The Wolves Have A Kyle Anderson Conundrum

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Anderson is a unique basketball player. A 6’9” wing capable of playing at power forward, initiating offense, and defending wings and bigger guards at an elite standard. Anderson’s positives sound great on paper. However, he has had more than his fair share of issues in the 2023-24 NBA season.

Anderson will be an unrestricted free agent this season, and his future in Minnesota is unclear. He has spoken about his love of the area and says his family is settled here. However, money talks in the NBA, and with the Minnesota Timberwolves’ cap space issues, they may be unable to retain him.

Anderson signed a two-year, $18 million free-agent contract in summer 2022 after playing against the Timberwolves in the playoffs with the Memphis Grizzlies. He had a good first year in Minnesota, shooting a career-high 41% from three and 4.9 assists a game. Anderson was particularly valuable during Karl-Anthony Towns’ long-term absence. He helped stabilize the team and improve synergy with Rudy Gobert, something many Wolves players struggled with early on.

But Anderson struggled in his second season. He only shot 22.9% from three and 46% from the field overall and struggled to fit into the team as a small forward. Given the amount of size in Minnesota’s frontcourt, Anderson had to play in positions that did not suit his strengths. When Chris Finch played line-ups without much shooting, it highlighted Anderson’s offensive issues.

Much of Anderson’s drop in production is related to his eye injury in the 2023 playoffs. In Game 4 of the first round, Anthony Edwards accidentally smacked Anderson in the face. Doctors doubted whether he could continue playing, meaning he missed the usual pre-season preparations while recovering from the injury.

“I just couldn’t see much,” Anderson said. “I couldn’t make reads. In some arenas, it would be blurry. The lights would mess with me from up top.” Unable to make reads and shoot, it looked as if Anderson’s playing career was rapidly declining.

But after Towns got injured again this year, Anderson experienced somewhat of a renaissance. When he played power forward, Anderson looked far more comfortable and much more like his 2022-23 self. When the Wolves needed him, he always stepped up and performed.

However, the broader question for next season is: how much do they need him?

In this year’s playoffs, Anderson averaged 4.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 15 appearances. He was impressive in the series against the Dallas Mavericks, providing offensive bursts and capable defense on Luka Doncic while others struggled. However, he was broadly unplayable in the first two series, struggling to find a rhythm or fit into the team’s flow during the two series that the Wolves won.

Given Minnesota’s cap restraints, it’s unclear whether they will have the space to bring Anderson back, even if they value him. He is settled, so he may accept less money to play in Minnesota than elsewhere, but that’s a tricky balance to strike. He is close with Chris Finch, and the two understand each other well. However, that might not be enough to cover for the lack of money the Wolves will be able to offer him.

There’s also the broader issue of the players that Anderson blocks on the depth chart, notably the two wings, Josh Minott and Leonard Miller.

The Wolves took Minott with the 45th pick in the 2022 draft. He has only played 44 times across two seasons in Minnesota, nearly entirely in garbage time. It’s still unclear what he offers. However, in an incredibly small sample size, he has demonstrated his energetic style, earning the nickname ‘Lawnmower.’

Wolves fans have higher hopes for Miller. The 33rd pick in the 2023 draft, Miller has played in only 17 NBA games so far, spending most of his time with the Iowa Wolves. In Iowa this season, Miller averaged 20.3 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game, and shot 37.8% from three. The significant issues have been concerns with Miller’s defense, which he would need to improve to earn minutes in a Wolves team that has made defense their identity.

While Anderson offers something entirely different for the two youngsters, his minutes prevent either of them from being featured outside of garbage time. Finch has been reluctant to trust them, and perhaps rightfully. But at some point, the Wolves need to know whether they will be good enough. The two themselves will also want to be playing sooner rather than later.

It might mean that GM Tim Connelly is reluctant to re-sign Anderson much above a minimum and would rather see how his two second-round draft picks fare during a regular season. The Wolves will have to be creative to get around their issues with a lack of cap space, and it might be that the time has come to roll the dice on Minott or Miller if they cannot negotiate a team-friendly deal with Anderson.

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Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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