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Trilly Grades Your Rebuild: Minnesota Timberwolves Edition

Welcome back,

Today we’ll be taking a look at the Timberwolves. You can find past entries here but I’ll warn you now, there’s only seven.

The rules are the same: I’m going to be taking a look at three things they did well, three things they failed miserably at and three things they could do this summer to stop stinking. I’ll be issuing one of two grades based on my findings: Oh hell yeah (good) or Oh no (bad). This is the internet, things are classic or trash with no in between. You wouldn’t expect nuance on Twitter so please do not expect it here. Thank you.

Minnesota Timberwolves (36-43, 10th place Western Conference)

Good Things

1. Karl-Anthony Towns

Much like Luka, there’s not much more I could say here about Towns that you don’t already know. He’s great and only getting better. Unlike Luka, he is my baby boy and thus I will take every opportunity I can to pump his tires. He’s averaging a 28/14/4 on 53/43/80 shooting after the ASB. On the season as a whole, he’s averaging career highs in rebound %, steal %, block % and assist %. He’s playing less MPG than he ever has and shooting more 3’s and FTs per game than he ever has.

It’s faint praise, but this was his best defensive season yet so hopefully, he’s figured things out there moving forward. Lotta numbers coming, just a heads up.

Opponents are shooting 57% at the rim against KAT this season vs 64% last season. For reference, this season: Gobert- 53%, Embiid-54%, Horford-60%, Anthony Davis-64%.

Opponents are shooting 7 percent worse against Towns than they normally do, <6 ft from the basket. That number was -0.4% last season.  More reference, this season: Gobert-11%, Embiid-9%, Horford-6%, Davis-0%.

He’s far from making an All-Defense team, but the improvement this season is encouraging.

2. Ryan Saunders

He stepped into a trainwreck of a situation and hasn’t completely embarrassed himself. That’s a win in itself. They’ve gone 17-22 since Saunders took over and I think the biggest feather in his cap is him running the “Give the ball to KAT” play early and often. Towns is averaging two more field goals a game under Saunders, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. He started taking and making more threes and FTs. His rebounding improved and his assists took a jump while his turnovers remained the same. He hasn’t had less than 11 FGA in a game under Saunders. He had six games under 10 FGA under Thibs this season.

As if the Butler mess and trade wasn’t bad enough on its own, Robert Covington has been injured and hasn’t played a game this calendar year. Their defense was about 5 points better with Covington on the court and Towns/Dario Saric/Covington were playing well together before Covington got hurt. Rose was having the best shooting season of his career before injuries shut him down after 51 games.

Despite all this, the Saunders was able to craft a solid offense around the remnants. They’re currently third in TOV%, fourth in ORB% and get to the line at a top 10 rate. All of this with Andrew Wiggins punting taking 16.6 shots per game. Saunders slick might be coach of the millennium if the Wolves creep in the top 10 of offensive efficiency, currently 11th.

3. They have flawed pieces, but pieces

Tyus Jones is a jump shot away from being Chris Paul. Covington has played at least 67 games in the four seasons prior to this one so hopefully, this injury is the exception. Saric shot 45/39/87 since joining Minnesota. Josh Okogie didn’t shoot well this season but he projects to be fine there. Basketball Derrick Rose had a great year. Keita Bates-Diop has shown flashes this past month or so. There’s some…..stuff here.

Bad Things

1. Andrew Wiggins

I’ll be honest. I entertained putting Wiggins as all three bad things and I still may. How do I put this? Well, he’s not very good at basketball. He’s shooting 41% from the field this season and 33% from 3P. He doesn’t get to the line much. His rebounding percentage has him tied with Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph. He doesn’t create much for others. Defensive Real Plus-Minus has him at 85/90 for small forwards. He’s durable as hell (on pace for 70+ this season, at least 81 in each of his first four seasons) meaning he’s always on the court to be terrible. If it makes things any better, he’s in year ONE of a FIVE-year deal that will pay him 27, 29, 31 and 33 million dollars until July 1, 2023.

It’s year five for Wiggins and I was a believer. No more getting excited at a hot ten-game stretch or a solid month of not being godawful. He’ll make more than Towns or Joel Embiid next season. This is the worst contract in the league, the only one close right now is John Wall and he was at least coming off an All-NBA season when he signed that extension. Filling his 35 minutes per game at the wing with literally any combination of Okogie/Bates-Diop/James Nunnally would improve the team. Distributing his 17 shots per game among literally anyone else would improve the team.

