Using advanced stats to find 8 perfect role-player fits for the Minnesota Timberwolves

If the Minnesota Timberwolves already have their two superstars in place, then it's time to look for valuable role players to fill out the roster.

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Matisse Thybulle #22 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

With D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns firmly in place as cornerstones for the Minnesota Timberwolves, it’s time for the front office to start looking around the league for potential fits.

As always, they’ll have to keep in mind the importance of finding high-value contracts through trades or free agency.

Head coach Ryan Saunders has seemed to prioritize 3-point shooting and cuts to the basket offensively, so it makes sense for the front office to target players who excel in those areas. More importantly, the Wolves need guys who can defend at a high-to-elite level.

Using NBA.com’s play type stats for spot-up shooting and cutting efficiency, and Bball Index’s Player Impact Plus-Minus (PIPM), I compiled a few lists of players who best fit the Wolves’ desired criteria.

After filtering out players who played less than 16 minutes per game during the 2019-20 season, I then searched for players who ranked in at least the 75th percentile in Defensive PIPM.

While it would be fantastic to find wings that are great defenders and shooters and finishers, there were only five players in the league who ranked at or above the 75th percentile in each category. Instead, it seemed more prudent to search for players who were in the 75th percentile defensively and in one of the categories offensively, whether that be as a spot-up shooter or cutter.

For spot-up shooters, the list was 18 names long. For cutters, there were 16. On a list of players who were above the 75th percentile in defense, 50th in shooting and 50th in cutting, there were 22 names. A few players made multiple lists.

Remember, the name of the game is finding superstars and surrounding them with talent that doesn't weight down your books or impact your flexibility. The Wolves are clearly all-in on Towns and Russell, and that means that they're onto the next phase.

What follows are a few of the names that stood out as potentially obtainable for the Wolves...

Spot-Up Shooters

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 04: Royce O'Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz attempts a shot. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

Royce O’Neale – 6-foot-4, 6-foot-10 wingspan
Forward, Utah Jazz

  • DPIPM (Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus): 1.78 / 92nd percentile
  • Spot-Up Points Per Possession (PPP): 1.16 / 83rd
  • Cutter PPP: 1.33 / 62nd

Royce O’Neale might be hard to pry away from Utah, but he’s exactly the type of player the Wolves should be looking for.

After going undrafted in 2015 out of Baylor, he played in Germany and Spain before landing with the Jazz.

O’Neale is a classic 3-and-D small forward who can play multiple positions and has shot 39 percent from beyond the arc two years in a row. He’s a difference-maker on both ends, despite scoring only 6.3 points per contest.

If O’Neale were to somehow become available, the Wolves should be the first ones on the phone.

Dennis Schröder – 6-foot-1, 6-foot-8 wingspan
Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder

  • DPIPM: 1.04 / 86th percentile
  • Spot-Up PPP: 1.12 / 78th
  • Cutter PPP: 1.54 / 91st

Dennis Schröder was one of only five players to rank in the top 25 percent in DPIPM, spot-up PPP, and cutter PPP (the others were Kawhi Leonard, Duncan Robinson, Tobias Harris and Will Barton -- not bad company).

Playing alongside guards Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Schröder had the most efficient season of his career with a slash of .468/.381/.839 (field goal, 3-point, and free throw percentages) and showed that he could play off-ball in addition to his on-ball skills.

He is a free agent in 2021 and the Wolves might have to overpay to get him to come to Minnesota as a secondary option. In terms of statistical fit, though, he is near the top of the list.

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Cutters

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PHOENIX, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 26: Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns controls the ball. Copyright 2020 NBAE. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Mikal Bridges – 6-foot-6, 7-foot-1 wingspan
Forward, Phoenix Suns

  • DPIPM: 1.72 / 91st percentile
  • Spot-Up PPP: 0.85 / 27th
  • Cutter: 1.49 PPP / 87th

Mikal Bridges is a name that’s been thrown around a few Dunking With Wolves discussions. He makes a lot of sense as a long defender who could cause problems on the perimeter. He also moves well offensively and cuts to the basket even more frequently than Josh Okogie.

As a 3-point shooter, Bridges hasn’t been the knockdown threat some hoped he would be, but there’s still plenty of time to improve on what’s already a respectable 35.2 percent from deep.

Isaac Bonga – 6-foot-8, 7-foot-0 wingspan
Forward, Washington Wizards

  • DPIPM: 2.08 / 96th percentile
  • Spot-Up PPP: 1.3 / 61st
  • Cutter: 1.44 / 81st

The sample sizes on his spot-up shooting and cutting are small, but Bonga’s defensive impact makes him interesting for the Wolves regardless.

After playing a year for the Lakers, he was sent to Washington as part of the Anthony Davis trade in 2019. This year, he was one of the few Wizards to post a positive DPIPM, ranking in the 96th percentile league-wide.

