Trilly Grades Your Rebuild 2020: Minnesota Timberwolves

Trilly Builds is back! Same as last year....only different! We still have our "Good Things" and "Bad Things" section. We no longer have our rebuild status grade because, with the way the season ended, just about every team could claim incomplete. I've added three things that I would do if I took over the franchise tomorrow. And a "protected players" section, as I may do an expansion draft later and want to cover my bases. Previous editions can be found here. Let's get to it!

Minnesota Timberwolves (19-45, 14th place Western Conference)

Good Things

1. Andrew Wiggins is gone

Outta there. I was high on Wiggins coming into the Draft but it never happened for him in Minnesota. He had a hot November (27/5/4 on 48/40/65 splits over 11 games) but it was more of a function of hot shooting than any real progress to his game. He wasn't particularly good at anything on the court except being present (10 missed games in six seasons), he was blocking playing time for younger players and over the next three years, he'll make more than Embiid, Jokic, CJ McCollum, Jaylen Brown, and MANY others. Not only is he gone...

2. Your star is happy

...but you traded him for your best player's best friend! It was long thought that Wiggins' contract was nearly unmoveable and not only did GM Gershon Rosas trade it, but he got an All-Star point guard in return. Even if you aren't high on Russell, he has a valuable NBA skill: He can shoot and make a lot of three's (37% 3P on 8.5 attempts per game over the past two seasons). He also had an assist % that put him ahead of Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons and a turnover % that has him between James Harden and Malcolm Brogdon.

He has his flaws with defense and shot selection but he never got a chance to play with Karl-Anthony Towns due to injury and they are set up to form a devastating 1-5 pick-and-roll where each guy is a threat from beyond 3P range. For whatever the concerns about fits on the court, it seems like guys that want to play together usually figure it out. Billy Simmons said AD and LeBron might struggle because they play the same position. Many worried about Russ' fit with James Harden. There were concerns the Heat wouldn't have enough shooting between Bron and Wade. Each of those duos is more talented than this one, but these guys are much younger than those duos were and I think they deserve a chance to grow together. Hopefully, we get to see it play out in Minnesota.

3. Next year's roster is pretty set

If everyone is healthy, they'll have KAT and DAR as their stars. They have the money to re-sign RFA's Malik Beasley (21/5/2 on 47/43/75 shooting after being traded to MIN) and Juan Hernangomez (13/7, 42% 3P on five attempts per game in MIN) if they please. Veterans like James Johnson and Jake Layman figure to be decent bench pieces. Young guys like Josh Okogie, Jarrett Culver, and Naz Reid figure to take another step forward. Ryan Saunders will be going into his third year and the Wolves are projected to have the third pick in this year's draft.

Bad Things

1. The roster being set may not be a good thing

There was a 17 game stretch this season where KAT averaged 27/9/4 on 50/36/81 shooting and didn't win a single one of those games. For reference, the only person to do those numbers over the course of a season was Larry Bird and he did it three different times. KAT did it for 20 percent of a season and didn't win a single one of those games.

For all his talent, DAR is on his fourth team in as many years. The Nuggets didn't want to pay Beasley/Hernangomez. Growth from Okogie/Culver/Reid isn't guaranteed just because they're young. They'll have a top-3 pick in a Draft that's weak at the top and acquiring DAR cost them their first-rounder in next year's draft. This could all go bad very quickly. 

2. Identity/Consistency

Their season-long numbers (22nd in Offensive rating, 21st in Defensive rating) are a bit skewed due to the number of injuries and midseason trades, but the truth remains that this team wasn't particularly good on either side of the ball. And if they were, they could never manage to be good at both at the same time.  The team played well defensively but not offensively when KAT was out, in large part due to the since-departed Gorgui Dieng. They played well offensively but not defensively when KAT was healthy. And now they've added Russell, who isn't known for his defensive acumen. Saunders has his work cut out for him getting this team to play well enough on both sides of the ball at the same time.

