Minnesota Timberwolves 2015 Position Outlook: Power Forward


This is the fourth 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 power forward position.

Roughly a year ago, the power forward position changed dramatically for the Minnesota Timberwolves when they sent their franchise player and All-Star Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a trade. Shortly after that, the Wolves acquired Thaddeus Young from the Philadelphia 76ers in a trade and he became the starting power forward for the 2014-15 season.

Things have changed slightly since then.

First of all, Kevin Garnett was acquired in a trade last February that sent Young to the Brooklyn Nets. Garnett recently signed a two-year contract extension to stay in Minnesota for his 21st and 22nd NBA seasons.

Garnett’s experience and ability to mentor the young players on the roster are invaluable, and it appears as if Flip Saunders and the rest of the front office agree (he’s getting paid $16 million over the two-year deal). It’s clear that some of his basketball knowledge was already rubbing off on the youngsters down the stretch last season. This season, he’ll have even more youth to take under his wing as the Wolves spent the first overall pick in the NBA Draft on big man Karl-Anthony Towns (more on him in my piece on the center position coming soon).

As far as Garnett’s on-court contributions, he isn’t anything close to what he used to be. Offensively, despite his limited athleticism, he’s a decent role player who can knock down the mid-range jumper with the best of them and can run the pick-and-roll well, too. Additionally, his tremendous basketball IQ can never be ignored.

Defensively, Garnett is still one of the best big men in the NBA. In his five games with the Timberwolves last season, he averaged 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes and recorded a block percentage of 3.2.

Besides his ability to protect the rim, Garnett simply knows how to play defense. He’s always in the right spot and can still defend the pick-and-roll at a high level. Each of these factors led to this incredible stat that shows how much of an impact Garnett actually had on the Wolves defense when he was healthy.

For 2015-16, my hope is that Garnett can play in roughly 50-60 games while averaging about 15-20 minutes in those games. It should be a priority to keep Garnett healthy when he’s getting paid as much as he is, so giving Garnett a day off here and there should be encouraged. If Garnett can stay relatively healthy, it’ll be a huge boost for this Wolves team.

Nemanja Bjelica (nay-MON-yah, bee-ELL-eetz-ah) is another recent addition to the Wolves roster at the power forward position. Well, sort of.

The reigning Euroleague MVP is listed as a point-forward in Europe, which should indicate the kind of skills he has. At 6-foot-10, Bjelica is an excellent ball handler and passer for his size while also possessing the ability to hit the perimeter shot consistently. Moreover, on the defensive end, Bjelica isn’t a bad rim protector. However, he’ll have to make that adjustment to defending the bigger and more athletic players in the NBA compared to the athletes he defended overseas.

Just in case you haven’t seen the Bjelica highlights, here’s the clip from YouTube I’ve used a few times previously.

Bjelica’s minutes during the 2015-16 season are hard to predict, especially this early. He seems like the perfect type of stretch four-man to stretch the floor for the Wolves offense. If I had to take a guess, I’d say by season’s end Bjelica averages roughly 20-25 minutes per game, with a few of those minutes possibly at the small forward position. If Bjelica can become a consistent scoring threat and can adjust to the faster NBA game, he’ll be a pretty solid player for the Wolves.

Another candidate to earn some power forward minutes this season is Adreian Payne, a player that draws many different opinions from Wolves fans. In his short stint last season in Minnesota, he was less than impressive. He was lost on what seemed like every possession and just doesn’t seem to understand how to defend the pick-and-roll.

Additionally, Payne plays with a ton of energy, which can be a good thing or a bad thing for him. Plenty of times before, we’ve seen Payne lose control driving to the hoop and miss an easy layup. However, that energy usually does him well on the glass, which is one area where he has excelled as a pro.

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From Payne, I expect somewhere from 10-15 minutes per game for the 2015-16 season. I would personally like to see him get more minutes because I don’t think we know what we have in Payne yet, and I’d like to find out. However, giving Payne extra minutes would cost either Garnett, Bjelica, or Karl-Anthony Towns minutes and it’s just not worth it.

I guess I better include Anthony Bennett in this piece as well, although I don’t really see him contributing to the Wolves very much at all this season. Not only is he firmly on the trade block, but he simply hasn’t shown much in his two seasons of NBA experience. Hopefully, for his sake, another team is willing to take a chance on him because it just doesn’t seem like Bennett will pan out in Minnesota, especially after the additions of Towns and Bjelica.

A couple of other players that could see minutes at the four spot include Towns and possibly Gorgui Dieng. If two of the three centers are on the floor (the other being a healthy Nikola Pekovic), expect one of either Towns or Dieng to slide to the four. Still, as long as Pekovic is hurt I don’t expect this to be the case very often.

On a team loaded with talent, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ least talented position is probably the power forward position, which is a bit different than in years past. However, Kevin Garnett’s experience and mentorship combined with Bjelica’s possible contributions off the bench prove that the power forward position could be pretty important for the Wolves in 2015-16.

Other Timberwolves Positional Analysis Pieces: Point Guard, Shooting Guard, Small Forward

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