Even on a team not expected to win much, finding sufficient playing time isn’t always easy for players who may deserve it.
For example, look no further than the 2015-16 Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Wolves don’t have a slew of big-name guys that have earned playing time over years of sweat and effort put in NBA gyms. Instead (with the exception of Kevin Garnett, whose 20 minutes per game are mostly guaranteed), the Wolves’ frontcourt is loaded with young guys that the fans want to see.
Between KG, Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica, Karl-Anthony Towns, and (health-permitting, which is no guarantee) Nikola Pekovic, minutes won’t be easy to come by for everyone. In addition, what if Sam Mitchell wants to throw Shabazz Muhammad in at the 4 and run #smallball? What if Adriean Payne puts it together?
No matter what happens, someone is likely going to get the short end of the stick, get less minutes than they’d prefer, and end up unhappy. They all have their case for playing right away. See below for proof.
Last season (Kentucky): 39 GP, 10.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.1 apg, 2.3 bpg, 21.1 mpg
While there may be a scrap for minutes among a few Wolves bigs, Karl-Anthony Towns will not be part of that scrap. Not really, anyway. He’s a rookie, so technically he shouldn’t be guaranteed anything. But 1st overall picks, especially ones as two-way talented as Towns, get their minutes.
Towns, through three preseason games, has shown he can do a little bit of everything extremely well. He has good touch in the post, can score from the perimeter, can pass and protect the rim. He probably won’t get up enough shots to be a Rookie of the Year favorite (see: Jahlil Okafor, Emmanuel Mudiay), but his all-around play could make him an instant fixture in the Wolves future. He just has to put it all together.
Last season (with Wolves, acquired via trade in Feb.): 5 gp, 7.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 19.6 mpg
Like Towns, Garnett will get his minutes – only difference is KG’s minute availability is significantly lower. Like last year, KG will be on a 20-minute limit, will likely sit on the latter end of back-to-backs, and has had injury problems even despite those minutes restrictions.
Still, anyone who has ever looked into the history of the Wolves understands Garnett’s importance to this team. He’s a vocal leader’s vocal leader, a Hall of Famer, and his history with the Wolves makes his words all the more impactful to his young teammates. And on the floor (as I’ve mentioned more than once on here), the defense always stepped up when he was in the game – both statistically and via the eye
Last season: 73 gp, 9.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.7 bpg
Dieng has been the first guy coming off the bench for the Wolves so far this preseason, and that’ll probably carry over into the regular season. He has shown some prowess offensively, both scoring and passing the ball, and rebounds the ball well. What has been most troubling with Dieng has been the side of the ball fans were originally most excited about.
Despite a reputation as a defensive stopper, the Wolves’ defensive rating was only marginally better when he was on the floor (108.6) versus off the floor (110.9). While defense is obviously a team effort, neither listed rating is very good. He didn’t seem to be a plus defender when he was on the floor, struggled on the pick and roll, and wasn’t always in the right spot. The Wolves were a collective disaster defensively, and it’s unfair to pin too much blame on G, but I expected more from him on that end when the Wolves got him.
Last season (Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul): 29 gp, 12.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.0 apg, .356 3PT%
I’m team Nemanja.
He showed prowess in FIFA EuroBasket over the summer, and has continued that display of high IQ into the preseason. He’s a legit 6’10, can handle the ball like a guard, and can pass like a pass-first point man. Through three games, he’s shown a strong drive-and-kick game, his only fault so far being that he “doesn’t always shoot enough” (per Sam Mitchell).
He has good speed, is a decent rebounder, and knows how to play defense. It’s never a guarantee that a Euro prospect is going to translate in the NBA, but Bjelica seems to have the build, and the game, to be one of the good stories.
Last season: 31 gp, 12.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, .424 FG%
Pekovic is a likable guy, and a very good basketball player when healthy. He’s easy to root for, and despite potential for logjam issues at center, folks should want Pekovic to demand minutes.
Pek said at media day that he hasn’t played without pain in years. It’s clear that he won’t be playing at all right away, and he probably won’t be physically able to play big minutes once he comes back. When he’s healthy, he’s a banger inside (with legitimate skill offensively), a good rebounder, and a good man defender in the post. It’d be nice for the Wolves to have him, it just seems unlikely that we’ll see much of him this season.
Last season (just with Wolves, acquired via trade in Feb.): 29 gp, 7.2 ppg, 5.4 apg, 1.0 apg, .418 FG%
Payne, last year’s 15th overall pick, was acquired from Atlanta for a future (lottery-protected) first round pick a bit before the deadline last season. At the time, I didn’t mind the deal, because I think it would have looked like an okay deal had it happened on draft night.But, to the Hawks’ credit, maybe they saw the faults in his game after they got him into camp last year.
To be clear, Payne is far from done in the league, but he has a loooong way to go. He plays like a 15 year old kid on a learner’s permit driving a brand new Corvette. There are moments of brilliance, but often, it doesn’t seem like he knows exactly what he’s doing on either end of the floor. Lots of aimless jumping, and bad plays with the basketball. He has all the physical tools to be good, and still has a chance to be good, but he has to get it right mentally (on the floor, that is. Payne is by all accounts an awesome guy off the floor) for that to happen.