Offseason Wish List for each Timberwolves Player
The 2020–2021 Minnesota Timberwolves are finished. We hope to look back on this past disjointed season as the start of a run of fun and competitive basketball here in the North, but for now we must move forward. Heading into the 2021–2022 season the Wolves absolutely need to improve in many areas, but have little in the way of cap space and (likely) draft assets to do so. The most significant improvement will need to happen internally in the development of their current roster. So, we will take a look at the top priority for each Wolves player’s positive development through the 2021 offseason. Each player under contract for 21–22 will be included, and we will add Jarred Vanderbilt as I believe he is likely to be resigned. Here we go!
***All stats per basketball-reference.com***
The Wolves prize PG already has an incredibly well-developed offensive repertoire, and likely will not be adding anything specific defensively other than improved effort. The best way for him to help the team even more next season will be to develop his off-ball offensive game. After Chris Finch took over as the head coach this past season, DLo was used more than ever as an off-ball scorer who gets open for 3’s and cuts to the basket. This past year Russell had a career high in percentage of 2pt. shots that were assisted, and his assisted 3’s were right at his career average. In Finch’s vision for the future, the offense will commonly run through KAT and Ant using DLo as a release valve on the perimeter or as a cutter. He has elite shooting and scoring touch, so finding the open spots on the floor will crank up the offense’s efficiency, and make D’Angelo an even more valuable player.
Ant is a difficult one to pin just one area of development, and that is mostly because he is destined for stardom and will not be a role player. Role players are valuable and needed on good teams, but they can typically stick with a few areas to improve each offseason. As a future star, Ant obviously needs to continue honing his overall game. The one area to immediately focus that could drastically improve his results and the team’s fortunes would be developing a crafty finishing package around the rim. This is one facet of Ant’s game that did improve greatly as the season wore on, but it can be even better. Look at a player like Ja Morant for example. Ja is an incredible athlete that can get to the rim at-will, but what truly sets him apart is an ability to finish at the rim in all types of angles and with a floater game. Ant will occasionally make things harder on himself by driving head-first into a rim protector and relying on athleticism and strength to finish. It works out for him many times, but if he developed a bit more touch to complete floaters or craftier layups it will prove very beneficial for his ability to finish around the rim.
Malik has proven to be a tireless worker in past offseasons and has essentially come back each year better than the last. Before the 20–21 season, he talked a lot about how he studied the footwork of great shooters to learn how to shoot off of movement and rise up with a quick release coming off of screens. That was a valuable skill for the Wolves offense last year and it will continue to be moving forward, but his next frontier will be learning to get his own shot off the dribble. Early in the season Malik was extinguished from the offense by teams that wanted to shut him down. They would fairly easily snuff out his off-ball movement and either deny him the ball or force him to receive it in tough spots where he would be heavily contested. To take that next step as a scorer, he needs to be able to find his spots off the dribble and create for himself. This past season, 87% of his 3’s were assisted and 63% of his 2’s were assisted. While the Wolves already have plenty of “isolation” scorers that can create with the ball in their hands, Malik needs to develop this area of his game to have a more diverse offensive skillset. He will be able to get to the free throw line more often, and improve his overall scoring average with a multi-faceted game.
Rubio just completed his 10th NBA season and will be 31 years old when the next campaign begins. He is at the point in his career where adding new skills is more difficult as a player leaves his peak. For Ricky this offseason, assuming he is back, it will be important to figure out exactly what his role will be and come into the season ready to fill that spot. With the condensed 2020 offseason and Rubio’s trade to Minnesota just before training camp, he never really had an idea of how he could fit on this team before real games started. Although he was a Timberwolves player in the past, the team was completely different and he had never played with most of the current group. This caused a slow start to a season that was disjointed and unrelenting throughout. If Ricky can spend the offseason with a clear directive from his coaches regarding his future role, study how to better maximize his teammates, and make sure he is in optimal physical condition heading into training camp it seems like he could be much closer to the old Ricky Rubio in 21–22.
The 2 year veteran from the University of Washington has already proven that he can be a scorer with the ball in his hands. Jaylen was able to break down a defense off the dribble for pull up 3’s or get into the lane for a shot. His next step into becoming an on-ball guard that helps his team will be to develop his playmaking abilities. Nowell averaged only 2.9 assists per 36 minutes this past season, and had an “Assist Percentage” of 12.5% which is very low for a guard (for reference Ant’s was 14.6% and DLo’s was 33.6%). It is clear that the young scorer was mostly looking for his own shot. If Jaylen participates in Summer League again, it would be great to see him handle full time point guard duties with the responsibility to read defenses and make sure to get his teammates involved with passes out of pick and rolls or isolations. If he is going to be a 2nd unit ball handler for years to come, this will be a valuable skillset to obtain.
