The Minnesota Timberwolves are no different to the other 29 league franchises in that long-term prognostication is impossible.
Today is one year ago. Gersson Rosas, then president of basketball operations, was still assembling the Wolves roster personnel and Patrick Beverley hadn’t been acquired for Jarrett Culver or Juancho Hernangomez.
This MinnPost 2022 summer mailing bag was temporarily replaced by the seismic trade which brought Rudy Gobert to Wolves. It was announced on July 1, and officially made official five days later. We’ve had some time to digest the blockbuster, and all signs point to a calm period before preseason training camp opens in September. Let’s now get to your questions in the comments section of my previous column or on my twitter feed @brittrobson.
Your thoughtfulness, dedication, and volume of responses reinforce my belief in the fact that people will reward you for their intelligence if they honor and respect your audience’s intelligence. This will result in a level compassionate critical thinking that inspires and educates. Even if I group them into themes and split this mailbag in two, it’s not enough to air the entire contents of your contribution. They will be an important part of my coverage going into the 2022-23 season.
Who is the true soul of the team with the new roster? Jim Beilby @jimbilbs
How significantly will the Rudy addition/PatBev/Vando (Jarred Vanderbilt) departure impact the Wolves preferred identity? I feel like scrappy/run-in-transition was fitting for their personnel. But, is this a better change for their existing personnel? – Delusional Wolves Optimist @OptimistWolves
How do you feel about adding Gobert to the Wolves’ chemistry? -Michelle Sichak @MichelleSichak
Each season is a new beginning. Even when there are few roster changes, many factors change the equation. I can understand your concern about what’s been lost. Since the 2004 Western Conference Finals, I have stated many times that the 2021-22 Wolves are my favorite team. Vando, Beverley and Josh Okogie, who were rarely used, created a scrappy defensive mentality that was based on sweat equity. This helped fuel the team’s early success, even as the offense struggled. All three of them are now gone.
Let’s not forget to put the sorrow in perspective. The Wolves of last year had an underdog mentality that helped them achieve like a fairytale. The fairy tale’s end is always the end. But the second act requires a different type of pixie dust. For the 2022-23 Wolves the bar was always higher, but Gobert significantly raises it. This is not a bad thing.
The Wolves will be much less aggressive, but more effective at the other end of the court with Gobert gone and PatBev no longer the team’s soul on defense. It was a pleasure to see Vando scramble and help the team scrape, while PatBev hollered. Absolutely. The next season will be almost certain to have Gobert’s contributions less visceral. He was bought to increase the stakes for this team and provide a different thrill.
Gobert isn’t a weak underdog. He is a mighty lord of rim defense. This is a significant step up in the food chain. It’s not possible to become the NBA’s Defensive Players of the Year in the past five seasons without having grit and grind. Wolves fans who love “the little things”, should be able to appreciate his peripheral vision, timing and stealth. This allows him to be efficient at both ends of court. He does his work early so that he can finish the job quickly, often without scrambling.
However, the chemistry of the team will change. Great chemistry is what makes franchises that struggle for long periods and then suddenly have a great team. This was the case with the 2021-22 Wolves. What are the key ingredients to good chemistry in the 2022-23 team?
First, Chris Finch must at least try to replicate his outstanding performance last year by creating offensive and defensive schemes that are most effective in motivating his players. The “high wall” defense concept was a brilliant way to boost strengths and hide weaknesses. Anthony Edwards must turn his teasing stardom to something more. He needs to improve his focus on defense and his shot selection and playmaking for offense. The training wheels for his leadership should be in place after a year of mentorship from Ricky Rubio, Patrick Beverley and other coaches. If the initial ride is rocky, patience is necessary.
It is impossible to expect the same level of roster buy-in as last season. The Wolves are making a big step towards becoming a testing ground for players to determine their willingness to make sacrifices to win. This is another reason to be excited for what lies ahead.
Maximizing KAT & Gobert together
KAT (Karl Anthony Towns) is your biggest concern regarding the Gobert trade. He (and his big feet), will be able to get out on the perimeter and guard consistent as a 4 (power forward). Chris Finch: How would you plan to keep KAT safe from being beaten by faster and smaller 4s? Comment below by Jarrett Olek
KAT’s defense assignment is not what concerns me. It is the fast perimeter ball movement that I find most concerning, interspersed by drive-and-kick actions that are now a standard of half-court offenses within the NBA. The ball can move faster that the players, and if the team is quick and unselfish in moving the ball, there is no way to prevent an open view. KAT’s slow foot speed makes it difficult for Wolves to defend.
Finch said, and supported it with schemes, he believes rim protection is more important than defending the three point shot. However, you must reduce the open looks from behind your arc because there are many people who will shoot at you from far away. Finch’s last season response was disruption. He pressed the ball and scrambled simultaneously to make it difficult for the ball to move. KAT, the center, was called out to guard the pick-and roll at the leverage point. He had his teammates backfill to protect it from cutters. The Wolves will use the “drop” method of rim protection much more often with Gobert as their center.
