Timberwolves sound committed to playing (not so) small
MINNEAPOLIS — New Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas has warned fans not to look at the roster as a finished product in the middle of July.
But, as it stands right now, Minnesota is armed with a glut of wings.
Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington, Josh Okogie, Jake Layman, Keita Bates-Diop and first-round pick Jarrett Culver all figure to have a chance to be rotation players, yet all slide into that wing position.
Traditionally, only two wings play at a time. It sounds like that won’t be the case for this year’s Timberwolves.
Rosas puts his players into three different positional groups — point guards, wings and centers. So, power forwards need not apply?
“For us, positionally, it is a different game,” Rosas said on draft night. “We talked about where we’re at in the NBA now. You have four perimeters. Point guard, three wings and a big.”
Small ball could be the Wolves’ new norm, only it wouldn’t be all that small. Minnesota could trot out a starting lineup of Jeff Teague, Wiggins, Culver, Covington and Karl-Anthony Towns. Culver is listed at 6-foot-6, Wiggins is 6-8, Covington is 6-9.
Layman is also 6-9. Minnesota has length and athleticism in spades.
“It’s just the game is played differently now,” Rosas said. “We feel like our wings are versatile. Robert Covington is a guy that has the most success at the four offensively, and he’s a tough defensive guard that’s very active.
“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 playmaking. That’s how we want to play. For us to be able to execute that vision, we have to be built differently.”
What exactly is that vision? Josh Okogie gave a hint as to what Minnesota might hope to do defensively. When discussing Culver, Okogie said the rookie will help with “how hard we’re gonna play, and how we want to switch everything defensively, and how kind of versatile and how dynamic we want to play defensively.”
As it stands now, Minnesota looks built to switch everything and has the wing depth to trot out three or four perimeter players at any given time.
“Our ability to put different lineups on the floor (means opponents) will try to go big against us and we can go faster, or they’ll make different adjustments and play with us as we go smaller,” Rosas told reporters in Las Vegas. “But we feel like we have good depth at the wings, and the ability to put the best players on the floor, regardless of position, is something we want to focus on.”
Going small is something head coach Ryan Saunders wanted to do more of when he became interim coach in January. With Covington injured, he didn’t have the opportunity. At times, Minnesota’s wing depth was so depleted that Saunders had to play multiple power forwards at one time. Minnesota didn’t play a single five-man lineup combination featuring just one “big” for even 20 minutes last season.
This roster should offer Saunders every opportunity to play his style and experiment with lineup combinations as he sees fit.
“Having Robert be able to play the four gives you a different look that would also allow us to switch more,” Saunders said. “Because we like having him on the smaller guys — point guards, ball handlers, things like that. What that would do (is) give us a lot more versatility offensively and defensively.”
That type of versatility is what the Wolves seem to think would work best around their all-star center. They seem set on surrounding Towns with as many shooters and playmakers as they can possibly fit on the floor, both of which they’ve lacked in previous seasons.
“We’ve got a great player in KAT that, as I’ve said over and over, we’re going to surround him with guys that complement him,” Rosas said.