The Wolves Draft-Day Approach Paints An Exciting Picture Of How They Want To Play
If there’s one major takeaway from what President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas and the Minnesota Timberwolves did in last week’s NBA draft, it’s that the team will be playing in a fundamentally different way than they did in the 2018-19 season.
The NBA is changing. There is more positional versatility, more switching on defense and a higher premium on shooting. The Wolves have a perfect big man for the modern game in Karl-Anthony Towns and Rosas understands that the biggest task the front office has is to maximize Towns’ talent. That starts with being creative.
“Karl is an anomaly in that he’s a big that can play inside and out,” said Rosas. “We talk a lot about putting a perimeter next to him, or a guy that can play both spots to space the floor for him. But at the same time his uniqueness [as] a center who can step out and shoot threes and us having an ability to have whether it’s a four or three that can roll to the basket and be athletic, that puts a lot on the defense and that’s a pressure we’re going to take advantage of this year. It’s very rare that you have a five on your team like Karl that you can do those things with.”
To summarize the discussion, there are a lot of kinds of players Towns can play with. Obviously, having shooting on the floor is good to open up the paint, but Towns’ excellent perimeter game can also help pull opposing big men out of the paint, opening things up for drives and cutters. Towns is growing rapidly as a passer, so surrounding him with players that can get inside and move off the ball is another important factor in building a more nuanced and dangerous offensive attack. Towns does many things well and providing him with opportunities to take full advantage of all of them is a big task. It might require a slightly different look than the Wolves have used in the past.
“We’ve talked about where we’re at in the NBA now you have four perimeters—you got a point guard, three wings and a big,” Rosas said. “That could be a center, that could be a power forward it’s just the game is played differently now.”
There is an argument to be made that Towns’ best frontcourt partner is Robert Covington, an All-NBA-level defender that, while slightly undersized to play power forward in the old NBA, could be perfectly suited to the task in 2019. We saw a player with very similar measurables to Covington—Pascal Siakam—start at the four spot for the championship-winning Toronto Raptors. His athletic defense and good shooting paired well with Marc Gasol who played both an inside and outside game with Toronto. While that duo isn’t a perfect comparison (Towns is more skilled than Gasol and Siakam is probably a better shot-creator than Covington), it’s a nice example of what a modern big-man/power forward duo could look like.
“We really feel like our wings are versatile, you know Robert Covington’s a guy that has the most success at the four offensively and he’s the tough defensive guard that’s very active,” said Rosas. “For us to be able to put a group of wings like we’re going to be able to put on the floor at certain points this year gives us a lot of versatility, gives us some shooting, gives us play making, and that’s how we want to play. For us to be able to execute that vision, we have to be built differently.”
It’s true that in today’s NBA, the difference between the two, three and four is rapidly shrinking. While size still matters, the Wolves are lucky that they can put shot creating and size on the floor without sacrificing speed and athleticism. With the length of Andrew Wiggins, Covington and Josh Okogie the Wolves will be able to create a lot of matchup problems.
Rosas was quick to point out after the draft that the Wolves are not done building, but the clarity of his vision and his focus on maximizing Towns is something Timberwolves fans can get excited about. With complementary pieces around him, Towns could be in for a career year in 2019-20. If that’s the case, the NBA better watch out.