3. Lack of a rotation

Some of this was due to injuries and some of it was Ryan Saunders trying to find a set rotation but 13 different guys played at least 30 games for Minnesota this year and got at least 16 minutes per game. This doesn't include guys that were added later via trades and went on to play 20+ MPG (Russell, Beasley, Hernangomez, Johnson). It's a long season so you definitely want to use your bench to keep your main guys from tiring out but moving forward, a more consistent rotation for the Wolves should lead to better results. Hopefully. 

3 Decisions I’d Make If I Was GM Tomorrow

1. Make a decision on Devin Booker

I covered it in my Suns rebuild, but I think it deserves to be mentioned here as well:

"We gotta do this again, when we’re all on the same team,” Russell said toward the end of the shoot. “Nah, don’t cut [the film]. Y’all got it on footage. When we’re all on the same team -- I ain’t gonna tell you which team because I don’t know -- we’re gonna do this again."

It's no secret that KAT, DAR, and Booker are all close friends and want to play together. Minnesota has two of these guys and the means to acquire the third. Whether they pull the trigger or not, I think Minnesota has to consider it for two reasons. First, because it's what your star players want and that's how the league operates now. Two, if you get those three together and it doesn't work you have more trade capital to work from in terms of rebuilding. The deal I laid out looked something like this:

Devin Booker to Minnesota. James Johnson (2021 player option for $16 million), Jarrett Culver, Jaylen Nowell, 2020 first-round pick (projected to be #3) and 2020 first-round pick (projected to be #16, via Brooklyn) to Phoenix

You can play around with it on both sides, but I think that's what the framework would look like. Phoenix could ask for a sign-and-trade so they get Beasley too and maybe they throw in a Mikal Bridges, who would have more value to Minnesota at that point. Minnesota would have their core of KAT/Book/DAR and still have role players around them like Okogie, Hernangomez, Reid, and Layman. I'm not sure that team guarantees playoff success but this team hasn't won a playoff series since 2004 and the longer that streak continues, the more their best player(s) gets disgruntled.

2. Hit the bargain bin

The salary cap for next year is projected to be $115 million. As is, KAT/DAR combine to make $58 million next year (50.4% of your salary cap) and if you add in Booker's salary ($29 mill for 2020-21), you're looking at about 76% of your salary cap being spent on three players. Either way, you're going to have to find defensive-minded role players for cheap. Maybe that's trying to get Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka or Aron Baynes to come help anchor your frontcourt defense. Maybe a Bismack Biyombo or Ian Mahinmi to come off of the bench. Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill aren't "sexy" names but could help out in spot minutes. Guys like Kris Dunn, Jakob Poetl, or Allonzo Trier could help as restricted free agents that may not generate big offer sheets. Rosas will have to get creative in building around his young stars.

3. Let Ryan Saunders cook 

His win percentage isn't ideal (34%, 36-70) but he didn't step into the best circumstances. His first season saw him take over at midseason for a fired Tom Thibodeaux. He went a respectable 17-25 even though he didn't really get to coach with Jimmy Butler or the guys they traded for him, as Robert Covington played just 22 games for Minnesota. This year, injuries and PANDEMIC kept him from coaching a full second season with his entire roster. I'm sure the Wolves faithful could speak to this more than I could but from the outside looking in, it seems like he has the respect of the players and the trust of the organization. All that doesn't mean his X's and O's are the tightest or that he's figured out a set rotation, but I hope they give him at least a full season to work.

Protected Players

1. Karl-Anthony Towns

2. D'Angelo Russell

3. Jarrett Culver 

4. Malik Beasley

5. Josh Okogie

6. Juancho Hernangomez 

7. Naz Reid

8. Jake Layman

Thoughts: Pretty easy calls here. The core players, RFAs and guys still on their rookie deals.

Unprotected Players

1. James Johnson

2. Jacob Evans

3. Jarred Vanderbilt

4. Omari Spellman

5. Jaylen Nowell

Thoughts: Personally, I'd protect Vanderbilt and leave Layman unprotected but I'm the President, VP, SVP, and CEO of the Jarred Vanderbilt Fanclub. Don't listen to me. 

Ineligible Players (unrestricted FAs)

1. Evan Turner