Minnesota Timberwolves: Do the Wolves only have two starters?

Do the Minnesota Timberwolves only have two starting-caliber players?

The Minnesota Timberwolves have two stars signed to max contracts. What they do not have, however, is much of anything else.

John Hollinger of The Athletic and the Hollinger & Duncan NBA Podcast recently penned a few thoughts on four of the non-NBA re-start teams (subscription required). The Wolves were one of the squads that Hollinger focused on, and he had some interesting thoughts.

Hollinger, of course, was a longtime member of ESPN, inventor of the now-widely (mis)used Player Efficiency Rating (PER) as well as the Game Score metric and spent six-plus years as the Vice President of Basketball Operations with the Memphis Grizzlies.

The article is only available to subscribers of The Athletic, so we’re unable to place exact quotes here, but the content is still worth a general perusal and discussion.

What do the Wolves have beyond Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell?

Minnesota Timberwolves: Hollinger on the Wolves’ next steps

Hollinger begins by acknowledging that the Wolves have two “top-40” players at their respective positions in Towns and Russell. Of course, this is noted to underscore the lack of top-level depth at the other spots; Towns is certainly a top-three center and Russell is widely regarded as a top-15 point guard.

The problem, of course, is that there isn’t much else on the roster, at least not in terms of known quantities.

We’ll address that, along with the discussion around the pair of restricted free agents the Wolves have, in just a moment. First, let’s talk about the rest of the piece.

The key takeaway from this piece is the praise that Hollinger offers for Gersson Rosas related to the job he’s done in the first year on the job.

He lists virtually every single Wolves roster move as a “plus”, from the fringey free agent signings (Layman, Naz Reid, the two-way deals) to the deadline deal that brought the Nuggets duo and a first-round pick to the Wolves, to turning Andrew Wiggins into something of real value.

That’s the part that we can all agree with. In fact, Hollinger even compares the first 12-plus months of Rosas’ tenure to the early stages of Daryl Morey’s time in Houston, as he was making incremental improvements to the roster while biding time to acquire a star. The big difference, of course, is that Rosas already has his star, and he has a lot less money to play with.

Okay, back to the nothing-on-the-roster-besides-Towns-and-Russell conversation…

What do the Wolves have beyond Towns and Russell?

One might note that Malik Beasley flashed third-star upside in 14 games in a Minnesota Timberwolves uniform this year, but Hollinger seems skeptical that he’s anything more than a third wing. Yes, there is a real defensive shortcoming and not a ton of on-ball explosion, but if Beasley shoots anything like he has so far in Minnesota and continues to be a terror in transition, then he could at least be a starting-caliber two-guard in today’s NBA.

Hollinger also notes that Josh Okogie fits the rotation as a bench player and defensive stopper and that Jake Layman was acquired as a solid value last offseason. He believes that Juancho Hernangomez is a rotation-worthy player on a playoff team but doesn’t see him as a starter.

Perhaps Wolves fans are overrating Beasley and Hernangomez, and we’d all be excused for doing that, at least on some level. But the thought here is that Hollinger is underrating their respective upsides; playing alongside Russell and Towns should raise both of their floors. And with no reigns on the 3-point shot in Ryan Saunders’ offense and a wide-open floor, they should make some noise.

Remember, they both came from Denver. While the Nuggets are one of the league’s best teams, they are No. 29 in pace so far this season and are only No. 26 in 3-point attempts per game. And that’s not to mention the diminished roles that both Beasley and Hernangomez dealt with during the 2019-20 campaign.

Count yours truly in the camp that believes in both Beasley and Hernangomez as starting-caliber players on a playoff team. Perhaps they’re more top-seven rotation members than shoo-in starters, but they’re both worthy of 20-plus minutes on a good team.

Hollinger is clearly correct in his analysis that the roster has only improved incrementally over the past year, beyond the upgrade from Wiggins to Russell. There is work to be done, and it’s not a reality that Rosas has shied away from, either, taking on that sentiment on in the media rather frequently.

Next: Can Karl-Anthony Towns anchor the Wolves defense?

Can Rosas pull off a move for a true third star? Or will he pony-up to keep Beasley, believing that he’s the answer? Both are believable scenarios. The next few months will be fascinating, to say the least.