Earlier this week, the Minnesota Timberwolves hired Ryan Saunders as the 11th full-time in head coach in franchise history. The process to put Saunders in charge will be debated by fans about whether or not it was legitimate for the rest of the summer.
That process did lead the Wolves to Saunders, however. That’s a real thing that happened. He’s not the coach and will be for the foreseeable future. He enters a situation that’s not the best in the NBA to say the least.
The Wolves are coming off of a tumultuous, disappointing season that saw them finish well outside the playoff picture for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons. Just how far away the Wolves are to getting back into the playoffs is up for debate, but there’s no questioning that Saunders’ to-do list is rather full for the time being.
Here are some things that Saunders needs to get straightened out in order to begin to lead the Wolves to success.
Build a staff
This is important. It’s no secret that Saunders immediately becomes the youngest head coach in the NBA – roughly six years younger than Sacramento’s Luke Walton – and is taking over a team that’s filled with needs. Even though Saunders does have 10 years of coaching experience in the NBA, it makes sense to put a relatively experienced staff around him.
Earlier this week the news broke that the Wolves would not be retaining most of the assistants from the previous coaching staff. The contracts for Larry Greer, Jerry Sichting, John Lucas III, Ed Pinckney, and Dice Yoshimoto all expired and won’t be renewed. The team will keep Malik Allen around on the staff, however. He’s been instrumental in working with Karl-Anthony Towns.
This means that the Wolves will be building the staff from scratch, which is a good thing. Rosas has mentioned in his two media appearances that building the coaching staff similar to an NFL staff is something that appeals to him. This means Saunders would be the one in charge of the team as a whole, but he’ll be flanked by an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator, a game plan coordinator, and a player development coordinator.
There’s going to be a lot on the plate of any head coach in the NBA. It’s a tough job. But doing everything possible to lighten the load on a first-time head coach like Saunders could be very beneficial.
Work with Rosas on a system
Rosas was brought in because he was part of some really special things in Houston. He’s also mentioned moving the Wolves into the modern NBA a handful of times already. There’s no debating that the Wolves have, for the most part, been behind the times with their style of basketball.
That’s going to change, at least that’s what’s been said. Rosas mentioned finding plenty of defensive pieces to help the team at the introductory press conference for Saunders. They’re going to need to improve greatly on that end, no question.
The Wolves are fortunate enough where they have one of the game’s best offensive big men in Towns. The system that will need to be devised is one that should maximize his abilities offensively.
From there, figuring out who fits around Towns, and how, are two pressing questions for Rosas that need to be figured out.
Make player development a priority
Part of the problem for the Wolves right now is that they’re in a salary cap hell of sorts. It got a bit easier on them on Thursday when it was decided that Towns’ contract would only be worth $158 million over the next five years instead of $190 million. That saves them between $5-6 million per season. In the big scheme of things that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s certainly helpful. Regardless, the Wolves won’t have significant salary cap space for some time. They’re not going to be players for prominent free agents in the near future.
This means that the Wolves are going to be forced to improve from within. Last season the team did a solid job with guys like Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop, and Cam Reynolds in terms of getting them on the floor as rookies, but more can be done in that area. Can someone like Andrew Wiggins (more on him later, don’t worry) be the poster child for someone that took too long to develop but finally did get there after help from the right people? The Wolves should hope so.
If the team can turn guys like Okogie, Bates-Diop, and Reynolds into serviceable role players, it would be considered a win, especially with the latter two. Houston also did a great job reviving the careers of a couple of cast offs. Those gambles are low-risk, high-reward, and absolutely something that the Wolves should be taking part in.
Figure out the best role for Andrew Wiggins
Yes, the portion of the column you’ve waited for. How can the Wolves fix Andrew Wiggins with Gersson Rosas and Ryan Saunders now at the helm?
It’s hard to give an accurate answer, but it certainly starts with this summer. Wiggins has already been around the facility working out with the team this May. That hasn’t always been the case, but that matters. So much can be gained by Wiggins with time spent in the weight room this summer. Making him into a stronger player could help his game grow quite a bit.
As for the on the court stuff, the Wolves will likely look to eliminate a majority of the long 2-pointers that he takes. They’re never going to be able to totally get that well to run dry, but cutting down on the number would be a big deal. Getting Wiggins to shoot more threes would be a big win, especially from the corners.
He will likely never be a lights-out shooter from deep, but he can definitely improve. Setting him up for success is the first step to improving that. Wiggins shot 59% from the left corner this past season. Yes, that’s an incredibly high rate of success, but the problem with it is that the sample size was too small. He only attempted 39 threes from that spot, only 3.2% of his total shots.
Getting the number of attempts from areas Wiggins is comfortable in to a higher number should make him a better player, at least by a little bit.