Timberwolves Reacts Survey: How Should Minnesota Use Their Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception?

Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NBA. Each week we ask questions of the most plugged-in Minnesota Timberwolves fans and fans across the country.

Now that the Wolves have officially started their free agency party by re-signing Taurean Prince with bird money, the focus shifts to a variety of external targets that will no longer include Dejounte Murray, who has reportedly been traded to the Atlanta Hawks.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Clippers

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Bolstering the center rotation

Despite drafting former Auburn center Walker Kessler with the No. 22 jumpsuit pick in last week’s NBA DraftMinnesota has reportedly registered interest in adding another center, including checking in on the availability of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Given the unlikely nature of that move given the cost both to acquire and pay the three-time All-Star, it makes sense that President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and his front office would seek to add a big man through free agency.

Backup centers Isaiah Hartenstein of the Los Angeles Clippers and Chris Boucher of the Toronto Raptors have been two serviceable options linked to Minnesota as players in the Wolves’ price range who can defend both at the rim and in space and also provide some spacing on the offensive end.

Isaiah Hartenstein

Hartenstein played in 68 games last season, averaging 8.3 points on 62.6/46.7/68.9 shooting splits, 4.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.8 stocks in 17.9 minutes per game, all coming at center, according to cleaning the glass.

Los Angeles was 12.3 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than with him on the bench, good for the 96th percentile. Defensively, the Clippers’ opponents registered a 3.7% worse eFG% (93rd percentile) with Hartenstein on the floor, but they also had a 1.9% higher OREB rate (24th percentile).

For reference, Naz Reid ranked in the 23rd percentile in impact on opponent OREB rate (+2.0%) when he was on the floor. So, while Hartenstein is a markedly better defender at 7-foot-1 than Reid, he isn’t much better on the glass, which is a central reason for the Wolves’ interest in finding a replacement for Reid.

Chris Boucher

Boucher played in 80 contests for Nick Nurse’s Raptors this past season, registering averages of 9.4 points on 46.4/29.7/77.7, 6.2 rebounds, 0.3 assists and 1.5 stocks across 21.1 minutes per game. 64% of those minutes came at power forward, while the remaining 36% came at center.

Toronto found more success with Boucher playing the 4 when you factored in the totality of his minutes, but the best lineup the Raptors had that included Boucher came with him at center in a front-court of Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam and Boucher. While that is a more versatile one than a Jaden McDaniels/Karl-Anthony Towns/Boucher front-court, it isn’t far off, especially when you consider the defensive playmaking Anthony Edwards brings.

Similarly to Hartenstein with the Clippers, the Raptors allowed their opponents to grab offensive rebounds at a 0.5% higher clip with Boucher on the floor, ranking in the 42nd percentile, per Cleaning the Glass.

Both would likely see expanded run in Minnesota from their 17.9 and 21.1 minutes per game, respectively, in their current situations. Each player is capable of deployment in lineups either with or without Towns because of their offensive skillsets and ability to play in space, which make them enticing targets.

To make up for the two bigs’ inability to provide a clear rebounding upgrade, the Timberwolves’ solution may very well just be an honest conversation with Edwards strongly requesting six or seven rebounds a game out of him. For someone as special as Ant, it may be a simple ask-and-you-shall-receive situation.


Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets - Game One

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Adding defensive versatility on the wing

If there is anything we learned in this year’s NBA playoffsit’s that you cannot have too many athletic, switchable defenders capable of playing in space on both ends.

Two names that immediately stick out to me as players who would fit in the Wolves up-tempo, free-flowing offense and aggressive defensive schemes are Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II and Brooklyn Nets Swiss army knife Bruce Brown.

Gary Payton II

Payton II has been rumored to be in play for teams such as the Dallas Mavericks with their mid-level tax-payer exception just south of $7 million annually. A raise of nearly $4 million could be enough of a selling point for the 2022 NBA Champion to leave for Minnesota.

He played in 71 games for Golden State this past year, holding averages of 7.1 points on 6.16/35.8/60.3 shooting splits, 3.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 1.7 stocks over 17.6 minutes per game — and had little drop off in the playoffs, despite suffering a fractured elbow in their second-round series.

At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Payton II isn’t the biggest option available to play on the wing, but has a 6-foot-7 wingspan and is an insane athlete who navigates screens very well at the point of attack, has quick hands and strong legs that prevent him from getting posted up by bigger defenders, and is a great playmaker both on and off-ball who plays well in a team concept.

He doesn’t offer as much off the ball as you may like for someone in play at the full mid-level mark, but he cuts extremely well, finished 77% (!!) of his 242 attempts at the rim this season and shot 42% on 90 corner 3s. Payton II may also be a bit redundant with Patrick Beverley and put a cap on the role Jaylen Nowell could play off the bench.

Bruce Brown

Brown is one of my favorite players in the entire league. He fights like hell defensively, has shown the ability to guard 1-4 (and some 5s in small-ball lineups with the big spacing to the short corner), and made timely plays again and again on both ends in the clutch for the Brooklyn Nets this past season.

The former University of Miami standout played in 72 games for the Nets, averaging 9.0 points on 50.6/40.4/75.8 shooting splits, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.8 stocks in 24.6 minutes per game. He improved on every single one of those marks — while his minutes increased to 34.8 per game — in Brooklyn’s first-round series with the eventual runner-up Boston Celtics.

If the Wolves decide to look at an improvement from Jarred Vanderbilt, Brown makes a lot of sense as a guy who can effectively play the 5 on offense, but provide added spacing to the corners and the slots, from where he is an excellent cutter. He’s the perfect type of complementary player to surround Towns, Edwards and McDaniels with, and would be a better fit than Payton II given that he is bigger, plays well as a facilitator and scorer as a roller in PnR actions, and is better handling the ball, too. Some of the same redundancy issues exist with Brown, but makes more sense to me than Vanderbilt does given Vando’s lack of spacing.


Who Ya Got?

The Timberwolves currently sit at +5500 to win the 2023 NBA Finals at DraftKings.

Which player do you think would best improve Minnesota’s chances of bringing home a title next season if they were added to the roster?

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