The new-look Minnesota Timberwolves have scored in the most impressive fashion against two of the best teams in the NBA, the Clippers and Raptors. But their defense has not been up to par thus far.
Minnesota’s halfcourt defense made enough key stops to beat the Clippers, but the Raptors were a whole other animal.
Toronto scored 35 points in the fast break, which was almost a quarter of all the points they scored. Those 35 points were either easy layups or uncontested three-pointers.
If the Wolves can limit teams to score less in transition and force them into more difficult half court situations, the defense would instantly look much better. That’s easier said than done as three of the best teams in generating fast break points also have the best records in the NBA in Toronto, Milwaukee, and the Lakers.
For the Wolves with Karl-Anthony Towns, who is not the most fleet of foot and has a tendency to crash the glass for offensive rebounds, defense is a problem.
The solution is for the Wolves to pair KAT with another big who can sprint the floor and protect the rim in transition.
To get that done, Gersson Rosas should sign Dragan Bender, who was just waived by the Bucks. Bender might have the reputation of a bust, but he has been able to transform his body since he was drafted in 2016 and he looks like a completely different player.
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It wasn’t realistic to expect a teenager with no muscle mass to do anything in the NBA as a big man, and the Suns definitely ran out of patience when it wasn’t necessarily Bender’s fault.
Bender is 7-foot-1 and one of his most unique strengths is his acceleration and speed in transition. He rivals the fastest bigs like Clint Capela or Anthony Davis and looks like he can keep up with most wings or guards.
In the half court, Dragan can switch on smaller players and he would bring some much-needed length to protect the rim and grab rebounds. He is not the most athletic player, so he is probably not going to fly in from the weak side to block a shot ,but he would be solid on the perimeter with his size and positioning to force a lot of tough shots like Lauri Markannen does in Chicago.
He also offers more length than Markannen, so he is versatile enough to play power forward, center, or even some small forward with his speed and lateral quickness.
Offensively, he fits perfectly as a stretch four.
In the G League this year, he made 37.8% of his threes on 5.7 attempts. He is also a great cutter, sets screens, and can either roll or pop. Bender looks a lot stronger now and can punish smaller players on the block. Dragan can also handle the ball and has great vision as a passer.
There are a lot of reasons why he was drafted so high in 2016, and he is finally starting to look like an NBA player that can actually produce and fulfill his potential.
Bender is a very versatile big and could play with KAT, James Johnson, or Juancho Hernangomez. That would give the Wolves a strong rotation of bigs in which at least two of them can sprint back and defend in transition where Minnesota’s defense has really struggled.