Finch is me. I have my off-ball defenders leap the passing lanes at the perimeter. I hope for steals, but also deter the “round the Horn” rhythm of ball movement. Players can get behind them but that’s why Gobert is in drop coverage. KAT can be lurking in the corner to prevent dribble penetration from the jump-the lane approach. He can also sell-out the perimeter.
This would allow you to mimic the disruptive approach of Gobert’s high wall last season. You can also take advantage of Gobert’s rim protection which increases your margin of error if you don’t manage to contain your man around the perimeter. The best thing about the Wolves roster is their incredible wingspans. This allows them to cover for sight obstruction and deflections even when they can’t get there in time.
Finch may come up with something even better, despite all of that.
What do you think the backup (frontcourt), minutes look like? What percentage of the game do KAT and Rudy share the floor? – Corey Hermanson@CoreyHermanson
Do you think Towns will be asked to play Gobert’s style of defense in non-Gobert time? Or will it depend on who is at the center? – Jon Dale @JonRyanDale
Modern NBA requires that your best players are on the court between 32-36 minutes per game. KAT and Gobert are clearly two of Minnesota’s most talented players. As obvious, their individual and combined performances will determine how they play together and how far apart.
Let’s say that KAT and Gobert average 34 minutes per match and that they are good enough to share the floor 24 minutes. KAT would move over to play center in 10 minutes. This leaves four minutes for the Wolves to choose whether they go small with Kyle Anderson in the center or bring in Naz Reid for light duty. There are 24 minutes left to fill the power forward position – 10 behind Gobert, 10 alongside KAT, and four between Naz and smallball -from Anderson, Taurean Prince, and possibly Jaden McDaniels. McDaniels is expected to play small forward.
Their skill sets (shooting distance and accuracy, defensive coverage area, and tenacity), I prefer Anderson to KAT and Prince. However, even in the best of situations, these pairings will not be exclusive. This is not a discussion about theory. There are many variables, such as injuries, foul trouble and fit, that can make it difficult to plan any rotations. The schemes will flex according to who is on the court. However, I believe drop coverage will predominate with Gobert at the center and the “high walls concept” being used more frequently when KAT or the Wolves go small.
The crowded backcourt
Finch gives me a feeling that he doesn’t trust Jaylen Nowell defensively, or at critical points during a game. I hope Nowell won’t disappear with (Austin] Rivers and (Bryn] Forbes. Thoughts? – Brian Morlach @BrianMorlach
How can we make space for Forbes and Rivers if our plan is to keep Nowell as our 6th Man? T’Wolves Nation France @TWolvesNationFR
A question was also raised about Jordan McLaughlin’s status in the backcourt logjam.
Gobert’s arrival bumps everyone down one position: KAT to power forward; McDaniels small forward; Ant to shooting guard. This severely reduces the backcourt time available for the two guard positions.
Although I don’t know what Finch will do, and I have all the previous caveats about injuries, schemes, etc. still apply, there are certain things that I believe carry more weight than others.
One is if Finch believes in J-Mac (McLaughlin). J-Mac is the best pace setter, and Finch loves speed for both motivational and practical reasons. J-Mac facilitates ball movement, and movement without the ball. Finch has two First Principles to help with offensive execution. Finch expressed regret at having J-Mac removed from the rotation last season and was confident enough to choose J-Mac over D’Angelo Russell during the final moments of a playoff elimination match.
Given that DLo should/will thrive running the pick-and-roll with Gobert, I expect DLo/J-Mac to take over the point guard minutes.
Finch was very consistent and direct in his criticisms of Nowell’s defense during last season. Finch, however, went out of his ways to praise Nowell’s development after June’s press conference. He even stated that Nowell’s defense had improved.
All this happened before Gobert was acquired, for Malik Beasley (long-range marksman), and before Forbes (a long range marksman) was signed to veteran minimum contracts. However, I believe Nowell’s playmaking protects him from being overlooked too much, as long as he shows improvement in Defense.
Forbes and Rivers are now fighting for scraps. Both were in the Denver Nuggets’ playoffs player rotation at the time that current Wolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly was leading the team. Connelly believes there is value in both.
Forbes is my favorite, as he is a poor man’s Beasley. He shoots the trey well, though not at Beasley’s level, and is often exposed on defense, much like Beasley. KAT is a great three-point shooter for a large man. Ant, DLo, and McDaniels all have the potential for improving on their mistakes from long distance. Forbes is the only one on the bench who can space the floor as consistently as Forbes and that alone should be enough to earn him some rotation time. Rivers has a tendency to be too active on the court and is not able to control his usage when it is causing harm to his team. He could be able to keep his reputation of hounding perimeter scorers and get into the mix if he does.
Let’s say you have a core team of Ant, KAT and McDaniels. Now, it is time to go into the lab and find the perfect fifth player for the playoffs. – starksgm6 @starksgm6
Vintage Tony Parker, or the Jrue Holiday from the 2021 NBA playoffs.
Mailbag Part 2: A deeper dive into DLo’s role and future, determining what is needed to make the Gobert deal a success, some scheme-talk and other quick hits.