Like most seasons, the Minnesota Timberwolves have had their fair share of ups and downs in 2021. The Wolves got off to a hot start at 3-1, but have ridden the rollercoaster since, losing six straight and winning five straight. Most recently, they’re currently on a five-game losing streak.
A week and a half ago, the Wolves were 11-10, seemingly on track to take the next step toward contention. Now? With D’Angelo Russell sitting out the past three games with an ankle injury, the Timperpups have fallen to 11-15.
One of the biggest drawbacks under the Karl-Anthony Towns era is not having enough size to hang with teams who do, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers who just beat the Wolves by 17. Another issue is not having enough shooting to complement KAT when he’s on the floor.
Teams are doubling him more often than ever and having players who cannot space the floor such as Jarred Vanderbilt and Josh Okogie only makes matters worse. Defenses frequently leave the fifth starter wide open, knowing he won’t be able to make them pay.
The alternative is placing another offensive-minded player in the starting five, but that will most likely take away from the improved defense the T-Wolves have employed thus far.
What’s the solution? Timberwolves’ general manager Sachin Gupta needs to add another starting-caliber two-way player who can shoot and at least stick with his man on defense.
The good news is Dec. 15 is near. On the 15th, teams will be able to trade players who were signed to a new contract this past offseason. This means there could be a flurry of activity upcoming for teams looking to make a change.
Here are three players we’ve identified who can help the Minnesota Timberwolves ascend into playoff contention for good in 2021.
Minnesota Timberwolves swing trade with Pacers for Myles Turner
- Minnesota Timberwolves trade: 2023 first-round pick (Top-8 protected), Taurean Prince, Josh Okogie
- Indiana Pacers trade: Myles Turner
This trade may not seem so appealing to the Pacers on the surface, but for a rebuilding team, the $17 million in cap relief as the contracts of Prince and Okogie fall off the books at the end of the season is quite valuable. The first-round pick just gives them more ammo to build their foundation, however they choose.
For the Wolves, it gives them the much-needed additional big man they’ve been seeking for a number of years. Sure, it may be strange, asking Towns to now take the role of playing power forward instead of the center role he’s played for the entirety of his NBA career, but it’s likely one he would welcome.
Right now, the Wolves pair Towns with Vando in the starting lineup due to V8’s Worm-like rebounding ability along with his motor that energizes the team at times. The biggest flaw in the Vandolorian’s game is not being able to shoot the ball. Turner would solve that, while also bringing his league-leading rim protection skills to the paint.
One issue, everyone is calling the Pacers right now about a trade for one of their big men. Gupta, who helped invent ESPN’s trade machine, will have to compete with several other organizations looking to improve, which could drive the Myles Turner trade price up. Still, Turner is upset with his role with the Pacers and is ready to leave.
Initially, we had Naz Reid included in the trade as well. This simply doesn’t make sense. Reid is currently the second-best three-point shooter on a team that has struggled to hit their shots, which is the same reason why they can’t afford to trade Malik Beasley. Plus, adding Turner to take away Reid leaves the Wolves with a similar issue they started with, a lack of size.
Timberwolves improve depth and starting five with Pelicans trade
- Minnesota Timberwolves trade: 2023 first-round pick (Top-3 protected), Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels, two 2022 second-round picks
- New Orleans Pelicans trade: Jonas Valanciunas, Devonte’ Graham
Of the three trades listed, this one may help the Wolves the most. In Valanciunas, they get the rebounding hog who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work. He can also hit threes at a low clip (career-high 46.3% this season) and can help protect the rim, using his 6-foot-11 frame. The fifth overall pick from 2011 averages exactly one block per game throughout his nine-year career.
In a perfect world, Jarred Vanderbilt will be able to continue steadily improving his offensive game, but the Wolves may not be able to wait that long. Playing in the starting lineup has helped their defense and rebounding, but it’s hurting the offense.
Valanciunas would be a one-for-one replacement for Vando while adding his 18.8 points per game to the offense. Sure, his points per game are boosted by a roster missing its leading scorer, but he’s still more than capable as a scorer.
Devonte’ Graham fills the need for another distributor/playmaker/shooter off the bench. As mentioned earlier, backup center Naz Reid is the team’s second-most efficient three-point shooter on the roster. Graham wouldn’t change that fact, but he would be another option who’s not afraid to launch eight three-point shots per game, while hitting them at a 34.8% clip. Graham’s shooting percentages are down across the board this season with the Pelicans, he may welcome a change in scenery.
Unfortunately, it also likely sends Graham to the bench for a reserve unit that would suddenly be potent.
- Devonte’ Graham, Jaylen Nowell, Taurean Prince, Jarred Vanderbilt, Naz Reid
Graham and Nowell would replace the Bolmaro, Beasley pairing, giving the Wolves a more experienced ball-handler while still being able to shoot from anywhere on the floor. Vando and Prince would soak up all the rebounds and Reid can continue spacing the floor and pounding the paint.
Another option would be replacing Vanderbilt with Jaden McDaniels in the trade. As mentioned, Valanciunas replaces Vando’s production but there is no one else on the roster with Jaden’s length and switchability on defense. But then it leaves the bench without a “plus” rebounder which is likely an area they can’t afford to take from.
The Pelicans built this core with the hopes of Zion Williamson being able to elevate them to the playoffs. Now that their superstar has had another setback from offseason foot surgery, the Pels are headed toward another dismal year. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if they decide to trade a veteran or two before the Feb. 10 trade deadline.
Graham is 26 and JV is 29. While they’re not old, they’re also not going to keep getting better. They are who they are at this point. Both players also likely wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to play for a contender elsewhere. After all, neither signed up for a bottom-four finish in the Western Conference.
Minnesota Timberwolves go all-in with Ben Simmons trade
- Minnesota Timberwolves trade: 2022 first-round pick (Top-3 protected), two additional future first-round picks, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro, Taurean Prince
- Philadelphia 76ers trade: Ben Simmons
Rumored to the Wolves for what feels like a year now, Ben Simmons remains in Philadelphia, not playing any games at the height of his career, age-wise. There’s been more smoke lately, but few obvious options are presenting themself.
The 76ers are unlikely to hold on to Simmons through the deadline as they make a playoff push, it just wouldn’t make sense. Joel Embiid wants to win too and a lengthy NBA career is not guaranteed. Time is precious.
If the Timberwolves continue to flounder, Wolves POBO Sachin Gupta may start feeling the heat, making him more inclined to swing for the fences. Currently, the Wolves are struggling with spacing in D-Lo’s absence. Trading for Simmons won’t help. At all.
But, he could help improve the overall starting five. I envision a scenario where coach Chris Finch reshuffles the lineup.
- D-Lo, Beasley, Ant, Simmons, Towns
That lineup has ball-handling, playmaking, precision passing, defense, and rebounding. And plenty of scoring, possibly too much. They may choose to keep Beasley coming off the bench to provide a scoring punch along with Naz Reid. Honestly, that’s the biggest concern. Would a Simmons trade leave enough of a bench left?
You’re looking at a reserve list that is highlighted by Reid, Jaylen Nowell, and Jarred Vanderbilt along with Josh Okogie and Jordan McLaughlin. Jake Layman, Nathan Knight, and McKinley Wright would be the only options left. I still question whether Simmons is the right fit, especially now that we’ve seen how the Wolves struggle in the half-court, not to mention their shooting issues.
Still, if the Minnesota Timberwolves continue to slip in the standings, a trade will have to be made, sooner or later. The biggest question is whether they aim for more of a star-caliber talent or a role player who can help round out the roster.