We continue our examination of the state of the Timberwolves roster by looking at the wing players—the shooting guards and small forwards.
At those positions, the Timberwolves currently carry the following on the roster:
What this all boils down to is the fact that coach Kurt Rambis will have a solid group of five “run and gun” guys who can play on the perimeter in his triangle offense. The triangle has a big emphasis on having lots of speed down the wings and combining that with very good shooting.
Corey Brewer was one of the more improved players in the entire league last season, finally finding his shooting stroke. He is also a very highly-rated defender. Wesley Johnson also fits into that same category, and he may have more appeal to the fan base in being a rookie.
Webster is seen as something of a reclamation project. After being drafted right out of high school into the league by the Portland Trail Blazers, Webster has not been able to find quite enough time to assert himself in the league.
Ellington enters his second season and will look to ride a very good performance in the summer league for more minutes in the regular season. Hayward was drafted late in the first round this summer by the Wolves and will likely be more of a defensive specialist than anything else.
Timberwolves GM David Kahn has done a commendable job in acquiring players who have the requisite skills to work in the triangle. All of this does come with one caveat, however: one of the Timberwolves’ biggest weaknesses last season was their perimeter defense. The players outlined above can all reliably guard an NBA shooting guard, but it becomes a much more dicey proposition when they are asked to defend a small forward.
Enter Michael Beasley.
Acquired by the Timberwolves for very little in a trade Miami had to make in order to facilitate the creation of their new superpower, Beasley comes to the Wolves with the opportunity for a fresh start in the league.
His size and mobility make him a significant improvement in the defensive category over the majority of the swingmen that Kahn has acquired. Why is this true? Most of the guys that Kahn has filled the roster with are 6’7” or so. That’s the epitome of “tweener” in the NBA as far as shooting guards and small forwards are concerned.
They have enough size to be a “big” two-guard and aren’t tall enough to be an average-sized small forward. Consequently, they can defend a shooting guard quite well but are more susceptible to being torched by taller and better small forwards in the league.
Beasley has the size to play either small forward or power forward, but due to Kevin Love’s presence, he will likely start games at small forward. The four wing players who don’t start the game at the shooting guard spot will likely get minutes as backup small forwards when Beasley either slots in for Love or is subbed off the floor.
As far as who will likely start at shooting guard, there are a couple different scenarios. Starting Corey Brewer gives Rambis a player who is a defensive specialist with some experience on the floor. Brewer having discovered his jump shot last season certainly helps his case. Martell Webster could get the start on those same merits.
More than likely, it will be one of those two starting for the Wolves…at least at the beginning of the season. One of the less-heralded benefits of having so much depth on the wings is that it allows Rambis to bring fourth-overall pick Wes Johnson along at a much slower pace. It is, however, reasonable to assume that Johnson will have done enough by the end of the season to have taken over the starting spot.
Let’s face it, he wasn’t made the fourth-overall pick in the draft just for the fun of it. He has an excellent jumper which he can knock down from outside the three-point arc. Johnson is also known as a very athletic player and an excellent defender. In short, the scouting report on him would seem to indicate that he is a cross between Brewer’s defensive capability and someone with a very solid jumper. Assuming that Johnson lives up to his billing, these skills should be plenty to lock down a spot in the starting lineup.
So, what should a Timberwolves fan expect to see on opening night? It really is a toss-up at this point between Brewer and Webster, but I would lean toward Brewer at the moment simply because he appears to have a little more defensive ability than Webster. Michael Beasley will likely get the nod at small forward, based on his press conference and the Kahn/Rambis philosophy on playing Beasley and power forward Kevin Love together.