NBA Free Agency: The Sneaky Value of Wolves’ Sideline Moves


The Minnesota Timberwolves had a well-deserved summer after a seismic July that turned the team into a potential Western Conference powerhouse for the first time in nearly two decades.

After staging a coup that convinced President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly, one of the league’s most respected decision-makers, to step down as head of rival Denver Nuggets, you knew minority shareholders Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez weren’t going to stay away when another transformation opportunity presented itself.


The Wolves braintrust, fully understanding and agreeing on where they were, took advantage and acquired a Hall of Famer-to-be in All-NBA center Rudy Gobert. While landing a player with as proven a regular season resume as the Stifle Tower boasts is obviously a momentous step for a team, city and ownership group aspiring to lasting relevance, it has also had ripple effects. which are easily overlooked.

Immediately after his addition on the opening day of NBA Free Agency, Gobert – when paired with an executive of Connelly’s caliber – became a skeleton key that a diversely talented and empowered Timberwolves front office used. to unlock the primary auxiliary effect of trade: health insurance.

Josh Okogie checks out Anthony Edwards
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Although the team agreed to terms with Kyle Anderson 48 hours before Gobert landed, there’s no doubt selling the veteran Swiss army knife to outfit an upstart Memphis Grizzlies squad for a rival in conference grass.

Minnesota continued to bolster its backline by signing veteran guards Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes to minimum veteran offers, an indication of the duo’s belief in Wolves as a legitimate playoff threat.

As the icing on the cake, Connelly and Co. were able to beat Eric Paschall, a 2019-20 NBA All-Rookie First Team member looking for a home to jump-start his NBA career, on a two-way deal.

It’s not often that a small market team is able to 1) trade for an All-NBA quality player with four years of team control who is eager to join your franchise, and 2) turn that into legitimately enough depth to support three star players: Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards.

Still, the Wolves succeeded; and because they did, they not only paved a surefire path to the 2023 playoffs, but also a path that doesn’t need to be an arduous one.

While perhaps not a priority at the moment, Edwards’ ongoing knee issues have at times caused Wolves stakeholders, from fans to players to management, to hold their collective breath at times.

At the start of Game 3 of the first-round series against Memphis, Edwards, seemingly out of nowhere, began to grab his right knee after bringing the ball to the ground without any contact. It was eerie to say the least for a 20-year-old with otherworldly athletic abilities.

Edwards dumped left patellar tendinopathy in his knee for much of last season because he didn’t think he could rest if the team wanted to get where it needed to go. Edwards, never injured before, acquiesced to the coaching staff’s demands and missed four games, although he probably should have been closer to 10 games spread throughout the year in a world without pressure.

Fellow starting goaltender D’Angelo Russell missed 12 games with injury and lingering pain in 2021-22, but wasn’t at his playoff best, even with the final two games of the season rested. . Ensuring Russell is at the peak of his powers as much as possible will be key to Wolves’ hopes of securing home-court advantage in the playoffs next spring. Rescue room general Jordan McLaughlin has shown during the season that he is more than capable of creating a great attack for his teammates over long stretches and needs to be used more next season as well.

And finally, Towns underwent minor cleaning procedures after the season to rectify the wear and tear he suffered as 5 bruises inside. Incredibly, Towns has only missed two games outside of the six COVID-19s that eliminated him. Like Edwards, Towns takes great pride in showing up for his teammates every night and was willing to put his body on the line every night last season in order to qualify for the playoffs.

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Detroit Pistons

Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

The good news for all of them is that next season, getting rid of severe pain and lingering injuries for long periods of time won’t be a prerequisite for a playoff appearance. Not only should Wolves be well positioned for a run in terms of the rankings, but they should also be able to do so at full strength, provided they can effectively maximize their depth.

Beyond Gobert reducing the blows Towns will take on the inside, each of Wolves’ bench depth signings this offseason will make life easier for the team’s returning ‘Big Three’ next season.

