With the NBA Draft completed and in the books, teams around the league are gearing up and getting ready for what is expected to be a crazy free agency starting July 1st. The cap maximum is set to be around $94 million, and many teams around the league will have a lot of money to burn.
The Minnesota Timberwolves who will have around $25 - $28 million to spend, have a few needs themselves:
- Rotational power forward/ possible starter
- Three-point shooting
- Bench depth
*Note: Obviously defense is a big issue of focus with this team, but Thibodeau has a proven track record of turning teams around defensively. The team has the talent to be a good defensive team, they just need the strategy and discipline instilled by Thibodeau, and that can/will definitely be done.
Look for the wolves to be active to find the right pieces to improve the team, while continuing the youth movement. The goal for the season is to continue to let the young guys develop, while still competing for a playoff spot. With the right complimentary players acquired, expect the Wolves’ 2016-2017 season to continue past April.
Possible Power Forwards to Target
A lot of people seem to be pretty split on if the Timberwolves need to acquire a new starting power forward to start alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, or to continue using Gorgui Dieng as the starter—and to find a big guy who can contribute through free agency to bolster the bench unit.
Although Dieng played some nice games with Towns during the 2015-2016 season, I believe it would be best to have him come off the bench as the third big in the game. His versatility allows him to play either the power forward or the center position.
I do believe this team needs a stretch four to start alongside of Towns, and they just might have that in Nemanja Bjelica.
(Cue the record scratch sound effect) “What!!!? This guy is a freaking moron, why does he even write about this basketball team!?”
Ok, I know the majority of you are throwing popcorn at your computer screen, but just hear me out for a couple of lines.
Just before Bjelica came into the league, he was the Euro League MVP during the 2014-2015 season playing with the Turkish Team Fenerbahçe Ülker.
I know we all know that euro players can be pretty hit or miss when coming to the NBA. For example, the Gasol brothers vs. Darko Milic, and Alexey Shved; or Dirk Nowitzki and Kristaps Porzingis vs. Frederic Weis and Yaroslav Korolev.
The point of the matter is, he has played only one season with the Timberwolves so far. He was one of the reasons why they started 8-8 to begin the season. He had some pretty big shots to help get those wins, and during his last 12 games of the season, he played much like he did in the beginning of the season—hitting his open shots, getting rebounds, and playing good team basketball.
The majority of the season he was injured, and when he returned, he seemed to have no confidence to play the game. He was passing up so many three-pointers, I was even yelling at Sam Mitchell (the coach at the time) to take him out.
Let’s let new coach, Tom Thibodeau, evaluate Bjelica first, and then see if he is capable starter material alongside of Towns. Both players can stretch the floor which will open up the lanes for both Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine to do their thing, and that is to hit the rim hard.
Nevertheless, if we decide to go a different route and target a power forward regardless, here are a few I think we will target and have a decent shot of acquiring.
If shooting is what Thibodeau needs in the power forward position, look no further than Dudley. Last season with the Washington Wizards, he shot 42% of his three pointers on about three attempts per game.
Dudley is also an adequate defender in which he would fill in nicely within Thibodeau’s system. He could fill in the role as a starter or as a very capable bench piece. With the Wizards during the 2015-2016 season, he averaged around 26 minutes a game, showcasing that at the age of 30 he can still fill in big minutes.
Considered a “small-ball” power forward, Williams played a significant role for Charlotte as more of defensive specialist and someone who could hit three pointers at a decent clip. He’s a career 35% three-point shooter, but last season he hit 40% of his shots on almost five attempts per game.
He’s the same age as Dudley, but provides a lot more in terms of defense and overall contribution to the team. He would be a nice fit next to Towns, and would space the floor very nicely.
At only 24-years-old, Jones definitely needs a change of location and a fresh start. A few seasons ago with the Houston Rockets, Jones averaged, 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 assist a game with a total PER of 19.1. He was a defensive fiend on the court, a big body who could bang around and stifle fear against many of his opponents.
