Timberwolves

The Wolves Have A Point Guard Situation On Their Hands

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves made only one transaction at the trade deadline. They sent Troy Brown Jr., Shake Milton – both of whom were not in the rotation – and a 2030 second-round draft pick to the rebuilding Detroit Pistons in exchange for six-year point guard Monte Morris.

The trades that sent James Harden to the Los Angeles Clippers and Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers dominated the headlines at this year’s trade deadline. Minnesota’s trade for a backup point guard for two end-of-bench players didn’t garner much attention. However, it was a low-cost, high-reward move for the Wolves in the short and long term.

Before landing in the Twin Cities, Morris played in only six games for his hometown team after suffering a lower back injury during training camp and a thigh injury requiring a placement-rich plasma injection. He was still working to get back into NBA-ready shape, but Tim Connelly expected Morris to play in meaningful postseason games.

“It was a focus of ours over the last couple weeks to find guys who’ve been [in the playoffs],” Connelly told the media regarding the team’s mindset leading up to the trade deadline. “He’s played in a lot of big games. He won’t be in all of the moments, but he’s had success both individually and as a team. We thought it could be beneficial to our group if we added a guy like Monte, who has seen a lot of big games.”

The Flint, Mich. native played in 27 games for the Wolves as they closed the regular season, going 20-10 with him on the roster. He slowly began to look like the player that Connelly knew well during their time with the Denver Nuggets. Morris recorded a 31.6 assist-to-turnover ratio in that span, the 22nd-best in the NBA. He looked primed and ready to help lead Minnesota’s bench into the playoffs. However, he played in nine of the team’s 16 games during their Western Conference Finals run and never got meaningful rotation minutes.

The Wolves brought in Morris, 29, a relatively young guard with a proven track record four months ago. Still, point guard depth is the most significant uncertainty for Minnesota’s front office as they embark on the off-season.

At the trade deadline a year ago, the Wolves shipped out D’Angelo Russell, 26, in exchange for Mike Conley, 35. With Russell entering free agency the upcoming summer and his apparent on-court fit issues with Rudy Gobert, the Timberwolves wanted to get value for the scoring-focused floor general while they could.

Replacing Russell for a guard almost 10 years older than him may have seemed like a short-term trade. However, Minnesota extended Conley on a two-year, $21 million deal in February after he was a driving factor in the team clinching the playoffs for the second straight season.

Even though the Wolves want Conley at the helm of their offense for as long as he can play, it would be naive to think he can continue to perform as well as he has heading into his 17th year in the NBA.

“We all wish Mike was ageless,” Connelly told the media during this year’s exit interviews. “He certainly appeared ageless much of this year, but we understand there has to be some succession plan as we move forward.”

Conley was banged up as Minnesota’s season came to a close. He suffered a right Achilles injury against Denver, keeping him sidelined for Game 5. He then reaggravated that Achilles injury against Dallas and couldn’t walk until a few hours before Game 5, where he registered seven points on 2 of 5 from the floor in the Wolves’ season-ending loss.

In the regular season and playoffs, Minnesota’s offense was far too dependent on Conley being on the floor, regardless of his counting stats. According to PBP stats, the Wolves posted a 116.1 offensive rating through the 2,193 regular season minutes with Mike on the floor and a 115.9 offensive rating through the 1,768 minutes where he was on the bench.

Regardless of how close those stats are, the Wolves frequently lacked direction and maturity when Conley was on the bench.

Leaning heavily on your starting point guard is expected. However, Minnesota is entering a unique situation with its aging floor general. Connelly and Co. must figure out a way to replicate Mike’s elite offensive impact when he is taking a breather on the sidelines.

“Certainly, we have to, especially where we are financially, promote within and have some internal improvement,” Connelly responded during his exit interview when asked how the Wolves can lift some of the burden off Conley’s shoulders.

“When you have this many good players who deservedly to get these huge contracts, you can’t always look elsewhere. But we will look at both. We have the 27th and 37th pick. Pretty excited about that. We have a bunch of young guys on the roster who have not gotten a huge opportunity but are getting better every day. And, certainly, draft and free agency.”

Minnesota’s front office will field all options this summer as it tweaks the expensive roster that brought the Wolves to the West Finals.

Chart via Spotrac.com

As it sits right now, the top seven players in Chris Finch’s rotation last year are under contract for the 2024-25 season. Minnesota’s total cap allocation is already at a staggering $273,554,473 ahead of next year, which is the most expensive in the NBA, according to Spotrac. The Wolves are also $6,484,442 over the projected second apron of the newly implemented Collective Bargaining Agreement, penalizing teams who cross that line.

Barring any drastic trade, the Wolves will be a second-apron team, which could hamper the front office’s moves this summer. However, Marc Lore, Alex Rodriguez, and Glen Taylor have all expressed willingness to continue to pay the luxury tax to keep the team competitive. Regardless of how much ownership spends, the front office may be limited in improving the roster ahead of next season.

The top seven players on Minnesota’s payroll are crucial to success, especially backups such as Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Naz Reid. A trade involving any of those players seems unlikely, depending on the market. A more probable avenue for the Wolves to take is adding a backup guard via the free-agent market.

Below are a few potential additions from a wide range of price tags.

Regardless of who the Wolves bring in, whether through a trade or free agent signing, internal development will be vital in taking the load off Conley.

“I think there is more I could have brought to the team. I think I could have helped Mike with playmaking,” Alexander-Walker said in his exit interview. “It’s just adding in every facet and becoming a high-IQ guy. Being able to make plays, not so much relying on Ant to do everything or relying on KAT and Mike to get me open shots. And vice versa. Helping them get open shots and easy looks. Just becoming a more complete player.”

Alexander-Walker is coming off the most productive season of his career. He was frequently Minnesota’s 3-and-D player off the bench but wore many hats throughout the year. He was the backup point guard with Conley either on the bench or hurt and filled in for Jaden McDaniels when he missed ten games early in the season.

His defense will always grant Nickeil meaningful playing time. Still, it will be crucial he develops into a productive backup point guard who can consistently bring the ball across the timeline and initiate offense with a calming presence, similar to Conley. If he can, it will bode incredibly well for the Wolves’ growing payroll and himself, as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

The off-season is on the doorstep, with the NBA Finals wrapping up within the next few weeks. A splashy summer filled with roster-altering trades and signings for the Wolves is unlikely after their incredibly successful 2023-24 campaign. However, crucial, fine-tuning questions must be answered, especially involving the point guard position.

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Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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