take a high-ceiling pick in the draft, taking a calculated risk because it would not have many downsides if they do not pan out.
Next year, the Wolves will have to compete in a more difficult Western Conference. However, they can follow the blueprint of others who have succeeded in putting them in an excellent position to get more value out of the bench players who surround the core contributors.