The Minnesota Timberwolves had a very disappointing 2019-20 season. The team started strong with a 10-8 record behind the contributions of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Robert Covington. From there, though, the team lost 37 of its next 46 games before the season was suspended, bringing its record to 19-45. Towns was injured much of the year, and other players regressed throughout the campaign.
There was lots of excitement at the trade deadline for Minnesota, though. The team traded away a total of seven players, including Wiggins and Covington, to acquire a total of six players. Most notably, star point guard D’Angelo Russell and promising young shooting guard Malik Beasley arrived in Minnesota.
The Wolves’ strength right now is clearly offense, led by Towns, Russell and Beasley. The team is far from formidable overall, though, as there is a lot of room for improvement on defense.
Which key questions are facing the Wolves right now? USAbetting delves into them.
Can Malik Beasley Thrive As a Full-Time No. 3 or 4 Option?
Beasley’s 2019-20 campaign is evidence that opportunity matters in the NBA. On a very deep Denver Nuggets team, he averaged just 7.9 points in 18.2 minutes per game on a below-average 51.1 true shooting percentage in his first 41 contests of the season. Once moving to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the trade deadline, he averaged 20.7 points in 33.1 minutes per contest on a 59.1 true shooting percentage, looking like a borderline star.
The 23-year-old shooting guard has looked like a very high-quality player at many times during his four-year career, but his explosion at the end of the season was still quite surprising. It is important to note that the Timberwolves were without star center Karl-Anthony Towns for all but one of the games Beasley played in Minnesota, and D’Angelo Russell also missed two of those games.
Assuming Minnesota retains Beasley in restricted free agency, the young guard will be no higher than third on the Timberwolves’ list of offensive options. Towns and Russell are both more dynamic on that end, as Beasley is not someone who creates offense for others.
Beasley is a strong three-point shooter, cutter and leaper at the rim, but he’ll need to learn to make an impact as a lower-priority offensive option. That includes using the energy he saves from less offensive responsibility to become a more effective defender.
Was Jarrett Culver’s Rookie Season a Sign of Things to Come?
To be clear, if Culver’s rookie season is actually a sign of things to come, that’s not great news for the Timberwolves moving forward. The 2019 No. 5 overall draft pick was decent defensively, but he didn’t show much potential as a shooter, making 29.9 percent of his shots from three and a ghastly 46.2 percent of his free throws. The 6’6” wing also wasn’t dynamic enough with the ball to warrant lots of touches.
Now, Culver showed more promise as a shooter in college, and his size and length for the wing position are still positives. He can become a really good defender, especially if he adds strength. Still, Minnesota should be very concerned if his growth is not significant in his sophomore season.
The Timberwolves may ultimately decide that Culver is not going to be a key part of their future and trade him. In an ideal situation, he turns into an Andre Iguodala-esque role player extraordinaire who provides defense, complementary ball-handling and a bit of shooting.
Can Minnesota Acquire More Three-and-D Players?
The focus for the Timberwolves moving forward is solidifying a rotation that makes sense given the strengths and weaknesses of Towns and Russell. Both guys do amazing things on the offensive end and they also command lots of touches. They are also both poor defenders. The players around them need to be players who can make an impact without the ball in their hands by helping space the floor, making good off-ball cuts and playing great team defense to cover for Towns and Russell.
We’ve discussed Beasley’s three-point shooting abilities already. Culver is a potentially excellent defensive player. Other players surrounding the Karl-Anthony Towns/D’Angelo Russell star duo provide either strong three-point shooting or solid defense, but not both.
Minnesota needs to find more individual players who provide both shooting and defense to work well in a lineup with Towns and Russell. That could be any of Beasley, Culver, Josh Okogie or Juancho Hernangomez if they shore up their respective weaknesses, or that player could come in the draft, free agency or trade.
Basically, the more three-and-D players that are on the roster around Towns and Russell, the better team Minnesota can become.
Is Karl-Anthony Towns & D’Angelo Russell the Right Star Duo for Title Contention?
Towns and Russell have been friends since high school, and their friendship was a major factor in the Wolves’ push to acquire Russell at February’s trade deadline. Minnesota needed to make a move to show Towns that the franchise would do whatever it took to keep him satisfied, given that he is under contract through 2024.
There’s no question that Towns and Russell, if healthy, have the talent by themselves to make the Timberwolves a better team next season. One thing that is a bit more questionable is whether it’s actually possible to build a championship team around them, given that Russell can be prone to offensive inefficiency and both players are clear negatives on defense.
We have talked plenty in this article about how the players around Towns and Russell can best complement them. If Towns and Russell don’t improve significantly on defense in the coming years, there is a chance it could be literally impossible to construct a championship-level defensive team around them.
Minnesota needs to figure out sooner rather than later whether Towns and Russell are a feasible duo to build a contender around.