How the T'Wolves Can Help KAT
Karl-Anthony Towns took the NBA by storm his rookie season. Towns, after playing one season at Kentucky, was selected with the first pick in the draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves and would go on to be the league’s first ever unanimous selection for Rookie of the Year. Towns managed to start all 82 regular games and put up 18.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG (8th in the NBA), and 1.7 BPG (10th in the NBA). After adding some strong offseason acquisitions and the hiring of Tom Thibodeau as coach and team president, Minnesota looks poised to become a team to beat sooner rather than later. Now the question is what can we expect from Towns and the Wolves this season.
Towns is the ideal player to build a team around. In fact there probably isn’t a single player in the league the Timberwolves would trade KAT straight up for when you consider his rookie contract, clean bill of health, and extremely high floor and ceiling as a player. The only big men in the NBA that can truly be compared to Towns are DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin, and Anthony Davis. What sets Towns apart from these guys is his relative youth and lack of off the court issues and injuries. Despite being just 20 years old Towns is ready to lead a title contender.
Unfortunately the team built around him appears to be far from contention.
The Timberwolves have many young and interesting players on their roster, but at some point you have to start building a cohesive roster. Towns can probably excel at either power forward or center, but given the growth of small ball around the league Towns looks better suited at the 5. The problem is the Wolves don’t have many great options to pair with Towns at the 4. The only true power forward on the roster is Adreian Payne. Payne has been a huge disappointment since the Timberwolves traded a lottery protected 1st round pick for him. After excelling at Michigan St., Payne’s game has yet to translate to the pros. The other big men options on the team are Jordan Hill, Cole Aldrich, Gorgui Dieng, and Nikola Pekovic. It is unclear if Pekovic will ever suit up again in the NBA due to injuries, but nonetheless him and Aldrich are exclusively centers. Dieng and Hill are similar to Towns in that they can play both big man positions, but they are better as centers. Dieng is the best overall player of the group, and him and Towns might be able to complement each other well enough if there is enough outside shooting from the other 3 players on the floor.
The obstacle for coach Thibs will be finding a combination of perimeter players with enough shooting to space the floor around Dieng and Towns. Minnesota’s two best perimeter players, Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio, are terrible outside shooters. Rookie Kris Dunn is improving as a shooter, but is still below average. Shabazz Muhammad is also an average at best outside shooter. The only perimeter players that are above average shooters are Zach Lavine, Tyus Jones, Brandon Rush and Nemanja Bjelica, but Lavine is the only one of the group that is a lock to be a major part of the rotation.
The Timberwolves have many valuable players so it shouldn’t be too hard for them to find a willing trade partner. Minnesota should look at its core as Towns, Wiggins, Lavine and Dunn. Excluding this core that leaves Dying and Rubio as the team’s best trade chips. Rubio is a very good all around player, but his lack of shooting simply won't cut it if he’s playing alongside another non-shooting perimeter player in Wiggins. Wiggins is clearly the more valuable of the two so Rubio has to go. In addition the Wolves have clear replacements for Rubio in Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Unless the Wolves have higher hopes for the Dieng and Towns pairing they should look to deal Dieng before he hits restricted free agency next summer. Minnesota should be able to acquire a valuable piece that better fits their core if they offer teams deals that include Rubio and/or Dieng. Two interesting players to target could be Paul Millsap and Danilo Gallinari. Both players are free agents next season and could be made available if their respective teams struggle coming out of the gates.
The Timberwolves aren’t quite done rebuilding, but they have now finished the heavy lifting. They found their superstar in Towns, a sidekick in Wiggins, many young players with upside to fill out the roster, and a great coach in Thibs. It shouldn’t take long for the Wolves to put it all together and become a force to be reckoned with.