The Minnesota Timberwolves’ long-term point guard situation is a little murky. If they can upgrade at the trade deadline, perhaps in the form of Dennis Smith Jr., they should.
By this summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves point guard situation could change dramatically. Jeff Teague has a $19 million player option, Tyus Jones will be a restricted free agent, and Derrick Rose will be looking for a big pay raise.
It is hard to imagine more than one of those players still being on the roster come the beginning of next season. With that being said, it’s better to be proactive than reactive — meaning it would benefit the Wolves to get ahead of this situation now and try to acquire a longer-term option at point guard.
With the trade deadline fastly approaching, the Wolves have limited time to make an in-season move. They will, however, have some options — perhaps none better than Dallas Mavericks point guard Dennis Smith Jr.
There have been conflicting reports lately on Smith’s future with the Mavericks. With Smith being a non-perfect fit next to franchise cornerstone Luka Doncic, it seemed that the Mavericks were ready to deal away the talented second-year guard. As of late, though, the two sides have reunited and Smith has returned to the Dallas starting lineup.
This doesn’t mean everything is perfect, however, and the Mavericks would surely part ways with Smith if the right deal came their way.
When it comes to the Timberwolves, this raises two questions: would Smith be a worthwhile addition to Minnesota’s young core, and if they believe he is, can they offer enough for Dallas to make a deal?
Let’s start with the first question. Last season, Smith had decent counting stats as a rookie — 15.2 points, 5.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 1 steal per game. He did that on 39.5/31.3/69.4 shooting splits, which equaled out to an effective field goal percentage of 44.9 — 16th percentile among combo guards, per Cleaning The Glass.
Playing second fiddle to Doncic this season, Smith’s numbers have dipped but his efficiency has risen. He is now shooting 43.8 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from 3, and 69.7 percent from the free throw line. His effective field goal percentage has risen to 49.3.
Not being the offense’s main threat has helped Smith find easier shots, but it has also helped his efficiency that he has shot 75 percent of his shots either at the rim or from deep (up from 69 percent last season). He’s shooting just 53 percent at the rim, 21st percentile among point guards, which will rise if Smith can better time and place his relentless attacking.
Smith is still a work in progress on the defensive end, but he’s made some promising improvements this season. It’s important to remember that he is just 21 years old and playing point guard in the NBA is hard.
Piecing all that together, it would make a lot of sense for Minnesota to make a run at Smith. With Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins slated to take up half of the Wolves salary sheet starting next season, finding value will be key moving forward. The best value in the NBA is typically found in talented players on rookie-scale deals — a category Smith resides in. After this season, Smith will still have two full seasons until he is owed his first big contract.
Now, let’s address the more important question: can the Wolves actually entice Dallas into making a deal?
First off, let’s identify the contracts Dallas would almost certainly not take back: Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Jeff Teague. In some universe, the Mavs may be interested in taking back one of those guys, especially if the Wolves were willing to take Harrison Barnes off their hands. But the likelihood of it being this one seems very low.
Money-wise, making this deal is easy for the Wolves — Smith is making just $3.8 million this season. The best, most likely deal Minnesota could make here is something along the lines of Tyus Jones and a protected first round pick for Smith. Dallas’s pick is (most likely) going to Atlanta via their draft day trade for Luka Doncic, so they are surely looking to add a pick in any Smith trade.
Per The Athletic, the Lakers, Knicks, and Magic have discussed deals for Smith thus far. In some form or fashion, any of those teams could fulfill Dallas’s desires with young assets or a pick. Unless the Mavs are high on Jones or the Wolves send a lightly protected pick their way, it’s hard to imagine a deal happening here.
Whether Smith becomes a Wolf or not, the thinking should remain the same: go after young talents when they become available. Injecting young, cheap talents alongside the handsomely-paid Wiggins and Towns will be a key factor for the Wolves to rise up the Western Conference ranks.