The Minnesota Timberwolves sparked a lot of debate about who will be the backup guard when they traded away Ricky Rubio after his lone reunion year. Likely, they are going to be looking for a player who can be a secondary ball-handler late in games.
In today’s NBA, many successful coaches implement multiple ball-handlers at once. It could be a combo scoring guard next to the point guard or even the backup point guard on the floor at the same time.
Not every team has the luxury of playing Kyrie Irving and James Harden like the Brooklyn Nets do, but legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich frequently implemented a Patty Mills–Dejounte Murray duo last year. Michael Malone of the Denver Nuggets has become notorious for his multiple-guard lineups, making Jamal Murray and Monte Morris a staple of the Denver rotations when they’re healthy.
Building the Right Way
Constructing a roster that allows for multiple ball-handlers on the court at once is an effective strategy. Chris Paul has made his HOF case alone by being the 1b to players like James Harden and Devin Booker. He played alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Shroeder in his lone season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The increase in net rating tells us that teams are having success with these combinations, and it doesn’t just come down to talent. Teams are choosing to put a secondary role player like Monte Morris or Patty Mills next to their point guard, and it’s been effective.
What’s the key to these teams’ success? They have capable role players surrounding the stars who will possess the ball the most. Trevor Ariza, Mikal Bridges, and P.J. Tucker are all fine examples of wing players who make things easier on their ball-dominant guards. In order to replicate this, Gersson Rosas can return to his Houston roots to help this Wolves team moving into next season.
The Wolves Need To Fix Their Past Mistakes
Entering last season, Minnesota had a respected playmaker in D’Angelo Russelland a traditional playmaking point guard in Ricky Rubio. Ryan Saunders tinkered with this combination early in the season. While it became evident that they didn’t have chemistry on the court, they were forced to play together when the Wolves needed multiple ball-handlers to end the game. Needless to say, it didn’t work out in the 15 games where DLo and Rubio had to close things out.
Russell eventually missed time with a knee procedure and Chris Finch replaced Saunders. The Finch era immediately brought promise, both from a statistical and visual standpoint. DLo came back in a much different role, playing off the bench and having his minutes intentionally staggered to get him back into form. This both maximized his minutes limit and allowed Finch to tinker with his backcourt. The results speak for themselves.
One of the main differences was DLo’s growth off the ball. Rubio began to bring up the ball more often — or rather anyone with ball-handling abilities began to bring it up the court instead of Dlo. Suddenly, Russell’s off-ball and catch-and-shoot abilities that briefly emerged with the Golden State Warriors began to manifest in Minnesota.
The only active true point guards on the current roster are D’Angelo Russell and two-way rookie McKinley Wright. Jordan McLaughlin is an RFA, so it should be easy to bring him back because a team can only make him an offer sheet if they’re offering two or more years.
The Wolves have two options: They can bring back McLaughlin and use him as the primary backup, or they can use their mid-level exception in free agency or through a trade to bring another point guard to Minnesota.
Regarding how many potential secondary ball handlers the Wolves could have next season, they have pseudo-point guards like Jaylen Nowell, Leandro Bolmaro, and Josh Okogie, the latter of whom has shown promise this summer with Nigeria. They may be fine only bringing back McLaughlin.
While this is not ideal, effective minutes with DLo as an off-ball shooting guard matched with some of McLaughlin’s skills on the floor as a PG, and Nowell as a scorer at SG can get around these issues. The clog comes more at the wing positions. Great teams that lean on two-guard lineups had role players to plug and play around them who do the dirty work defensively and space the floor.
After what we saw from Finch last season, we should trust him to find creative solutions with the offense. Situational play and rotations are the keys to unlocking this team, and that will make or break them next year.