Jaden is perfect and he doesn’t need to add anything to his game! Just kidding. The obvious answer for McDaniels right now is needing to add lower body strength, as is typically the case for 20 year olds. One major area that additional lower body strength will help is Jaden’s rebounding on the interior. Long term, I believe he is best as a wing, but there will still be plenty of lineups where McDaniels will be asked to guard big men, and he will need to improve his rebounding abilities. This past season playing mostly at power forward Jaden averaged 5.5 rebounds per 36 minutes which is not terrible, but his rebounding percentage (which is an estimate of the % of available rebounds he grabbed) was an abysmal 8.3%. For reference Jarred Vanderbilt’s was 17.5%. Improving his strength and therefore his rebounding is an immediate way for Jaden to add value for the team beyond what he did in his rookie season, and it also unlocks more versatile and offensively inclined lineups without losing ground on the glass.
The easy answer for Josh Okogie to add something to his game would be a 3pt. shot obviously, but at this point after 3 years of sub 30% 3pt. shooting it is hard to think that he will magically develop an average shooting stroke. And that is fine! Plenty of players can manage without one by improving other areas of their game, and for Josh Okogie it will be a development in his “drive and kick” prowess. Defensive specialists still have to be able to do SOMETHING on offense, and Josh can certainly offer more on that end. Alex Caruso from the Lakers is a good model. Caruso is a better 3pt. shooter, but he is volatile from deep. His most consistent offense comes by smartly attacking closeouts and finishing efficiently at the rim or making smart kick out passes to shooters when the defense rotates. Josh will earn his minutes by being a defensive ace, but he will need to be able to take advantage of the scoring gravity that his offensively gifted teammates provide, and adding an improved and controlled drive and kick game will certainly help.
Culver is another difficult one because it is tempting to just say he needs a 3pt. shot and everything will be fine. It is more than that with JC. He needs to rediscover that irrational overconfidence that drives professional athletes. As a human I am sure he has plenty of confidence in himself and abilities, but being a professional athlete needs a belief that you are the best at what you do. Culver needs a return to that mindset that he clearly had in college and that led him to throw down a monster dunk on Robin Lopez in his rookie season then talk s*%t to him right afterwards. If he can find one part of his game to “hang his hat on” that he knows will help him contribute, I think that will begin repairing his overall game. Whether that be his defense, drive and kick game, or even jump shooting. There just has to be something that he knows he can do well on an NBA floor, and I hope he finds it this Summer!
The fact that Juancho is listed here as a “wing” player should be a clue into what he can work on during the offseason. His lateral quickness on defense must be improved. Under head coach Chris Finch, Juancho came off the bench and played mainly on the wing as Jarred Vanderbilt and Naz Reid were the primary big men. That is likely going to be his best position as he just does not have the strength to be a solid rebounder or defender in the paint. Offensively he fits just fine as a wing because of his shooting and ability to attack closeouts off the dribble. Defense is another story. Juancho has heavy feet when he guards on the perimeter, and it is especially evident when he closes out to 3pt. shooters. He is the king of getting blown by on closeouts and “hip checking” the ball handler for a blocking foul. Some of that is technique that can be improved, but mostly he just has trouble changing directions quickly. If his offseason is spent improving his lateral quickness to stay in front of opposing perimeter players even just a little better on defense it will go a long way for his viability playing on the wing.
“Jake From the University of Maryland” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “Jake From State Farm” but we’ll go with it. After an awesome preseason where Layman looked like he had secured a starting spot, the regular season underwhelmed where he only was able to get about 14 mins/gm and shot under 30% from the 3pt. line. In Chris Finch’s rotation, Layman was largely on the outside looking in at the end of the season only seeing time when the team needed a spark on the wing. There is still some value to be gained from playing Jake, but he will need to add a little more ability to score off of the dribble. He is essentially only able to score when he is assisted right now. Out of 2pt. attempts, 76% were considered assisted and an incredible 100% (!) of his 3pt. attempts were assisted. He will indeed not be asked to be a go-to scorer, but being able to attack closeouts off the dribble to get to the rim or shovel a pass to another cutter would be an important skill to add to his offensive game. At this point, he is a one-dimensional offensive player with his ability to cut and run the floor in transition, so developing at least a bit more of an offensive repertoire could buy him minutes in the rotation!
