What are Minnesota's Bench Options in 2018-19?

How will the Minnesota Timberwolves' bench rotation shake out in the upcoming season?

After well over a decade in the darkness, the Minnesota Timberwolves used a final regular season win-or-go-home game to scrape back into the NBA playoffs. However, for a team consisting of All-NBA talents in Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, the eighth seed and a first-round exit won't cut it going forward.

The main reason a squad that featured those two prestigious talents - along with solid role players like Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson - struggled to live up to expectations was pretty simple; the guys who replaced them of the bench were disastrous.

Head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau was quick to note his team's weakness during a Summer League interview with NBA TV.

"Obviously the defense is something we have to improve, especially with our second unit," he said "The bench is something that we have to sure up."

Under the Thibodeau regime, bench players aren't going to soak up a vast amount of minutes, but when they did get on the floor, they didn't look like they belonged there. While they Minnesota's bench unit finished the season sixth in offensive rating, they also bottomed out as the very worst team in defensive rating, per NBA stats

When Jamal Crawford declined his player option, that defense was instantly upgraded, but there has been a couple of cheap, smart additions that will help, too. First Derrick Rose (who was arguably the Wolves' best player in the postseason) arrived on a veteran minimum contract, a move that represents little risk and fairly high reward if the former MVP can get anywhere close to his best. Next up was Anthony Tolliver, a sharp-shooting power forward who also adds a much needed defensive toughness. Combine those two with exciting rookies Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop, and the front office blueprint is starting to come to life.

Thibs is known for his shortened bench, but with more options, it seems likely he will roll with a 10-man rotation. The starters are sorted, but who should the next five be?

The Three-Guard Line-up

Tyus Jones - Derrick Rose - Josh Okogie - Anthony Tolliver - Gorgui Dieng

After Derrick Rose was acquired in the latter stages of the 2017-18 regular season, the three-guard bench unit was a staple of the Timberwolves' game. The issue is that the aforementioned Jamal Crawford was playing the pseudo small forward in place of Okogie, and that didn't go so well. 

When J-Crossover was sharing the floor with Jones and Rose, the Timberwolves posted a ghastly 115.8 defensive rating. Now, they have 6-foot-4 guard Josh Okogie to slide into that role, and he is much better equipped to handle it. Albeit in Summer League, you can see in the footage below that the first-round pick is an energizer bunny on the gritty end of the floor.

Tolliver will be an upgrade over the outgoing Nemanja Bjelica, on both ends, and Jones and Dieng were arguably the Wolves best defenders off the pine last season - so that shoddy defense should be sufficiently bandaged. On paper, the offense looks like a problem, but it didn't seem to worry them last season, so the improved defense is the key.

Rose Goes

Tyus Jones - Josh Okogie - Keita Bates-Diop - Anthony Tolliver - Gorgui Dieng

With an injury history longer than his impressive list of career achievements, Derrick Rose is the last player one can trust to withstand the bumps and bruises of an 82-game NBA season. If and when this does happen, the second-round pick Bates-Diop would slot into the lineup with relative ease.

At 6-foot-8 with a gangly 7-foot-3 wingspan, the 2017-18 Big Ten Player of the Year has intriguing 3-and-D potential. He was a standout in Las Vegas Summer League action, too. Playing alongside Okogie for the first time, KBD put up 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. 

While the three-guard line-up has the potential to be a passable defense, this Rose-less five has the makings of a unit that can shackle nearly anybody. That has to bring a rare smile to Tom Thibodeau's face. 

The major issue with this scenario is only Tolliver - 43 percent from deep last season - is a true threat from the perimeter. Minnesota finished last in takes-and-makes from 3-point land last season, so sacrificing shooting isn't a winning recipe. Make no mistake though, the defense would be fun to watch.

Small Ball

Tyus Jones - Derrick Rose - Josh Okogie - Anthony Tolliver - Keita Bates-Diop

If there is one thing that the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets have taught us, it's that spacing the floor with a small five and firing up 3's can incinerate the opposition - if the personnel fits the system. This line-up isn't going to blow anyone's socks off, but it is the most dangerous small-ball bench unit the Wolves can muster up.

This all hinges on the Okogie and Bates-Diop's ability to enter the league and make the same sort of impact from behind the arc that they did in the college. In his final season at Georgia Tech University, Okogie nailed 38 percent of his 4.2 attempts per game, while Bates-Diop nailed 35.9 percent of the 5.2 triples he jacked per night during his senior year. If Minnesota gets that version of their two rooks, this line-up could work.

Tyus Jones has proven to be a reliable floor general and defender, and Derrick Rose showed last season he still has the slightest bit of fuel left in the tank to attack the rim with a 2011 style velocity, but history shows they won't help this unit prosper from long-range. 

Sprinkle in the fact that this mob has little-to-no rim protection, and Thibs might have this option tucked away for a bad day.

Big Ball

Derrick Rose - Josh Okogie - Anthony Tolliver - Gorgui Dieng - Justin Patton

Now we are getting a little funky. Tom Thibodeau has a history of zigging while the rest of the league zags, so ditching the pace and space line-up and rolling out a gigantic, defensively scary five might be right up the former Coach of the Year's alley. 

Of course, if you replaced Rose with Jones the defense would become even more frightening, but we all know Thibs adores his former MVP. The real question mark in this unit is Justin Patton. Due to nagging foot injuries, the former Creighton University standout made just one, four-minute appearance during his rookie season and after spending much of the off-season still rehabbing, he may not have won over Thibs enough to earn rotational minutes.

However, if the 7-foot-1 center can crack his coach's infamously strict rotation, he can bring a new dimension to this second unit. In his 38 games in Iowa with Minnesota's G-League affiliate last season, Patton averaged 12.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks while nailing a promising 15-49 (30.4%) from behind the arc.

If the almost-redshirt-rookie can take another step toward stretching the floor on offense and protecting the rim on defense, he could be the oil that makes this oversized engine work.

Like what you've read? Share it with your friends on      or  

Free Agency Tracker

Keep track of 2018 NBA free agency signings with our live free agency tracker.

The NBA Collection

NBA themed T-Shirts that are actually worth wearing.

Podcasts

Podcasts from the Hashtag Basketball Podcast Network, covering NBA and fantasy basketball.

Fantasy Basketball

Expert fantasy basketball analysis, podcasts, injury updates, and 19 free fantasy basketball tools to help you dominate your league this season.

NBA Coverage

Full coverage of all 30 NBA teams.