2. Awful cap situation

The salary cap for next year is $109 million. Right now, the Wolves are at $106 million and this doesn’t include UFAs Rose, Taj Gibson and Anthony Tolliver. Gorgui Dieng played 13 MPG this season. He made $15 million dollars for his trouble and has 33 mill coming over the next two seasons. Jeff Teague has a $19 million option that I imagine he’s already accepted in his mind. That has you $60 million going to Wiggins/Dieng/Teague alone. Again, the goddamn cap is $109 million. It’s also time to decide what/if to pay Tyus Jones and they’ll have to make the same decision on Dario Saric next summer.

3. Post-Jimmy Butler fallout

Even if they did have any cap space, would anyone sign there? Teague, Gibson, Rose and Deng all came because of Thibs. Jimmy Butler too. And before he boarded that flight for Philly, he painted “PUSSY” in the parking spot of every single Timberwolf that wasn’t Tyus Jones. Maybe it means nothing in the long term, but a franchise that hasn’t won a postseason series since 2004 doesn’t need anymore struggles turning around their reputation. Maybe Butler wears out his welcome in Philly too, but maybe he saw something we didn’t and knew he needed to get out of dodge before it was too late.

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Trilly’s Summer Prescription

1. Do whatever it takes to get off Wiggins contract

This is all going to come back and bite me in the ass when Wiggins makes first-team All-NBA next season. I’m fine with it.

I’d call Miami and offer Pat Riley a shiny new rehabilitation project. Charlotte has just enough mishmash contracts to maybe kick the tires on a young guy with potential if Kemba leaves. Maybe Detroit is willing to do another Blake trade, just taking on his contract knowing that they can’t use their cap space to sign anyone anyway. I think that’s it because everyone else is probably too smart. Of course, you’ll have to throw picks in with Wiggins to get someone to take his contract and I’d start with this year’s projected 11th pick. A Coby White or Darius Garland would help, but not as much as getting off Wiggins contract. I’d offer this year’s pick and 2021 top ten-protected pick along with Wiggins to see if I could get a couple of overpaid but useful pieces to put around Towns.

Wiggins/#11 pick for Nicolas Batum works in the trade machine. Batum’s deal is one year shorter and Charlotte gets a lottery pick for their troubles.

Wiggins/#11 pick for Dion Waters/Kelly Olynyk works. James Johnson’s contract also works in place of one of Waiters/Olynyk.

None of those returns are good. I get it. Neither is Wiggins and his minutes going anywhere else benefits the team.

2. Entertain bringing back Gibson/Basketball Rose

They both had solid seasons and you don’t really have the cap space to replace their production if they left. Thibs is gone, but each had solid runs in Minnesota and maybe they’re willing to stay on short deals. Gibson shot a career-high 57% and had an offensive rating/defensive rating of 123/112 in his two seasons in Minnesota. Injuries sapped us of the chance to see what a Gibson/RoCo/Okogie trio could do defensively over long stretches. Rose had a career year shooting the ball and averaged the most points he has in a season since 2011. The Wolves could do a lot worse than keeping them at a reasonable number And honestly, the number of years on the contract would concern me more than the dollar value.

To lesser extents, Anthony Tolliver and Luol Deng had decent years off the bench as well. Overall, the Wolves had a -1.2 point differential on the season. They’re not far away from being a decent team, and a full offseason of Saunders and every Wolf not named Wiggins would encourage me.

3. Patience

I feel like I write this for every team and I mean it for every team. Last year seemed like the start of a good thing and we know how that ended. Let’s hope the Wolves don’t throw caution to the wind in an attempt to just get back to the postseason and get whooped again. You have an All-NBA player under cost control until 2024. That’s the hardest piece to find and you already have it. Teague’s deal runs one more year, Dieng’s runs two. It will be tempting to use picks to try to get out from under those deals, but don’t take the bait. You’ll need every pick you have to get rid of Wiggins, unless Ryan Saunders gets the word from management it’s ok to bench the $150 million dollar man.

Rebuild status: As long as Wiggins is this bad for this much money, it cancels out Towns. Oh no

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