Minnesota Timberwolves: Which players are on the hot seat?by Pierre Monceaux September 10, 2019 0 comments
Of the returning players who were members of the Minnesota Timberwolves for all of last year, only Karl-Anthony Towns truly impressed with his performance and is definitely “out of the trades talks.” The rest will need to raise their game if they want to remain a part of the wolf pack.
As a rookie drafted in the second round, expectations for the 6-foot-9 forward Keita Bates-Diop were admittedly low. After a strong showing in the summer league, KDB had an awful start to the regular season. He appeared in only two games in 2018, averaging one point per game in just over 11 minutes total. He had a 27.3 FG percent and did not make a single three-point shot. Things did get better after the break.
He went on to play 24 games, averaging 19.6 minutes and a 43.5 FG percent despite a low 27.7 percent from beyond the arc. He also grabbed 2.3 rebounds and 0.8 steals per game (versus 1.0 and 0 before the break). However, his net rating — the difference between his offensive and negative ratings — remained negative. And now, with seven teammates potentially playing small Forward, how can KDB play enough minutes to both assert himself as a forward and improve his game? He also played in the Summer League for the second time this past July which seems to indicate the coaching staff isn’t yet convinced he can really make it as a pro. With a cheap and short-term contract, Bates-Diop could easily become a chip in a trade involving a more expansive player.
Josh Okogie’s situation is both very different and very similar. He played 74 games, started 52 of them, and had a more significant impact on the team with 7.7 points per game on 23.7 minutes per game. Drafted for his defensive acumen, he progressively established himself as a solid backup shooting guard in those regards. His steals and blocks per game went from 1.0 to 1.6 and 0.4 to 0.6 between the first and second half of the season, while his turnovers dropped from 1.0 to 0.6. However, at the end of his rookie season, the No. 20 overall pick in the draft showed a net rating of -1.0 with a FG% of 38.6 percent (36.4 pre-All-Star Game and 43.2 after). His three-point shot remains inconsistent with 40 percent success rate achieved in November followed by a disappointing 13.6 percent in December (he just shot 53.3% from three while at the FIBA World Cup).
Okogie was given what could be perceived as several warnings this offseason: he also took part in his second Summer League camp and, before that, watched his team draft two shooting guards in June, including No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver in whom President of Basketball Operations, Gersson Rosas, has shown much trust. Just like with the aforementioned KDB, Okogie will need to somehow continue to improve while fighting for minutes with Andrew Wiggins, Jarrett Culver, and Jaylen Nowell. He is also on a cheap rookie contract and could very easily become a sweetener in a trade for another star, maybe a top guard like Devin Booker.
Jeff Teague’s streak of nine straight playoff appearances ended as the Timberwolves concluded the 2018-19 season with a 36-46 record. He was partly to blame for this as he only suited up for 42 games total, including only eight post-All-Start weekend, due to a series of leg and shoulder injuries. His shooting (42.3 percent) was a career-low aside from his rookie season and got unsurprisingly worse post-All-Star break (40 percent). His three-point shot also suffered; he showed a lackluster 35.7 and 23.8 percent before and after the break. The Timberwolves, who are already thin in terms of point guards, will need Teague to be at his best once again in order to entertain any aspirations of returning to the playoffs. Should he have another subpar season, Teague, who is now on an expiring contract, can expect to be shipped to a team seeking a veteran guard to help develop their young guns. Cleveland and Phoenix would be likely destinations.
The hottest seat of all is the one Andrew Wiggins sits in. Showing declining stats over the past two years, Wiggins needs to bounce back in a big way. Soon after being hired as the Timberwolves’ new President of Basketball Operations, Rosas declared, “I am going to invest every resource I can to help Andrew be successful.” This was followed on August 22 by another statement from Rosas: “In order for us to have the success we want to have, he’s got to be a main contributor.”
Coach Ryan Saunders echoed that on August 30, stating that Wiggins needed to “take a big leap.” The message couldn’t be any clearer. Effort, especially on defense, and consistency are what will be expected of him this year. He did not shine in those regards last season with one steal per game, 0.7 blocks, and very up-and-down shooting: 34.4 FG percent in November when he attempted 34.9 percent of his shots from three, and 45.7 and 48.5 percent in March and April when he took 27.7 and 32 percent of his shots from downtown, respectively. With 73 games played, he achieved a net rating of -1.2, his overall performance ranking him outside of the top 50 guards despite being one of the most expensive.
Wiggins will have to prove not only that he is worth his $27.5 million paycheck in 2019-20, but also that he is the legitimate starting shooting guard and the second option in a Timberwolves roster chuck full with young, hungry players such as Jake Layman, Jordan Bell, Culver and Okogie, all ready to make a statement and earn their place in the starting lineup.