Taurus Prince

Leading the pack here is Taurean Prince, who Wolves re-signed shortly before free agency opened. His soothing presence as a well-respected veteran locker room voice and pressure-relieving knockdown shooter will do wonders on nights when Towns is unavailable.

Prince has no problem entering the game shooting from 3 either; it shot 7.0 3s per 36 minutes at a 37.6% clip, a clip you can rely on to fill the shooting void an idle city would create. Plus, the ground spacing it provides serves as an important bridge between Jaden McDaniels (or Anderson) and Gobert on the inside.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Prince Taurean keeps Kyle Anderson
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyle Anderson

Minnesota acquired a versatile defenseman in Anderson who showed his chops in last season’s playoffs aptly defending players from fast guards to big killers, and most in between. He would also go well as a small 5 ball next to Towns. These skills, coupled with his ball handling and creative abilities, will make him an option to fill not only the front court, but also the back court, where he can support the offense as a general on the ground. Anderson’s assist rate-to-use rate ratio (0.97) ranked in the 93rd percentile last season, according to Cleaning the Glass.

How his role would change depends on the aforementioned Edwards, Russell, and Towns running out of time. But given his diverse and additional skill set and vast experience as a starter and bench mover, Wolves can trust him to rev or throttle accordingly. Plus, he fits in nicely alongside players who would be given a heavier workload in those cases, such as Jaylen Nowell, McDaniels, and Prince.

Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors – Game 2

Austin Rivers protects Steph Curry during the 2022 Playoffs
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes

Rivers comes to Minnesota from Denver, where he served as the team’s primary defenseman against opposing primary ball handlers while on the ground (Canis Hoopus contributor Aidan Berg wrote of Rivers’ defensive chops yesterday here). The former Duke star can also create his own shot from the dribble at times as a complementary guard, and has a good understanding of space playing around the stars. That alone can lead to hard-hitting minutes in shuffled bench/start minutes alongside Towns or Gobert on nights when Russell or Edwards are out.

Along the same lines, Forbes is a sniper. He probably needs to be there alongside Gobert or Anderson as he’s not a defender anymore but can easily fill in as a goalscoring bench guard. At nights, the backyard needs a night’s rest, hoping that at nights against substandard defenses, he can fill it from beyond the arc. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him play alongside McLaughlin (and a huge front field), against smaller teams that J-Mac can single out with his drive-and-kick game.

Nate Knight and Eric Paschal

It’s safe to say Knight and Paschall are upgrades to Jake Layman and McKinley Wright IV at the end of the bench, and think they’ll impact the game with their offense.

Knight proved during the height of the league’s COVID outbreak that he had the potential to be an NBA-level contributor due to his rare blend of physicality and athleticism as a reserve player. He scored 20 points, caught 11 boards and dished out four cents — all career highs — in a win over the Boston Celtics on Dec. 27.

He has the size to fill as a substitute 4 and the aggression and instinct to contribute offensively on nights when a forward is out. His defense will likely be spotty, but if his 3-point shot can evolve into more consistent form, he’ll be a capable substitute off the bench.

The same goes for Paschall, whose shooting and scoring will be the pathway to reigniting his career as an overqualified two-way player with plenty of NBA experience. He thinks he’ll get plenty of reps as the star piece for the Iowa Wolves, which should help his conditioning and confidence, while ensuring he’s ready to play when called up to the NBA roster.

Wolves are uniquely positioned to survive and thrive on the nights their key players need for load management purposes given their bench strength. Despite an understandable eagerness to shoot for the No. 1 seed in an absolutely stacked Western Conference, it may be smarter for Wolves not to push Edwards and Towns in the regular season when bumped, and instead rely on the depth of a cleverly redesigned roster.

While the typical long game the Timberwolves played involved ping-pong balls, Minnesota’s acquisition of Rudy Gobert (and a loaded bench following the move), unlocked a new level of the long game. Instead of playing a long game aimed at maximizing lottery probability, this one is won by maximizing a legitimate championship window, and that starts with making sure its stars will be ready for war when playoff basketball NBA playoffs will return to Target Center next April.