In their most recent game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, one thing was clear for the Timberwolves; this team is missing a lot of important pieces. Going into the game, the injury report included Rudy Gobert, Karl Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Jordan McLaughlin, and Taurean Prince. To be fair, injuries can’t begin to describe the Timberwolves’ issues this year, as the team has struggled with three-point shooting, transition defense, and especially the integration of Gobert. However, the Timberwolves can still look to improve during this injured stretch.
Tonight’s @Timberwolves starters at Oklahoma City:
Gobert – Left Ankle Sprain
McLaughlin – Left Calf Strain
Prince – Right Shoulder Subluxation
Russell – Left Knee Contusion
Towns – Right Calf Strain
— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) December 17, 2022
How the Timberwolves Bench can Overcome Their Injury Report
Those who remember last season will recall how many important players were lost to health and safety protocols. The Timberwolves’ bench unit outperformed their expectations and set the tone for the return of the starters. If one were to pick, the inflection point game would be the December 23rd victory against the Boston Celtics. The Timberwolves won 51.6% of their games up until this point and won 60.7% of their games for the rest of the season. This season, with the team in a painfully similar position, who can the coaching staff look to for new production?
It’s safe to assume that the starting lineup will remain as Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Towns, and Gobert once the team returns to full health. After that, there are a few names that will remain as key pieces of the Timberwolves’ bench. These guys will be looked at to fill the major gaps in the starting lineup. Namely three-point shooting, transition defense, effort, and continuity.
This group includes Kyle Anderson, Jordan McLaughlin, and Taurean Prince. The team will rely on Anderson for his 40% three-point shooting, wing defense, and occasional point guard play. Jordan Mclaughlin will continue to be the plus/minus king for the squad, leading the way with a +86 by being the force that keeps the offense moving. Taurean Prince will be your classic 3&D a necessary addition for any team looking to compete.
The Easy Options
The next category will be guys looked at to use their skill sets to bolster the players above them. This group includes Austin Rivers, Bryn Forbes, Jaylen Nowell, and Naz Reid. Reid is in the middle of a great season but may struggle for minutes playing next to Gobert or Towns. It’s been extremely difficult for this team to play well on both ends with two bigs on the floor. Their slow-footedness has made rotations of any kind a problem. Jaylen Nowell should be in the mold of Lou Williams or Jordan Clarkson, an offensive spark off the bench. However, he’s lacked the passing skill to do so, and too much of his value rides on his tough shot-making.
Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes can be grouped together. Both of these guys should bring shooting and the veteran ability to support the defensive scheme. Neither Rivers nor Forbes has been successful at this. Rivers has been the better of the two and at least has the ability to drive to the rim to keep the offense moving. Chris Finch has even called on Rivers for extra defensive resistance, even if he’s only shooting 30% from deep. Forbes’ stat sheet is considerably worse, headlined by a tear-jerking 21.4% from beyond the arc. These disappointments call for some support deeper in the Timberwolves bench.
The Deep Cuts
The following players have gotten some playing time due to injuries up the chain but will need to prove something in a big way to earn consistent minutes. This group includes Nathan Knight, Luka Garza, Matt Ryan, and rookies Josh Minott and Wendell Moore Jr. The best way for these players to contribute is to bring a certain skill or two at a high level to get their foot in the door, then expand from there. First and most importantly, the best thing for these players to bring is high levels of activity. Nathan Knight can bring this along with rebounding and paint defense, as long as he can keep the fouls down, and Luka Garza can bring some quick-hitting offense. Unfortunately for them, they’re behind two top-5 centers and Naz Reid, so good luck finding minutes.
The self-proclaimed lawnmower Josh Minott may be able to bring some infectious energy in a similar fashion to Jarred Vanderbilt. This would have particularly good returns for this Timberwolves’ team, as high energy seems to be contagious. Wendell Moore has already been thrown into the fire and has proven the ability to play hard on both ends, handle the ball a bit, and shoot threes. He may step into Bryn Forbes’ minutes if he can bring these attributes consistently. Lastly, newcomer Matt Ryan has size and shooting. He’s proven himself as a capable shooter for the Lakers, and his size could be helpful in rotations as the low man in Minnesota. As the Timberwolves search for their identity, the introduction of new faces off the bench may have a better-than-expected return.