As the team’s best player, the Big KAT has rounded into an all around star. His defense improved under Chris Finch’s less rigid system, and he once again scored efficiently almost every night. So what could we possibly add to the Wolves’ offensive engine? Let’s keep it simple: Physical and mental health. Personally and professionally, Karl-Anthony Towns is coming off of a brutal stretch over the past 15 months of his life. Last offseason, although incredibly long, likely did not feel like an offseason as Towns was dealing with a lingering injury and obviously the death of his mother that rocked him and his family. Add to that the social justice awakening going on in the around the country and a raging global pandemic and it was very easy to see why basketball was obviously not his main focus. Although those areas of focus are not just done and gone, it sounds as though Karl is ready to move forward and focus on the Timberwolves and building something special with this team that showed so much promise to close the season. Like other players, he will take some time to be with family, friends, and loved ones, but he will certainly welcome a “normal” offseason wherein he is able to get healthy, workout with teammates, and focus on the future of his team. The best gift to the Wolves would be a happy and healthy Karl-Anthony Towns as training camp begins in the Fall of 2021.
I will never be surprised by anything that Naz “Big Jelly” Reid adds to his game. In the span of 2 years Reid has completely transformed his body and become one of the most agile and skilled centers in the league. Oh, and he is also throwing down dunks like this! So what could he add this offseason to improve his value to the team? We will go with a simple one for Naz, his 3pt. shooting stroke. His offseason should be spent shooting insane amounts of 3pt. shots from all around the arc. For a 6’9″ big man, he already has a competent stroke shooting 35% from deep last season, but he only attempted 4.7 3’s per 36 minutes. We need that up towards 7 or 8 attempts per 36 minutes. Attempting more 3’s comes with confidence in his stroke, and if he can improve that 3pt. shot it opens up even more ability to play alongside Towns and spread the floor for the 2nd unit. The Wolves already have an impressive duo of centers, but this type of improvement from Naz could help to catapult the team towards their ultimate goal.
First of all, here begins my petition to change his nickname from “Vando” or “V8” to “J-Bones.” Not sure why, I just like it. Anyway Vanderbilt is coming off of a season where many expected very little from him, and he ended up being a fan favorite and real defensive catalyst for most of the year. These numbers do not tell the whole story, but with Vanderbilt on the floor this season the Wolves had a +12 net rating per 100 possessions, and his 110 defensive rating was tied for best on the team. He really fits well with the group of offensive players that the Wolves can surround him with, but there is one big skill that could help his production blast off in those lineups. He needs to improve his hands when catching the ball in the paint. This is not a revolutionary take, as all of Wolves Twitter has pointed it out and @tiptotap on Twitter even wrote a song about it. He should spend the entire offseason catching lobs, bounce passes, and generally catching in traffic before transitioning to a finish at the rim. Once “J-Bones” catches the ball, he was able to finish efficiently at nearly 72% near the rim and 62% from 2pt. range overall. The problem was just securing a pass as he made a timely cut to the rim. If Vanderbilt is around next season, he will definitely spend some time playing with Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards. Those players draw so much attention from the defense that Vanderbilt will usually be able to roam free and cut to the rim. He needs to be ready to snag those passes and convert the bucket nearly every time. If JV can improve in this area, he will be a much more viable option to receive heavy power forward minutes.
It sounds like we are not 100% certain whether Bolmaro will be in a Wolves jersey next season, but Gersson Rosas has hinted that he will be here. Honestly I have not watched nearly enough of Leandro to know what he could improve or even what his game is like, but I do know a couple of things. He is a long 6’6″ wing that often plays like a guard on offense for Barcelona in the Euroleague and has a reputation of being a dogged defender. He has a high energy game, but mixes it with the type of basketball IQ we have come to expect from players that have grown up in the Euroleague’s system. The Wolves already have players that will need the ball in their hands so Bolmaro will not exactly be a featured player in the offense, but having that ability to attack defenses off the dribble when they focus on stopping KAT and Ant will be valuable. It also sounds like his 3pt. jump shot is developing, so if he can hit a respectable amount of 3pt. shots off the catch then he is likely cemented in the rotation. Lastly, if his defense is as advertised then it just adds another 2-way wing to be paired with McDaniels to support the offensively inclined stars. Overall there should be a lot of excitement around Leandro Bolmaro being added to the Wolves for next season and beyond.