Wolves Could Have Problems Rationing Minutes


For a team coming off of just 16 wins a season ago, Timberwolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell could face some tough decisions about who will play for them this upcoming season.

Getting to 15 players on the roster won’t necessarily be the hard part; it will be parceling out minutes to those who remain.

The Wolves now have 17 players on their roster and must cut to 15 by the beginning of the upcoming season. Assuming the team doesn’t make any more roster moves before the season begins, the two likeliest cuts are Damjan Rudez, a one-dimensional forward the team received in trade for Chase Budinger, and Lorenzo Brown, who has a partially-guaranteed contract.

Brown has become a minor fan favorite for his steady play and improvement since his rookie year and, while it would be nice to keep him, most fans won’t lose too much sleep over either cut.

Tyus Jones will likely not see regular NBA minutes this season, barring an injury.

After that, it gets more difficult. It’s rare for a head coach to give regular minutes to more than ten players. That means, barring injuries, at least five Wolves will be sitting when the outcomes of games are in doubt.

You may be thinking that a team that won the second-fewest games last season probably doesn’t have more than 10 players worthy of minutes. Not so for the Wolves. This is a team with a bunch of young, talented players who need minutes to develop, and there simply aren’t enough to go around.

Here’s the rest of the roster, with projected starters in bold/italics:

PG: Tyus Jones, Andre Miller, Ricky Rubio
SG/SF: Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad, Tayshaun Prince, Andrew Wiggins
PF/C: Anthony Bennett, Nemanja Bjelica, Gorgui Dieng, Kevin Garnett, Adreian Payne, Nikola Pekovic, Karl-Anthony Towns

So who will be the odd men out?

Jones is one obvious answer. Rubio is the starter and Miller the backup, leaving few minutes for the rookie, who needs time to adjust to the NBA in any event.

The Wolves have a logjam in the frontcourt as well, where either Bennett or Payne will likely sit. And if Bjelica is the solid rotation player he seems likely to be, they may both.

Prince should also stay on the bench. The veteran forward can provide stability and perhaps some mentoring for the Wolves’ young players, but he is not the player he once was and should not take significant minutes from the young Pups.

That leaves 11. If that’s where the team ends up, it seems likely that either Bjelica, Dieng, or Pekovic will be on the outside looking in as well.

Now, it’s unlikely the team will quite get to that point. General Manager Milt Newton will try to make at least one roster move before the season starts. It’s also rare for each player on a team to be healthy at the same time. Pekovic may not be ready to go to start the season and history shows that he, Martin, and Garnett at least are likely to miss some time.

Still, this year’s Wolves should not have to worry about having enough guys to play like they did at the end of last season.

Ya’ Know, a D-League Team Would Help Here

The roster situation also shows how the team should continue to be criticized for not having a D-League presence. Last week, the Indiana Pacers bought the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, which the Wolves had jointly used with 12 other teams last year.

Minnesota is now one of 11 teams without a D-League presence. The Wolves can still use the NBA’s “flexible assignment system” to find a home for a player, but the situation is less than ideal.

There is no good reason the team should not have a place to send guys like Jones, Bennett, and Payne to play meaningful minutes when they can’t during NBA games. It would be great if the Wolves had their own franchise in Saint Cloud, Fargo, Mankato, or somewhere else nearby. But it’s past time for them to step up and find a team to which to send these guys and make use of it.

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