The Minnesota Timberwolves are a week away from training camp. President of basketball operations Tim Connelly has been making a few minor tweaks to the roster, but for all intents and purposes, the team has been set for months.
The team that will convene at Mayo Clinic Square at the start of camp will enter with a lot of pressure, a lot of intrigue and a whole lot of doubters about where they can go after last season’s first-round playoff exit. The roster has been reworked some, but the principles remain. Now is the perfect time for a full look at where the roster stands as camp looms.
Position by position, it is a roster that appears, on the surface, to be as deep as any the Wolves have had in recent years. There also are holes that give reason for concern. We will start from their deepest position group and go from there.
Starters: PF Karl-Anthony Towns, C Rudy Gobert
Bench: Naz Reid, Luka Garza, Leonard Miller
Moneymakers: Why waste any time beating around the bush when we can get right to the crux of this team’s roster construction? The Timberwolves made the audacious decision in 2022 to move Towns from center to power forward and acquire Gobert to form a two-big lineup with the vision of a bully-ball style approach. Gobert was supposed to address the defensive and rebounding weaknesses that doomed Minnesota in a playoff loss to Memphis in 2022. But Towns missed 52 games because of injury and Gobert was not the game-changing force in his first season in Minnesota that he was in Utah.
The hope in Year 2 is that the Wolves are more familiar with how to play around Gobert to make it easier for him to be impactful on both ends of the court. Fresh off a strong performance with the Dominican Republic in the World Cup, the Wolves know they are getting a healthy and fresh Towns from the outset of training camp after he missed most of it last year with an infection. Gobert also was slowed with a sore knee coming off of a run to the EuroBasket finals with France.
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If the Wolves are going to have a chance to be competitive in the West and avoid the Play-In Tournament, they need Towns and Gobert back at or near the All-Star levels they have previously reached. Towns showed a willingness to incorporate Gobert offensively that was unique among his teammates before he went down with his calf injury in November.
Now that they are healthy, will they be able to provide enough spacing for the offense to work and be mobile enough defensively so the Wolves do not get beat back down the floor in transition? And was last season’s underwhelming performance by Gobert a sign of physical decline or just a matter of adjusting to a new environment? They both have undeniable talent. If they can find a way to get that talent to fit together, the ceiling for the team is considerably higher.
X-factor: Despite having two max contract big men on the roster, the Wolves still gave Reid a three-year, $42 million extension. It was a testament to Reid’s development from an undrafted rookie to someone so skilled on the offensive end that they could not let him walk out the door. Reid will play both power forward and center. There was a very brief moment in time late last season — before Reid broke his wrist — when there were signs he could share the floor with Towns or Gobert. However, the sample size needs to get much larger for a true evaluation. If things do not go well with the team this season, Reid gives them some insurance should they look to trade one of their starting bigs next summer.
In the mix: Miller was a second-round draft pick who spent last season in the G League. The Wolves are very high on his long-term potential as a rebounder and skilled big with legit size to bully opponents. But he is still only 19 years old and slotted behind some very well-established, very high-priced vets. He will likely see most of his playing time with Iowa as a rookie.
Starters: Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels
Bench: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Troy Brown Jr., Wendell Moore Jr., Daishen Nix, Jaylen Clark (injured)
Moneymakers: Literally. Edwards signed a five-year max contract extension that is worth up to $260 million in July. He is coming off of an outstanding run with Team USA at the FIBA World Cup and is poised to take another step toward superstardom in his fourth season. Everyone from Steve Kerr to Erik Spoelstra to Kevin Garnett, Patrick Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt and more have sung Edwards’ praises this summer. He is the Timberwolves’ big shot taker and big shot maker, someone who has risen to the occasion in the playoffs and has the charisma to get his teammates to follow him into the fight. Edwards is only 22 so he still has a lot to learn, but he has already shown the kind of emotional maturity it takes to be a leader. He can put butts in the seats when the Lakers and Warriors aren’t in town. Another leap from him this season can make the Wolves dangerous.
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McDaniels is Edwards’ classmate and carries plenty of hopes into his fourth season as well. He is one of the league’s very best perimeter defenders (pay no attention to the All-Defense snub) and also showed an improved offensive arsenal in his third season, shooting almost 40 percent from 3-point range and adding a little bit of off-the-bounce game. Limiting his fouling is the biggest focal point for him going into Year 4, but the Wolves believe they have two of the best two-way wings under 25 in the league on the same team. McDaniels also is eligible for a contract extension that figures to make him a very wealthy young man, but it remains to be seen how high that number will go. Having both Edwards and McDaniels on the roster for years to come has the potential to be a formidable pairing worth building around.
