Minnesota Timberwolves 2015 Position Outlook: Small Forward


This is the third piece in a series of five articles that will analyze each position for the Timberwolves heading into the 2015 season. Today we take a look at the small forward position.

As we’ve mentioned many times on this site, the Minnesota Timberwolves have some serious young talent on the roster as a whole. But the small forward position might have the most talent on this team, as the Wolves boast two of the brightest young swingmen in the NBA today.

Andrew Wiggins seems like a good place to start because, you know, he won the NBA Rookie of the Year award last season. You really can’t say enough about everything Wiggins did in his rookie campaign. He started all 82 games and finished the season playing the second-most minutes in the NBA, only trailing James Harden of Houston. Wiggins’ final statline included 16.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 36.2 MPG and 43% FG.

Those numbers are pretty impressive for a 19-year-old rookie, but they get even better when you factor in all of the responsibilities that Wiggins took on. From game one of the season, head coach Flip Saunders appointed Wiggins to defend the opposing team’s best scoring wingman. In other words, Wiggins defended guys like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and James Harden.

To his credit, Wiggins held his own against these players. We’ve all seen this clip before, but I’m including it anyway as an example of Wiggins’ defense against an elite scorer in Harden.

Offensively, Wiggins quickly became the primary scoring option for Saunders, in part due to all the injuries that hit the Wolves once again. Opposing teams would usually match up their best perimeter defender with Wiggins. Despite this, Wiggins improved mightily down the stretch.

He became more aggressive and attacked the rim at a much higher rate, which resulted in his free throw numbers increasing as well. Over eight games in the month of April, Wiggins averaged 23.3 PPG while shooting 45% from the floor and over 80% from the free throw line, including averaging over 10 free throw attempts per game during this stretch.

Going into the 2015-16 season, it will be very interesting to see how Wiggins progresses. His rookie season indicated that he has potential to be a superstar, and he could definitely take a big step in his second season. I expect Wiggins to start at small forward as long as he’s healthy and play roughly 35 minutes per game. And as I mentioned in my last post, Wiggins may also see some minutes at the shooting guard position if Saunders decides to go with a big lineup.

If Wiggins can improve his efficiency on the offensive end in 2015-16 (that was his main weakness during his rookie season), he’ll definitely start to take that next step towards becoming a superstar.

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Shabazz Muhammad is the other young stud at the small forward position for the Timberwolves. It’s really a shame that he spent most of last season injured, because when he was on the floor he was probably the most efficient scorer for the Wolves. His final season statline included 22.8 MPG, 13.5 PPG, and 4.1 RPG while shooting 49% from the field and 39% from three-point range. That efficiency that I previously mentioned is more evident when looing at Muhammad’s per 36 minutes stats, which are 21.3 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Muhammad’s offensive game could be the ideal spark for the Wolves to have coming off the bench. With Kevin Martin and Wiggins likely as the starting wings, Muhammad seems in line to come off the bench in that role. He can be serious match-up problem for opposing defenses as he’s able to post up smaller wings but is generally quick enough for the bigger players.

Defensively, Muhammad does need to improve. However, and I’ve said this before about Zach LaVine, the fact that Muhammad has solid athleticism still gives him some potential to become at least a decent defender.

As far as the 2015-16 season, I expect Muhammad to play anywhere in the 20-25 minutes range, most of these minutes relieving Wiggins at the small forward position. Ideally, Muhammad will be that aforementioned scoring spark off the bench.

A couple of other guys that could see small forward minutes include Nemanja Bjelica, Chase Budinger, or Robbie Hummel (if he’s still on the roster after having his qualifying offer withdrawn by the team). Bjelica and Budinger will each be solid perimeter shooting threats for the Wolves, while Hummel would add some value off the bench, too.

Overall, the small forward spot for the Minnesota Timberwolves might be the strongest position on the roster between Wiggins and Muhammad. Wiggins is already the next face of the franchise after winning the Rookie of the Year, while Muhammad has shown a ton of promise as a very competent scoring plug off the bench. There’s no doubting the potential that this team has, and that definitely includes the guys at the small forward position.

Other Timberwolves 2015 Position Outlook pieces: Point Guard, Shooting Guard

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