June 28, 2018, 9:09 pm
The Minnesota Timberwolves entered the offseason with a wide range of possibilities, a fair amount of skepticism and even a little bit of drama. How would the Wolves maneuver this offseason while capped out in salary? Would they consider trading Wiggins? Would they trade their young assets for some salary relief? How would they approach the draft with a team looking to win now, but a bench filled with holes? Does Towns really have is sights set elsewhere?
Thankfully the Thibodeau and Towns rift, which was overblown in the first place, has seemed to quiet down of late (an upcoming max contract extension should shut the door on that for good).
As the draft came and went, the team was unexpectedly quiet. There were certainly some rumors that the Wolves were looking to move the pick. Before the draft it was speculated that they would be open to trading their first round pick in order to shed Gorgui Dieng’s contract. As the draft got underway there were rumors that the team was looking to move back in the first round, hoping to acquire an additional pick.
In the end they played it safe, opting to sit tight and pick where they were originally slotted. This strategy seemed to pay off as the Wolves were able to select the guy they loved at No. 20 in Josh Okogie, and land a guy they considered at No. 20 all the way in the second round in Keita Bates-Diop.
Looking back the draft was, on paper, a tremendous success for the Wolves, who were able to fill two positions of need with some upside without sacrificing anything. In addition to Tyus Jones and Dieng, the Wolves have every position firmly backed up with players under the age of 28 (Justin Patton remains a wildcard).
It’s unfair to expect Okogie and Bates-Diop to step in right away and contribute (this is Thibodeau we’re talking about), but both guys provide a baseline for the Wolves to work with.
Okogie is viewed as a spot-up shooter right now, and a guy that can make a difference athletically with his defense in short bursts. He will only need to pick Butler’s brain to learn the intricacies of Thibs’ system. He’s raw and isn’t a shot creator yet, but can still find ways to make an impact.
Bates-Diop is a bit more seasoned and gives the team insurance if they can’t bring Nemanja Bjelica back (who was just extended a qualifying offer). He’s versatile enough to play along side Bejlica if they re-sign him, or take over his role as a combo 4/3.
Thibs likely isn’t comfortable going into the season with rookies as the primary backups on up the wings, but each draft pick projects to fill in the cracks that plagued the Wolves last season. With their depth taken care of in the long-term, now they can look ahead to free agency and target niche players; guys that fit Thibs’ system and strengthen their bench.
The Wolves’ options will be limited on the free agent market, with just the mid-level exception (MLE) and bi-annual exception (BAE) available in their arsenal, but there’s enough talent out there that their MLE should still be enough to attract a valuable piece.
Now it will just be a matter of selling a free agent a role that is better than another team’s. Last year the Wolves had just two reserve players over 20 minutes per game, and the year before they had none. Thibodeau has a reputation of playing his starters significantly more minutes and with the Wolves he has doubled down on that effort. That gives potential players coming in some pause as they question their role. Jamal Crawford was vocal about his lack of playing time in December.
Thibs will have to convince incoming free agents that their involvement will be greater than what he has proven the last two years, but there is some room for optimism. When looking at the players of prior years, it’s fair to say that Thibs hasn’t had much to work with off the bench and his best chance to win has been with his starters. Crawford and Dieng certainly had their flaws last year and probably deserved the limited minutes they got.
With more versatile and better players, Thibs has shown a willingness to lengthen his bench (the days of Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks and young Jimmy Butler come to mind). Of course last season there’s certainly an argument that Tyus Jones and Nemanja Bjelica didn’t get the looks they deserved (and Marcus Georges-Hunt was criminally underused).
It’ll be on Thibs to promise a better role for an incoming free agent, but also to make good on the players already here that deserve it. He has the personnel to do it, and thanks to the draft has some insurance options.
With concrete backups at the point and center locked in, expect the Wolves to target a wing with their MLE. Avery Bradley has gotten some early buzz, but someone like Joe Harris could be a great fit next to the more defensive-minded Jones and Dieng, and his switching ability would play well with Okogie and Bates-Diop in the long run. Derrick Rose also looms as a near-certain returnee, but he will likely be put aside until after the Wolves make their big move.
Our own Aaron Bruski recent released his free agent rankings, a valuable tool for an in-depth look at the market. Spoiler: he really like Joe Harris.
Free Agency opens at 12:01 am on July 1.