Timberwolves

How Will the Wolves Handle the Point Guard Position Going Forward?

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves will enter this season with a lot of questions to answer. The anemic end to last season was a disappointment for a team that was hoping to be one of the best in the Western Conference. As the season rolls on the Wolves will have to figure out how their point guard rotation shakes out — for this season and beyond.

Minnesota Mike Conley was a godsend for a Timberwolves team that seemed desperate for some structure offensively. Although D’Angelo Russell had the ability to go nuclear at any moment offensively, he never quite fit into the role that the Wolves needed from him. What the team needed was a veteran guard who was going to set the table for his teammates and hold his own on the defensive end of the floor. Minnesota got that in Conley.

Though Conley brought organization and steadiness to the team, he also brought a limited basketball half-life. The 36-year-old point guard certainly had a spring in his step last season, but the cliff can come fast. The point guard rotation behind Conley is an interesting, yet dubious cast of characters who have things to prove. Watching the way Chris Finch chooses to deploy the players in the guard rotation this year should provide insight into how the Wolves will prepare for a post-Conley future.

Old reliable Jordan McLaughlin is the incumbent backup and most familiar to Wolves fans. McLaughlin provides a similar skillset to Conley’s. He helps the Timberwolves play with good pace, competes on defense — although his size is a limiting factor — and moves the ball with purpose. However, he lacks a consistent jump shot. It’s a tough life for an under-sized guard in the NBA who struggles to shoot it from deep. Still, J-Mac has made it work and managed to turn himself into a legitimate backup guard. Though he’s been a steady presence for the Wolves, he doesn’t really fit the bill for the type of long-term starting guard the Wolves should be looking for.

The Wolves have a few options to try and find an option, the first of which is free agency. Minnesota’s quartet of Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jaden McDaniels, and Rudy Gobert will ensure that the team won’t see significant cap space for the foreseeable future. Therefore, they’ve got to work the margins to see if they can strike gold. Shake Milton was the first attempt at this. The Wolves have brought him into the fold this season, and it will be interesting to see just how often he plays without another point guard on the floor. Milton is more of a scorer than a facilitator and will likely fill a role more similar to Jaylen Nowell. But Shake has some real dynamism with the ball and should be able to get the offense moving more efficiently than Nowell could.

Jaylen Clark represents a second option for the Timberwolves to fill their future point guard position. Although Clark doesn’t fit the traditional point guard mold, that type of draft pick is exactly who the Wolves should be targeting. While Minnesota is bereft of its own first-round picks, there are plenty of second-rounders in the near future. There is a lineage of productive “low ceiling” upperclassmen guards drafted in the second round that go on to be high-quality starters. The Wolves should be trying to hit on the next Malcolm Brogdon, Jalen Brunson, Andrew Nembhard, or Tre Jones. (Jones came out after his sophomore year, but I think he still fits the mold.) Drafting Clark signals that the Wolves are casting a wide net in hopes of finding a player who could grow into their starter of the future.

The third option is the most nebulous, yet might be the most realistic. Perhaps the Wolves will look to gradually transition Anthony Edwards into a more ball-dominant role. Rather than playing a traditional point guard next to him, the priority then becomes finding a player that can defend the point of attack, knock down threes off the catch, and do some secondary creating to diversify Minnesota’s offensive attack.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker could be exactly that type of player for the Wolves.

While he’s not necessarily an off-the-bounce stud and his shooting has been up and down, Alexander-Walker showed some flashes of some nascent offensive game last season. At the very least, he’ll be able to defend the other team’s best guard respectably and will shoot with confidence when he’s open. The Wolves should look to give him opportunities to explore the studio space with the ball in his hands this season. If he can develop some lead guard skills he could flourish into a key piece for Minnesota’s future.

The Wolves have plenty of fish in the point guard barrel without a player with a clear pipeline to the future starting role. A lot can happen in a season and the Wolves have their hopes up that one of McLaughlin, Milton, Alexander-Walker, or Clark stands out in a way that gives them pole position for the starting job. If not, the Wolves will be right back where they are heading into this season with work to do to find a point guard.

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