The Minnesota Timberwolves underwent plenty of personnel changes over the offseason, including multiple moves at the power forward and center positions. With that uncertainty, it’s difficult to predict how the big man rotation will shake out this season.
With former Minnesota Timberwolves Taj Gibson and Anthony Tolliver departing in free agency and Dario Saric being dealt to the Suns, three rotation players with the ability to play at least one of the positions down low will need to be replaced.
Karl-Anthony Towns is prepared to take on a bigger offensive workload than ever and will need to take on his fair share of minutes guarding Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and plenty of other difficult defensive matchups at the center position throughout the season. Because of this anticipated heavy workload, it’s important for the Wolves to plan out ways to give him occasional breathers as well as making sure to structure them in a way that minimizes the effect of their star player being on the bench.
The Timberwolves added a few potential contributors in the offseason to try to accomplish just that.
One of the Wolves’ offseason acquisitions was adding Noah Vonleh in free agency.
While playing for the Knicks last season, Vonleh flashed some impressive defensive ability. According to Basketball Reference, he finished 8th among qualified power forwards last season in Defensive Box Plus/Minus, which measures how many points above average a player is on the defensive end of the court. He was also an excellent rebounder, finishing 3rd among power forwards in Total Rebound percentage.
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While the early returns on Vonleh throughout the preseason have been mixed, he does have the skillset to guard conventional big men in the post and hold his own when asked to switch on the perimeter. When the Wolves play the more talented 4’s and 5’s in the league, Vonleh could take some of that burden off of Towns to allow him to expend more of his energy on the offensive end of the floor. Also, when Vonleh is playing with Towns on the bench, this could allow them to play a smaller, faster lineup with Robert Covington or Jake Layman at the 4 and Vonleh taking on the rim protector and rebounding role.
Another offseason addition was Jordan Bell, who was picked up in free agency after spending the first two years of his career in Golden State. Bell is a very athletic player that could be well suited to play in a Timberwolves system that is rumored to be more up-tempo this season.
Bell had an up-and-down stint with the Warriors, occasionally starting games but also falling out of the rotation entirely for stretches. While he had a bit of a reputation for not being in the right spot at the right time he’s still a young player at 24 years old, and his energy and effort along with his athleticism make him an intriguing option.
Bell could be the energy-bringing, rim-running, athletic big that the Timberwolves have not had on the roster in recent years. Gorgui Dieng, Dario Saric, Taj Gibson, and Anthony Tolliver certainly did not fit this description.
When the Wolves wanted to play with a faster, more athletic lineup, the only option was often to play small and leave the paint vulnerable. When Towns is off the floor, Bell potentially gives them the option to play small without doing this.
While this option has its share of drawbacks, playing Jordan Bell at the five while Towns is resting does give them the opportunity to match smaller lineups and play a small-ball four such as Layman or Covington along with Bell. This is probably the smallest configuration the Wolves can play, and it does rely heavily on Bell making strides in his rim protection skills.
If he can’t do that, this is more likely only effective as an emergency option if foul trouble strikes.
Through all of the roster turnover, the Timberwolves made an honest effort to fill the gaps left by the offseason departures, and longtime Timberwolves’ fixture Gorgui Dieng will certainly be given an opportunity to earn his minutes as well.
With the salary cap limiting their resources to find viable options, and they picked up a few players with skill sets that could ease parts of Karl-Anthony Towns’ massive responsibility. With the increased focus on load management and keeping players fresh deep into the season, it will be essential to give him enough rest to keep the big man fresh deep into the season if the Timberwolves have any hope at a run to the playoffs.