X-factor: The only significant loss of the offseason for the Wolves was forward Taurean Prince, a valuable leader and steady performer who knocked down 3s at a high clip, got out into transition to score and could defend multiple positions. Playing the part this season will be Alexander-Walker, who only gives up an inch and 10 pounds to Prince but has a better handle to give him a little bit more position flexibility. Alexander-Walker was a pleasant surprise after coming over with Mike Conley in the D’Angelo Russell trade in February. He showed fine defensive chops, hit 40 percent of his 3s in the playoffs against Denver and has experience playing alongside Gobert in Utah. Returning to the same system and same coach figures to benefit NAW, who has had very little stability to start his NBA career.
In the mix: Moore Jr. was drafted to be a kind of do-everything guard who could knock down shots, get after it defensively and even run the point in a pinch. He saw very little time as a rookie and did not stand out while dealing with a minor injury at Las Vegas Summer League in July. He was a bit of a late bloomer at Duke and the Wolves believe he has the smarts and work ethic to eventually become a rotation player. … Brown hit 38 percent of his 3s with the Lakers last season and will need to do a lot more of that to find consistent playing time in Minnesota. … Clark, a second-round pick out of UCLA, is rehabbing an Achilles injury and there is no timetable for his return to game action. … Nix, who averaged 4.0 points and 2.3 assists in 57 games with the Rockets last season, was signed to a training camp deal and is a long shot to make the roster. He also has played some point guard and could be mixed in there.
Swiss Army knife
Everywhere: Kyle Anderson, Josh Minott
Moneymaker: Anderson may not always start and he may not make anywhere near the money that Gobert, Towns and, eventually, Edwards will make. But he is ultra important to the makeup of this team. His ninth NBA season was his best, the perfect marriage between a player’s skill set and mentality and the needs of the team for which he played. Anderson was a hard-edged leader and an essential decision-maker on the court. He put up his best numbers at power forward, including 46 starts primarily for the injured Towns, but coach Chris Finch also played him at small forward and even point guard at times. He played for China at the World Cup, an encouraging sign after he suffered a very serious eye injury in the playoffs against Denver. With Towns, Gobert and Reid all healthy, it will be interesting to see how Finch deploys Anderson to maximize his impact. He is too valuable to sit.
In the mix: Minott was a second-round pick last season, and he certainly is not ready for the do-everything role that Anderson occupies. He’s young and has a LOT to learn. But his physical tools make him a candidate for multiple scenarios. He is long enough and has some of the shot-blocking instincts to play the power forward, but is he strong enough to hold up against the big boys? He is also quick enough to play small forward, but is not the shooter normally needed for that position. The athleticism he possesses is unique on the roster. It will be interesting to see if Finch can find a real role for him this season or if he needs more seasoning in Iowa before he is ready.
Starter: Mike Conley Jr.
Bench: Shake Milton, Jordan McLaughlin, Vit Krejci
Moneymaker: Conley proved to be exactly what the Timberwolves were hoping for when they acquired him in February. A steady hand, an adult in the room, someone who knew how to get the best out of Gobert. He averaged 14.0 points, 5.0 assists and shot 42 percent from 3-point range after coming over in the trade. Most telling, he did not miss a single game after the trade and played at least 37 minutes in four of the five playoff games against Denver. There was no load management for the 35-year-old. He was just too important to what they were doing and may be even more important as he approaches his 36th birthday next month.
Point guard is easily the thinnest position group for the Wolves. Finch will likely use Anderson and Edwards to initiate the offense and take some of the burden off of Conley. It would be unwise to lean so heavily on him for the entire season in 2023-24 as they did in the final 29 games of last season. Conley appears to be a perfect fit for what this team needs, both on the court and in the locker room. Keeping him fresh for the playoffs will be essential.
X-factor: Milton comes to Minnesota from Philadelphia, where he primarily played shooting guard for five seasons with the 76ers. The Wolves think he can handle some point guard duties as well, perhaps filling a combo guard role that they tried to give to Jaylen Nowell last season, to no avail. Milton shot 37.8 percent from 3 last season, giving the Wolves a much-needed perimeter threat to space the floor for Edwards driving to the bucket and Towns working in the paint. If Milton isn’t up to the task, the Wolves have other options in Edwards, Anderson and Alexander-Walker. But the 6-foot-5 Milton could give them a nice option if he’s capable of handling the responsibility.
In the mix: McLaughlin is looking for a bounce-back season after a calf injury stunted him early last season and he never returned to form. He played tentatively when given the opportunity last season, flying in the face of the daring approach the undersized guard took to carve out a role in 2021-22. … Krejci averaged 23.0 minutes in 30 games for the Thunder in 2021-22, averaging 6.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He played sparingly in 29 games for the Atlanta Hawks last season and signed a training camp deal last week. Another long shot for a roster spot.
(Photo of Anthony Edwards, Kyle Anderson and Mike Conley Jr.: David Sherman / NBAE via Getty Images)