Post Preseason Timberwolves Stock Up/Stock Down
Preseason games are often used for experimentation by coaches, and for players to adjust back to NBA game speed. Analyzing player performances from these games can be a foolish task, but we can still use the context of their performances to change our expectations as we head into the 20–21 season. We will use the three Timberwolves preseason games to determine which players’ stock have improved or declined during exhibition play.
No Wolves player improved their standing in the eyes of fans and the Wolves rotation more than Culver did during the preseason. He was deemed nearly unplayable by many after last season’s dismal offensive performance and inconsistent overall play. Fans thought he may end up on the outside of the rotation after just one season. Three preseason games later and there is legitimate thoughts about him being a starter or taking minutes away from other wing players. He showed that his improved strength and muscle would be a factor on the court as he consistently displayed tough point-of-attack defense against perimeter players Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Luka Doncic, and Tim Hardaway Jr. We already knew he was smart with his defensive positioning and had quick hands, so improving his point-of-attack defense was an added bonus on his way to becoming an impactful defender.
On offense Wolves fans were hoping Culver could reshape his jump shot form to be a little smoother and help him start to hit free throws at an average rate and make three pointers more than 30% of the time. The early signs from the preseason games are very encouraging as he hit all 10 of his free throws and 4 out of 7 three point shots. The shooting form looks like an improved and confident stroke. If this progress is real, he can mix that with decent ball handling and smart passing to form a starting-caliber offensive game. The Timberwolves desperately need a two-way wing player to pair with their offensive cornerstones, and Culver could be developing into that player.
After an injury-riddled 19–20 season with the Wolves, Layman came into training camp as somewhat of a forgotten player in the discussion about the power forward rotation. He got the start in preseason game 1 and does not seem intent on relinquishing that role. Layman proved to be the glue guy fitting very well next to Karl-Anthony Towns in the front court. In a low usage offensive role, he is an excellent cutter to the basket and is always moving and finding the open lanes. His three point shooting percentage is below average for his career, but with improved spacing in the starting lineup he could see more open three point shots than ever before. This was proven by converting 4 out of 5 three point attempts during the preseason. With a small uptick in shooting percentage, he will prove to be the perfect low maintenance offensive fit with the Wolves starters.
On defense Layman can get bullied by larger forwards because of his slight frame, but his length, IQ, and athleticism often make up for any size disadvantage. During the preseason games he displayed an awareness of positional defense and was able to jump into passing lanes for steals. This type of power forward has not traditionally been lined up next to Towns, so Layman is a breath of fresh air on that end. It seems that he may get an opportunity to prove that he should be in the starting lineup next to Towns for the foreseeable future.
The 2nd round pick from Washington spent most of the 19–20 season lighting up the G League as a ball handling scorer. When he got an opportunity to play with the Timberwolves, he largely underwhelmed. His best skills are his shooting ability and shot creation, but he shot terribly from the three point line and did not get a chance to have the ball in his hands in limited action with the Wolves NBA team. That led most fans to think of him as an end of the bench player who would likely spend most of the coming season in the G League again. Three preseason games later, Nowell is showing the scoring burst and ability that got him drafted into the NBA. The first preseason game was Nowell’s finest work. He scored 22 points in 13 minutes and seemed like he could get his shot off from anywhere he wanted to. While it was just preseason action, it was a very positive sign. His next 2 preseason games were much more modest in production, but his confidence level and demeanor on the floor hint towards a player that is taking a leap in his second year. In an unpredictable season, we may see more of Nowell as a scoring guard off the bench when the Wolves are in need of a spark. His standing in the team’s rotation has improved nearly as much as anyone else during preseason play.
Timberwolves fans have high expectations for the #1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, but the team has preached patience with the 19 year old rookie. He was drafted barely over a month ago, and had only a few practices with his teammates before the first preseason game. After the first and second preseason game we would likely have his stock down, but the third game showed the promise that Wolves fans have been waiting to see. He is clearly learning and improving right in front of our eyes. It will certainly take patience for Edwards and for fans as he continues to learn the NBA game, but his gifts and abilities are hard to ignore. In the third game of the preseason he seemed like he made a positive impact on both ends of the floor finishing with 17 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in 26 minutes. The shooting efficiency could be better, as he only shot 33% from the floor, but that should come with a better understanding of the offense. He continuously showed flashes of the ability that made him the top pick in the draft displaying floor vision on drives to the rim and focused on-ball defense when guarding top perimeter players. If he continues to improve at this rapid rate, he will be a welcome sight for a team that could desperately use elite athleticism and shot-making at the guard position.
The second year big man had to miss the first two preseason games with delays in his COVID protocols, and it seemed he was losing any grip he had on rotation minutes with the acquisition of Ed Davis and strong play of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. His stock was certainly on its way down until the final preseason game. He was the true backup center receiving 26 minutes and producing 14 pts, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal. His three point shooting looked rusty shooting 0 for 4 from behind the arc, but he showed last year he can be capable shooting from long range. The most encouraging aspects of his performance were his solid defense and ability to take slower big men off the dribble. He clearly looks faster and more athletic than many of the plodding centers he will matchup against. If he can keep this up, he is likely the team’s best option backing up Towns, which is not something many Wolves fans envisioned heading into the year.
Okogie came into training camp penciled into the starting lineup on the wing. The coaching staff and fans love his energy on the court and personality off the court. He is a fun player to root for and a great piece to have on any team. With that said, his grip on starter minutes may be slipping just a bit, and not necessarily through any fault of his own. He played mostly solid during the preseason. Josh was a little out of control in the first couple of games, but mostly played as we expect him too. In the third game he showed his value by frustrating Luka Doncic on the defensive end with rabid point-of-attack defense, and made 2 of 3 three point shots on offense. This was clearly his best game of the preseason. However his stock is trending downwards because of the great performances by Jarrett Culver and improvement of Anthony Edwards. If those two young wings continue their ascent on both ends of the court, Okogie could see himself relegated to the bench sooner rather than later. Culver and Edwards were both high draft picks by the current front office, and they may see a little more value in starting those players over Okogie if they show they have earned the minutes.
The Wolves traded for Ed Davis prior to training camp, and fans rejoiced at the acquisition of a defensive stalwart to play as the backup center. However his two appearances thus far in the preseason have not inspired confidence in Davis positively contributing to the team. He looked a step slow on defense and was a non-factor offensively. Davis is a 10 year veteran of the NBA so his preseason performances are not nearly as important as some of his younger teammates, but fans wanted to see some sort of sign that he would be ready to shore up the defensive side of the ball when he plays. In the third preseason game, Davis never entered the game as Naz Reid received the bulk of the backup center minutes and acquitted himself fairly well. It seems that Davis may end up in a 3rd string center role, only receiving spot minutes when there are injuries or absences. While this may not be the role that many Wolves fans envisioned when Ed was acquired, it may be best for the team moving forward.
Expectations for Juancho may have been unfairly high after his blistering shooting streak to end last season. With a late arrival to team workouts in training camp thanks to COVID protocols, Hernangomez came off the bench for the preseason and looked very rusty from a shooting standpoint. In limited minutes he shot just 2 for 11 from the three point line during the preseason. If he is not spacing the floor from the three point line it is hard to see where he adds value to this team. Jake Layman had a strong preseason and potentially looks to be the starter at power forward in game one of the regular season, and Juancho would need to prove his hot shooting last season is here to stay to overtake him. After Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was cut, it does not look like Juancho is in danger of losing his rotation spot, but Wolves fans may begin to loathe his new contract if he cannot find areas to provide value in the front court.