The Wolves hired David Vanterpool as associated head coach this week, a move that is interesting on several fronts. He’s viewed as a defensive specialist, but he also has ties to Andrew Wiggins.
The question: How much improvement on both fronts might Vanterpool be able to achieve next season?
First take: Michael Rand
President Gersson Rosas said he wanted to make top-level hires and treat assistants almost like coordinators in football. This feels very much like a move made by Rosas — particularly since he interviewed Vanterpool for the head coaching job last month — and a good one at that.
That said, Vanterpool will have his hands full if he is tasked with fixing the Wolves defense and Wiggins (let alone the intersection of the two).
The last time the Wolves were above the bottom third of the NBA in defensive rating was a No. 12 finish in 2013-14, back in Rick Adelman’s final year as head coach. Tom Thibodeau was supposed to fix that. He did not.
As for making Andrew Wiggins more efficient? In the 2018-19 regular season, 103 NBA players logged at least 2,000 minutes. Only three of those 103 finished with true shooting percentages — an efficiency stat that factors in two-pointers, three-pointers and free throws — below .500. Wiggins was one of those three.
Chris Hine, Wolves writer: Remember that 12-game stretch after the Wolves made the Jimmy Butler trade? This was before Robert Covington missed a game in December against, coincidentally, Portland because of a knee injury that would plague him the rest of the season.
Over that stretch, the Timberwolves went 9-3 and had the third-best defensive rating in the league. (Double checks notes) Yes, third.
For nearly a month, the Timberwolves had an elite NBA defense. This is all to say that repairing the Wolves defense is not a hopeless cause. There’s potential. Getting Covington back healthy is the biggest priority and if/when that happens, perhaps Vanterpool can work a little magic.
As for Wiggins, I’m a little more skeptical. Wiggins has shown through five seasons what his game is, and his game includes a healthy dose of midrange jumpers that he doesn’t hit at a high enough percentage to justify his heavy volume of them. Getting him to reorganize his game is going to be a taller task than fixing the defense.
Rand: I’m still not totally convinced by that 12-game stretch. The Wolves played 10 of the 12 at home, and many were against subpar opponents. It feels like an outlier — boosted by Covington and the removal of Butler’s cloud, no doubt — in a sea of otherwise unflattering data.
Portland’s guards, particularly Damian Lillard — who posted a heartfelt goodbye to Vanterpool on Instagram — flourished. Lillard’s three most efficient offensive seasons were his last three. Maybe that offers a shred of hope for Wiggins?
Hine: Perhaps. It’s all about getting Wiggins to buy in to what the organization is selling. Perhaps Vanterpool can be that conduit. We already know coach Ryan Saunders can be that, but it never hurts to have someone else on staff who might be able to get through to a max player.
Though it’s hard to say how much of Lillard’s and CJ McCollum’s offensive prowess grew because of Vanterpool or having Terry Stotts as head coach.
Rand: Whatever happens, between Vanterpool and assistant Pablo Prigioni this is a brave new world, with the Wolves making smart and focused assistant coach hires!
Final word: Hine
I’ll bookmark your enthusiasm and remind you of it next March.