His past two years haven’t left much to get too excited about though. Injuries and falling out of the coach’s good graces had kept him from playing as much. He played only 33 games in the 2014-2015 season, and 50 games the 2015-2016 season.
Jones isn’t a three-point threat, but he would definitely shine in Thibodeau’s system as a defensive presence, much like Taj Gibson’s role in Chicago.
I know that all the rumors out there have Gasol wanting to play for a contender, and at age 35, I don’t blame him.
He is still a very good player at his age, posting 16.5 points and 11 rebounds per game last season with Chicago. With him and Towns being very talented passers, great shooters, and obtaining the ability to play by the block—the two spacing the floor would be absolutely devastating to teams trying to plan a defensive scheme against them.
It’s definitely a reach to try to obtain Gasol on his last legs, but he would definitely be a very good contributor to accelerate the Timberwolves' playoff chances, and would be a nice veteran to have in the locker room. Maybe he will look at the talent the Wolves have and possibly consider a phone call from Thibodeau? A man can dream.
Looking for Other Shooters and Overall Bench Depth
At this point, I believe the Timberwolves starting lineup to begin the 2016-2017 season will be:
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Bjelica/Dieng/Newly signed free agent
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
The goal for the Wolves this free agency is to provide better bench depth to support this young and extremely talented group. Thibodeau and General Manager, Scott Layden, have definitely been doing their homework and this team’s second unit should look much better on paper than it did a year ago.
It seems like for the past few seasons, Courtney Lee and the Timberwolves are always mentioned as a possible pairing. This three-and-D player has averaged about 40% percent shooting for a career and would definitely fill in a nice role off the bench for Thibodeau.
He’s an excellent perimeter defender who would be perfect at end of game situations for the Timberwolves, especially if they need a stop or someone to spot up and shoot a game winning three. At age 30, he still definitely has gas in the tank.
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year winner is 36-years-old. But you know what? He can still ball with the best of them. He’s a career 35% three-point shooter, but he flat out knows how to score.
Signing him to a one-year deal to be a microwave scorer off the bench would not be too bad. Especially if the Timberwolves are finding themselves in a position where they just need a change of pace or a spark plug to come in.
He is also a good friend and mentor to Zach LaVine, and having his skills and veteran leadership would be very beneficial to a team looking to make the playoffs.
Not really the greatest defender out there, but he provides the shooting that the Timberwolves would like to add to this team. Afflalo shot about 40% last season with the New York Knicks on about 3.5 attempts per game.
With the Knicks he played around 33 minutes a game, some starting and some coming off the bench. He can provide big minutes as well with the Wolves if needed. Afflalo could also provide starting help for a while if the injury bug hits this team… again (knock on wood).
An injury prone player who has never played more than 65 games in a season, it would be a huge risk to go after Gordon. If healthy, he could be the ideal sixth man coming off the bench for the Timberwolves.
Like the others, he’s nearly a 40% career three-point shooter. Although he only played 45 games last season, he averaged 15.2 points, 2.7 assists, while attempting about 6.5 three pointers a game.
Obviously his injury history is very concerning, but it just might drive down his asking price. At the right price, the Timberwolves could offer him a two-year deal and limit his minutes as a sixth man. The risk is very high with Gordon, but the rewards could be even higher.
So obviously I’m not able to touch on everyone and I’m sure my free agency list will look different compared to many other fans of this team. But what is important here is that the Timberwolves have definitely got the foundation to be a very special team, starting this year.
Thibodeau and Layden will definitely be rounding out this team with players that can help and support our starters. This is the beginning of no more fourth quarter collapses, no more going up 20+ points and then losing the big lead, and much less disappointing defensive play.
The Timberwolves are in prime position with the talent they currently have. Free agents will definitely want to flock here and join the pack, especially once the wolves break their 12-year drought and make it to the playoffs during the 2016-2017 season.
A new power is rising in the Western Conference, and it feels good.
*All statistics used within this article have been pulled from NBA.com/stats and basketball-reference.com