Examining a roller coaster free agency for the Minnesota Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 21: President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 21: President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Minnesota Timberwolves, Jake Layman
PORTLAND, OR – APRIL 10: Jake Layman #10 of the Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

The Newcomers

There are a total of five players who have been added to the roster since the draft. Let’s take a look at each of them individually.

Napier is a steady, capable backup point guard that is comfortable bringing the ball up the floor and facilitating the offense from the top of the key. In 56 appearances for the Nets last season, he turned in 9.4 points, 2.6 assists, and 0.7 steals in 17.6 minutes per game.

What is most intriguing about Shabazz is his ability to knock down shots from behind the arc. Through five seasons in the league, he has shot 35.4 percent on 760 attempted 3s.

It is notable, however, that with each passing day it is looking increasingly likely that Minnesota’s own Tyus Jones will return to the Wolves next season, which means that Napier would likely be dealt sometime before the start of the season. We don’t know this to be true yet, but Jones is still without a home and there aren’t very many teams with cap space remaining.

It might be fair to assume that Treveon Graham will not suit up for the Wolves, given the current glut of wings on the roster. He is a 6-foot-5 guard who took a major step back in the shooting department last year.

Graham has shot 39.6 percent from the floor and 36.3 percent from downtown in his career, but turned in an abysmal 33.5 percent mark from the floor and connected on just 29.7 percent of his 3-point opportunities in a Nets uniform.

Given that he is still just 25 years old, Graham shown flashes of offensive upside thus far in his career and is on a partially guaranteed deal, Graham still has some trade value that Rosas might be able to utilize in the coming months.

Jordan Bell is entering his third season in the NBA after an up-and-down second season with the Warriors in which he averaged 3.3 points on 51.6 percent shooting, 2.7 boards, and 1.1 dimes per game to go along with 0.8 blocks in 11.6 minutes played per contest.

If you adjust these numbers for a 25-minute role, his stats jump to 7.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and an impressive 1.7 blocks and 0.7 steals per game.

While not totally surprising, what stood out to me the most about the Bell signing was who he turned down to come run with the Pack.

Jordan is an uber-athletic, defensively-minded big man that spent most of his time in the Bay Area as a plug-and-play defensive Energizer Bunny. He can set picks and roll to the rim for thunderous finishes on alley-oops, rotate correctly and emphatically block shots on defense, while also productively rebounding on both ends of the floor.

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He is just 24 years old and could prove to be a very moldable defensive asset for new Wolves defensive coordinator David Vanterpool.

Noah Vonleh is on the verge of having a breakout season that builds on his solid 2018-19 campaign for the New York Knicks. In his 68 games (57 starts) in the Big Apple, Vonleh recorded averages of 8.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.9 dimes, 0.8 rejections, and 0.7 steals in 25.3 minutes per game. Each of these were career highs for the 23-year-old big man.

It also should be noted that Noah shot 33.6 percent from deep on two 3-point attempts per game, which is a solid clip he will look to build on in 2019-20.

The Indiana University product’s best asset, however, is his defensive upside. He stands 6-foot-9, has a 7-foot-4 (!) wingspan, and moves pretty well for his size. For the crowd who might prefer Covington play the 3 and Wiggins play the 2 (myself among them), Vonleh can immediately start at power forward because of his switchability.

To paint a better picture of this, let’s take a look at his isolation numbers per the NBA’s Advanced Analytics portal.

Last season, he was the primary defender in isolation on 16.5 percent of the defensive possessions in which he was on the floor. He held his matchups to just 37 percent shooting and allowed a basket just 38 percent of the time. Those are all fantastic numbers for a starting power forward that is just 23.

Vonleh could slide in next to KAT and create a formidable glass-cleaning duo up front. He averaged 11.7 boards per 36 minutes and collected 34.7 percent of the Knicks’ defensive boards while he was on the floor last season. That is top-30 production among all starting power forwards and centers that started at least 50 games in the 2018-19 campaign.

Last season, Minnesota ranked a woeful 25th in the NBA in defensive rebounding. While a healthy RoCo and more engaged Wiggins will certainly provide some relief on the backboards, Vonleh will immediately mitigate a noticeable weakness for Ryan Saunders’ Wolves.

Noah Vonleh will step right in next season and play a big role in revitalizing the Wolves’ front-court play, starting on glass and on the defensive end. In case you aren’t already excited about the prospect of Vonleh starting at the 4, he’s already played in David Vanterpool’s defense in Portland and will undoubtedly improve his defensive game under one of the NBA’s brightest defensive minds.

The Wolves most recent addition was a shooter. Yes, you read that right. The Minnesota Timberwolves added a shooter when they landed Jake Layman in a sign-and-trade with the Portland Trailblazers.

Many casual Wolves fans went straight to Basketball-Reference.com and saw he shot just 32.6 percent from beyond the arc and were understandably perplexed as to why Layman is heralded as a ‘shooter’.

His overall season shooting split does not accurately elucidate his abilities as a shooter. Layman is an incredibly smart offensive player off the ball, especially when it comes to cutting backdoor and running off screens.

Layman also has good potential on the defensive end. Jake stands 6-foot-9 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan to match, has a 40-inch max vertical leap, and had a defensive rating of 107.8, which is a terrific number for a bench wing.

While he isn’t known for his defensive prowess, Layman could become a legitimate 3-and-D contributor on a super cheap contract.

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To get a better sense of his shot selection and his shooting form, you can view all of Jake’s shot attempts from the 2018-19 season here. Once you see him shoot, you will quickly realize that he has all the tools to be a tremendous shooter in the NBA for a long, long time.

Layman’s shooting was a tale of two halves of the season. Here are his shooting splits, separated by date. His numbers from the start of the season through Jan. 1 are listed first, while his shooting splits from Jan. 2 through the end of the regular season are displayed second.

Beginning of the season through Jan. 1:

  • Restricted area: 74.4 percent
  • In the paint (non-RA): 50.0 percent
  • Mid-Range: 30.0 percent
  • Left Corner 3:  11.1 percent
  • Right Corner 3: 40.0 percent
  • Above the Break 3: 40.0 percent
  • Overall FG%: 49.5 percent
  • Overall 3PT%: 35.2 percent

Jan. 2 through April 12:

  • Restricted area: 73.7 percent
  • In the paint (non-RA): 42.9 percent
  • Mid-Range: 44.8 percent
  • Left Corner 3:  33.3 percent
  • Right Corner 3: 18.8 percent
  • Above the Break 3: 33.3 percent
  • Overall FG%: 51.4 percent
  • Overall 3PT%: 31.5 percent

In the second half of the season, Layman adjusted and found more of his offense near the basket off cuts and attacking closeouts. If he can consistently knock down threes from both corners and above the break, Layman will carve out a sizable role that could see him scoring double-digits per game.

His scoring would be a big boost to a Minnesota team that is losing three double-digit scorers from a season ago in Dario Saric, Taj Gibson, and Derrick Rose.

Now, let’s take one final look at where the cap sheet stands now compared to what the Wolves still need and what’s still on the market.