The Minnesota Timberwolves have undergone massive changes in the 2022 offseason, and it’s worth wondering how exactly that will all pan out for Minnesota in 2022-23 as they look to build on a promising year. Every week from now until the start of pre-season in October, I’ll write about one specific thing for each potential rotation player that I’m most intrigued to see in terms of how the team ultimately fits together. . For last week’s story on Wendell Moore Jr., Click here.
Today’s NBA requires players who are successful at both ends of the court.
This notion is almost a prerequisite for role-players. If you don’t have star-level talent on one side, you better not be a target on the other, because you won’t get many minutes.
The Minnesota Timberwolves’ two offseason rookies need to prove they have that two-way ability. Former Denver Nuggets Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes will both have a tough climb to earn playing time on a roster with plenty of depth, which means they’re competing with each other even if their skills don’t match. not completely overlap.
What intrigues me the most about these two for this upcoming season is that both players are stronger in one phase of the game than the other, but the skills are reversed. The player who most overcomes the weak point in their game will likely have a head start in the race for a few minutes.
Minnesota needs a capable defensive guard with Patrick Beverley now at the door, and Rivers was likely brought in to fill part of that role. He’s by no means a world champion, but he’s capable, energetic and a solid size for the job.
Rivers got the assignment from Steph Curry when the Nuggets faced the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Granted, he got as much playing time as Denver’s horrible injury chance did, but he made some big defensive plays against the eventual champions.
The former Duke star held on against Curry, limiting him to 3/11 shots, including 1/6 from downtown according to NBA.com matchup data. Five games is obviously a small sample, but he was by far Denver’s best defensive option against Curry, and that counts for something on a team that could very well face the two-time MVP in the 2023 playoffs.
The attack, however, is slightly less reliable. Rivers is a 34.9 percent career 3-point shooter, muddling his fit on a team that needs spacers around its stars. It’s also not particularly effective overall; Rivers hasn’t posted a true shooting percentage above 55.1 percent, which is about average for his position, in any of his 10 seasons.
A silver lining here is that Rivers has never had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, which significantly raises his floor. As long as he takes care of the ball, he should be playable on that side.
Forbes, on the other hand, is probably even better on offense than Rivers on defense because of his shooting. Forbes hasn’t dropped below 38.8 percent from downtown since his rookie season in 2016-17.
He has not shot below 39.5% on catch-and-shoot 3s in the past four seasons; in 2020-21 and 2018-19, he finished fifth in accuracy among players with at least 200 catch attempts and 3-point shots.
Bryn Forbes can let him rip off screens.
He shot 33/84 (39.2%) coming off screens last season because he has great footwork, square shoulders on the edge and his shooting motion is incredibly consistent.
He’ll be fun to watch from the bench as he finds a rhythm. pic.twitter.com/CGenJCUbif
—Jack Borman (@jrborman13) July 2, 2022
The ability to throw 3s is going to be crucial with so many dominant players. Just as Minnesota needs a backup defenseman for Beverley, they also need a backup sniper after including Malik Beasley in the Rudy Gobert deal.
The problem here is that Forbes has been abysmal on defense for much of his career. His best defensive RAPTOR score in a single season is -1.3 (0 is the average) in 2017-18 by FiveThirtyEight. While that metric isn’t the ultimate answer, it’s concerning that he has three of RAPTOR’s worst 27 single-season defensive scores over the past five seasons.
It confirms what you see on tape: At 6-foot-2, Forbes is undersized and lacks the physical, anticipatory gifts that determine good defenders. This has been the main obstacle to consistent playing time, as it has rebounded in recent years.
At best, these two will face Jordan McLaughlin for 10th in the rotation. It may seem like an inconsequential struggle, but remember McLaughlin was called up for crucial clutch minutes in the Grizzlies series.
McLaughlin certainly has a competitive edge right now, but Rivers and Forbes could be set for a playoff role if they play in the regular season. To earn that privilege, however, they face the daunting task of improving areas of their game that have proven lackluster over several seasons of NBA experience. We’ll see if either can overturn preconceptions about their game with Wolves.