Much of the offseason talk about the Timberwolves has been focused on drama involving their star players, and that only ramped up this past week when news broke of Jimmy Butler’s trade request.
But a sneaky and overlooked factor in what potentially turns the Wolves from a good team into a dangerous team this year could be their bench.
The Wolves’ second unit was among the NBA’s worst last season, and it has been largely remade this offseason. With that in mind, here is today’s question: Which Timberwolves newcomer will have the biggest impact off the bench this year?
First take: Michael Rand
Well, we decided in our version of a preproduction meeting that Derrick Rose is not a newcomer because he came aboard at the end of last season. That leaves us with: free-agent signees Anthony Tolliver, Luol Deng and James Nunnally, along with draft picks Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop.
Out of this group, I think Tolliver will have the biggest impact. He attempted 365 three-pointers for Detroit last year despite averaging just 22 minutes, primarily as a reserve. No Wolves player — starter or reserve — attempted that many, and Tolliver made them at an impressive 43.6 percent clip.
He seems like an ideal bench player who knows his role and can execute it well.
Wolves beat writer Chris Hine: I liked the Tolliver signing when it happened since Tolliver is going to add efficient three-point shooting to a team that can use it. This team has more than enough guys who can attack the rim on both the first and second units, but it was short on spot-up shooting.
My pick, though, is going to be Okogie.
I have a gut feeling that Tom Thibodeau ends up using Okogie more than he does other rookies because Okogie comes in with some defensive ability — and that’s the way to Thibodeau’s heart and playing time.
Okogie looked good in the summer league, and I think with the right development he could play a significant role on the second unit. I like his skill set, and specifically I like how his skill set meshes with what Thibodeau looks for out of his players.
Rand: I like Okogie, too, but I’m going to need to see more than a handful of highlight minutes from the NBA Summer League before I’m convinced that he is going to be a major factor right away.
What I do think is notable, though, is that all five reserves are viable candidates here. The two we already mentioned are probably the front-runners, but Nunnally was a lights-out shooter overseas and could have an impact. Bates-Diop was projected as a first-round pick and could earn time. And Deng is a trusted veteran.
Hine: I’m also more optimistic about the bench’s potential than a season ago. Hopefully, that allows Thibodeau to play them a little more, but in close games in a tight Western Conference, just how much trust will he have?
Rand: Well, according to hoopsstats.com, the Wolves got the fewest minutes from their bench of all teams last season, and those players were the least efficient in the league. So it can’t get any worse.
Final word: Hine
Well, not for the bench at least.
More Rand: startribune.com/RandBall
North Score: startribune.com/NorthScore