In March, a writer who can only be described as a young Robert Redford circa All The President’s Men wrote that the Minnesota Timberwolves have the best 7-man rotation in the NBA. It might have been a bold take to give two weeks before the Wolves needed to win a do-or-die play-in game against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the privilege of losing in the first round to the eventual champion Denver Nuggets in five games.
One month into the 2023-24 NBA season, the 7-man rotation of Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Jaden McDaniels, Mike Conley, Kyle Anderson, and Naz Reid is almost undoubtedly the deepest rotation in the league. That group has the Timberwolves off to the best start in franchise history. Just like a young Robert Redford portraying Bob Woodward in ATPM, I mean, this writer, who can only be described that way, was right.
Now I’m expanding my take to say the Timberwolves are flat-out the deepest roster in the NBA, and it’s mostly thanks to one bench player who has stepped up when he’s needed the most. Minnesota brought Troy Brown Jr. in this offseason as a younger, cheaper replacement for Taurean Prince, and he’s slowly but surely found his role on one of the league’s best teams.
TBJ began the season buried deep on the bench behind a strong rotation of wings that includes All-NBA hopeful Edwards, an All-Defense candidate in McDaniels, and an All-SloMo team starter in Anderson. Not to mention his place in the bench pecking order behind Reid, backup-point guard Shake Milton, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Still, it was a slow start to the season for Brown, the sixth-year pro. He was barely a factor in Minnesota’s first 14 games. Brown featured in 10 contests, mostly in garbage time. TBJ averaged just over eight minutes, two points, and two rebounds per game in his first 10 appearances.
Since then, his role has expanded with injuries to Jaden McDaniels and Anthony Edwards opening up the log jam at the wing, and TBJ has capitalized on the opportunity. He’s averaging 11 points and 4.7 rebounds in just over 21 minutes per game on 61/46/63 shooting in his last three games. The recent hot streak includes a 17-point gem in Tuesday’s win against Oklahoma City in relief of Anthony Edwards, who went down in the third quarter with a hip pointer. Anyone in their right mind would prefer having Ant and McDaniels doing their usual thing for 35 minutes a game. But when the team needs him the most, Troy Brown Jr. is answering the call this season.
Brown’s three hasn’t been dropping much early on this season (7-23). But he’s a career 35 percent three-point shooter, right around league average. While not spectacular, that figure should help stabilize a Wolves bench unit that shoots a middle-of-the-road percentage from distance in the NBA this season on just under 11 attempts per game.
The decent three-point shooting will help TBJ keep his spot in the rotation when everyone is healthy. However, his tenacious and versatile defense will win him playing time over the other nine players who get regular minutes. At 6’6”, 215 lbs., Troy Brown Jr. is well built to cover smaller, quicker guards while being strong enough to guard bigger, stronger power forwards with ease. His defensive ability is a key reason the Timberwolves held on to beat the Thunder to remain at the top of the Western Conference standings (that still feels weird to write).
The next man up concept is foreign to the Timberwolves organization that’s been so deprived of talent for the better part of the last 20 years. This year is different in so many other ways, but the Wolves have built a roster designed to withstand injuries and absences from its star players. Maybe things will fall apart if one of the stars misses extended time. But a few games here and there is no big deal because Chris Finch and his assistants know they have impact players off the bench who can step in at a moment’s notice. The depth players can maintain the defensive intensity while pulling their weight on offense.
Troy Brown Jr.’s time as a major contributor will likely end as Ant’s return is imminent, and McDaniels is due back in a week or two. But TBJ’s services will be needed somewhere down the line, and he’ll be ready to step in when called upon. Players like Troy Brown Jr. can step up and swing a playoff series when they get the opportunity. The Timberwolves hope that won’t be necessary, but TBJ will be there flying around on defense and burying threes when they need him.