After the Minnesota Timberwolves reached a buyout agreement with forward Shabazz Muhammad, they were left with two open roster spots. The team filled one of these spots on Thursday by signing former NBA MVP Derrick Rose.
Rose will be reuniting with his former coach, Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota, and will hopefully give the Timberwolves much-needed reinforcement. With Jimmy Butler injured, rookie Justin Patton still recovering from surgery along with Tom Thibodeau’s unwillingness to play Cole Aldrich, Aaron Brooks, or Marcus Georges-Hunt, the Timberwolves effectively have been running an eight-man rotation.
However, there is no guarantee that Derrick Rose will be effective. The 28-year-old has been so injury-plagued over the past few years that even considered retiring from basketball earlier this season. In addition, Rose is far from the MVP player that Thibodeau coached on the Chicago Bulls. He has averaged just 9.8 points and 1.6 assists per game this year.
The Timberwolves are in the midst of the fierce Western Conference playoff race, and they can’t afford to drop any winnable games. The team is in desperate need of bench scoring and would benefit greatly from another 3-point shooter. Most importantly, if another player goes down with injury, even for a few games, there will be no one to replace him. Therefore, it would make sense for the team to fill their empty roster spot as they head into their final 16 regular season games.
One option for filling the remaining roster spot is to sign players on two-way contracts. Two-way contracts are a new type of deal between players and NBA teams that were introduced in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that came into effect in July of 2017. It allows NBA teams two extra roster spots to sign G-League players. These players play the majority of the season with the team’s G-League affiliate, but they can spend a maximum of 45 days with their NBA team.
However, players on two-way contracts are not eligible to play in the playoffs. In order for these players to be on the postseason roster, their two-way contracts must be converted to standard NBA contracts.
The Timberwolves currently have Amile Jefferson and Anthony Brown signed to two-way contracts. Neither of these players have played in the NBA yet this year.
After being waived in the Timberwolves’ final round of preseason roster cuts, Amile Jefferson signed with the team’s G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves. During his time in the G-League, Jefferson averaged 17.9 points, 12.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.1 steals in 35 minutes per game. On Jan. 13, he was named to the NBA G-League Showcase First Team. Two days later, the Timberwolves signed him to a two-way contract.
If his deal was converted to a standard contract, Jefferson could be a valuable asset for the Timberwolves. Currently, the team is 28th in the league in bench scoring with just 25.8 points per game. By giving the Timberwolves another scoring option off the bench, Jefferson could help the team win games. In addition, he would provide desperately needed depth at forward.
After stints with various NBA and G-League teams over the past two years, the Timberwolves signed Anthony Brown to a two-way contract on Aug. 1, 2017. During his time with Iowa Wolves, Brown has averaged 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 38 minutes per game. The small forward is shooting 39.2 percent from 3-point range this year.
Brown has the potential to be a helpful addition to the Timberwolves down the stretch. Like Jefferson, he would provide another option at forward and give the bench a crucial offensive boost. He also would help shore up one of the team’s greatest weaknesses: 3-point shooting. The Timberwolves are currently 20th in the NBA in 3-point percentage, with 35.6 percent.
A big advantage to signing one or both of the Timberwolves’ two-way players to standard deals is that Brown and Jefferson already know the team. Both have spent time with the other players at practice and during training camp. They even accompanied the team on its week-long trip to China before the season.
“Obviously, vets know where to be but it may take them two weeks to learn all the plays. And there may not be two weeks. I already know tendencies,” said Anthony Brown, per Dane Moore of ZoneCoverage.com. “I know where Wiggins wants to score. I know where Karl wants to score. Even though I haven’t played with them, I’ve watched them enough now.”
Asked if Anthony Brown and Amile Jefferson can help them at this level, Thibodeau said, "We'll find out."— Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) March 2, 2018
The other option for filling the remaining roster spot is by signing free agents. In order to be eligible to play in the postseason, these players must have been waived by their previous team on or before March 1.
This off-season, the Timberwolves expressed interest in picking up veteran player Tony Allen. However, he ended up signing with the New Orleans Pelicans. They traded him to the Bulls in February, who promptly waived him. During his 13-year NBA career, Allen has been known as an elite defender, capable of guarding all positions. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive Team six times and won a championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008. He was so crucial to the success of the Memphis Grizzlies’ “Grit and Grind” era that he was given the nickname “The Grindfather.”
Though Allen, at 36 years of age, is past his prime, he is still a reasonable signing for the Timberwolves. His defense-first mentality fits well with the culture that Thibodeau is trying to instill. Furthermore, his veteran leadership would be undeniably valuable for the young Timberwolves’ players.
The Timberwolves originally selected Derrick Williams with the second overall pick in the 2011 draft. He later played for the Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, and Cleveland Cavaliers. Though Williams currently plays for the Tianjin Gold Lions in China, he hopes to return to the NBA.
Last year, the Cavs signed Williams in February. During the 25 games he played with the eventual Eastern Conference finalists, he shot 50 percent from the field. Williams averaged 17 minutes per game and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers. If the Timberwolves could pick up Williams like the Cavaliers did last year, he would be a reliable option to eat some minutes. This would give the other players a chance to rest, and allow the team more flexibility at forward. Furthermore, he would provide crucial improvement to the Timberwolves’ 3-point shooting.
The drawback to signing a free agent is that unlike Brown or Jefferson, they would be unfamiliar with the team. This means there’d be an adjustment period before the Timberwolves could reap the benefits of having the player.
However, a free agent could be very appealing to Tom Thibodeau, who tends to favor veteran players. Both Williams and Allen have years of NBA experience and have played on successful playoff teams. Either player could provide a valuable locker room presence for a team led by Karl-Anthony Towns, who has no postseason experience.
Regardless of how they go about doing it, filling the Timberwolves’ open roster spot is a smart idea. Even if the organization believes their team doesn’t need strengthening, it can’t hurt to have playable reinforcements just in case an injury were to strike.