He also showed glimpses of offensive potential, hitting 40 percent on 0.9 3-point attempts per game and scoring 1.44 points per possession on 0.4 cuts to the basket. He’ll be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2021, and the Timberwolves should take a long look if he posts another strong season.

Matisse Thybulle – 6-foot-5, 7-foot-0 wingspan
Wing, Philadelphia 76ers

  • DPIPM: 1.23 / 88th percentile
  • Spot-Up PPP: 0.94 PPP / 44th
  • Cutter: 1.46 PPP / 82nd

Thybulle would be a good fit with the Wolves, and it makes sense because he’s as close to a statistical clone of Josh Okogie as you can get. In fact, I included him in this list mainly to point out the similarities.

There would be drawbacks for sure, but a lineup featuring Okogie and Thybulle would be awesome to watch. First, a comparison of their bios and traditional shooting percentages.

  • Height
    • Okogie: 6-foot-5
    • Thybulle: 6-foot-5
  • Wingspan
    • Okogie: 7-foot
    • Thybulle: 7-foot
  • Draft Position
    • Okogie: No. 20 in 2018
    • Thybull: No. 20 in 2019
  • Field Goal Percentage
    • Okogie: 42.7 percent
    • Thybull: 41.0 percent
  • 3-Point Percentage
    • Okogie: 26.6 percent
    • Thybulle: 35.2 percent

Outside of 3-point shooting, it's eery. Now, let's look at some Point Per Possession numbers.

  • Pick-and-Roll Ball-Handler
    • Okogie: 0.62 PPP
    • Thybulle: 0.69 PPP
  • Spot-Up
    • Okogie: 0.89 PPP
    • Thybulle: 0.94 PPP
  • Off Screen
    • Okogie: 0.64
    • Thybulle: 0.63
  • Cutter
    • Okogie: 1.43
    • Thybulle: 1.46

Crazy, isn't it? Lots of great defense and some overall disappointing offense with exciting moments. Again, an Okogie-Thybulle pairing would be much stronger on defense than offense, but there would remain some upside on both ends of the floor.

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All-Around Fits

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LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 05: Alex Caruso #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

Below are the players who may not have excelled in terms of spot-up shooting or cutting efficiency, but were above the 50th percentile in each while hitting the 75th percentile in Defensive PIPM.

Larry Nance Jr.— 6-foot-9, 7-foot-1 wingspan
Forward/Center, Cleveland Cavaliers

  • DPIPM: 1.39 / 89th percentile
  • Spot-Up PPP: 1.05 / 67th
  • Cutter PPP: 1.31 / 56th

Nance checks just about every box as a starting 4 for the Wolves. He’s high-energy, an outstanding rebounder, switchable on defense while also offering help in the paint, and effective on offense where he gets almost all of his points off assists.

He raised his 3-point percentage to 35.2 percent on 2.8 attempts per game this year, and he’s also been effective cutting to the basket for layups and dunks.

If Gersson Rosas could acquire him for a reasonable price, Nance would be an awesome fit in Minnesota.

Alex Caruso – 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 wingspan
Guard, Los Angeles Lakers

  • DPIPM: 1.53 / 90th percentile
  • Spot-Up PPP: 1.03 / 62nd
  • Cutter PPP: 1.3 / 55th

As the fifth player on this list to have played in either Los Angeles or Germany (Isaac Bonga played in both), Alex Caruso would be another great pickup for Minnesota.

His reputation speaks for itself as he’s been one of the most impactful bench players in the league and a key contributor for the 49-14 Los Angeles Lakers.

Caruso will be a free agent in 2021 and it will be interesting to see what type of offers he draws. There are always other backup point guards available, but few who can give the type of defensive leadership Caruso has shown. Will he be worth the price for Rosas and the Wolves?

Meyers Leonard – 7-foot-1, 7-foot-3 wingspan
Center, Miami Heat

  • DPIPM: 1.49 / 90th percentile
  • Spot-Up PPP: 1.07 PPP / 70th
  • Cutter PPP: 1.39 PPP / 72nd

Although not known for his defense, Leonard took a big step forward this year in Miami and drew praise from coach Erik Spoelstra for his communication and leadership on that end.

Offensively, he’s a career 39 percent 3-point shooter who made 42.9 percent this year and ranked in the 99th percentile in spot-up shooting a year ago. He’s also been an effective pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop option, ranking in the 87th percentile on plays he finished two years in a row.

With Minnesota looking to develop Naz Reid as a backup center, Leonard doesn’t make the most sense in this year’s free agency class, but he could be a good option later on if things don’t work out with Naz.

So, there you have it. Eight players who would be good fits with the Wolves statistically. There are others who fit the criteria, but these are the ones who made the most sense based on their position, age, salary, and overall availability.

It’s worth noting that both Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez were above the 75th percentile in cutting and spot-up shooting a year ago, though they fell below those thresholds this season.

Next: Who could be the Wolves' third star?

It will be interesting to see if any of these eight players end up on the Wolves’ roster over the next few years.