With free agency kicking off next month, who are some middle tier guys who might fit well next to KAT? Let’s discuss.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a problem. It’s the same problem they’ve had for years. After having arguably the best power forward of all time in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the franchise has thrown out underwhelming, underperforming, and undersized players at the four spot. Now, the power forwards spot isn’t the most glamorous position in basketball, but it has long been a necessity for the Timberwolves.
I get it, some of you may argue that Jaden McDaniels should simply slot in next to Karl-Anthony Towns this coming season. While there is some logic to that, considering McDaniels is the team’s best defender and can knock down open threes, I’d push back and challenge you to view McDaniels as a small forward – much like the organization seems to think. McDaniels has the height of a prototypical power forward, but he lacks the size and strength that is needed next to Towns. The Wolves would be sacrificing a ton of size by using McDaniels next to Towns.
The problem is, there really isn’t much for options on the roster. Jarred Vanderbilt could potentially play between McDaniels and Towns, but he’s a very limited offensive player and it isn’t necessarily a certainty that he returns to Minnesota come the 2021-22 season (V8 is currently a restricted free agent). Juancho Hernangomez would be another option, though he struggled from deep last season and is a clear negative on defense, but he was recently injured while ramping up for the Olympics. It is very possible that Hernangomez misses the start of the upcoming season.
So, with the options on the roster being less than ideal, the Wolves will need to find another way to acquire someone to fill that role. With no draft picks, the only hope would be either trading into the draft and hitting on a prospect or finding a diamond in the rough in undrafted free agency that can contribute right away.
(Spoiler alert: not happening).
That leaves one final avenue for improving the position: trades.
Now, I’m not here to push the Ben Simmons/Myles Turner/John Collins idea any further than I – and many others – already have. Instead, I’ll be giving you a few cheaper (granted also less impactful) options that could possibly be acquired.
Clarke will be entering the third year of his rookie contract with the Memphis Grizzlies this season. He will be making $2.7 million this season and has a team option for $4.3 million for 2022-23.
Clarke is 6’8 and weighs 215 pounds. That isn’t exactly great size, but he’s been punching above his weight class in the league and has been successful. After having a very impressive rookie season where he averaged 12.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game on 65.8% shooting from two and 35.9% shooting from three, Clarke slowed down in his sophomore campaign. In year two for the Grizzlies, Clarke averaged 10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game on 56.5% and 26.0% from two and three respectively.
The idea in targeting Clarke would be to buy low on him after a disappointing second season in the NBA. While it is unknown if the Grizzlies would be willing to punt on him, it would not be surprising. Jaren Jackson Jr. returned from injury late last season and is likely slotted in as their power forward of the future. Behind Jackson the Grizzlies have Xavier Tillman Sr. who posted an impressive rookie season. Outside of those two, Kyle Anderson has one year remaining on his deal and played very well for the team in 2020-21. He splits minutes between both forward spots.
While I’m not saying Clarke has no path to minutes with a healthy Grizzlies team – I think he’s a better player than Tillman at this point – I’m suggesting that maybe Memphis would ship Clarke out of town for the right price knowing they have Tillman and Anderson there to carry the load behind Jackson.
As for the fit in Minnesota — Clarke could slot into the starting lineup next to Karl-Anthony Towns. Minnesota could run with a starting unit of D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Brandon Clarke, and Karl-Anthony Towns with Malik Beasley coming off the bench. Clarke is an effective defender and showed that he is capable of knocking down open shots in a low usage offensive role. He struggled shooting last season, but he was working with a reworked shot motion that looked, honestly, terrible. If he can readjust his form and get back to the ~35% mark, he’d be a valuable piece of Minnesota’s puzzle. He’s not someone who will shoot the lights out, only taking just over one attempt from deep per game so far, but there would be room to grow with a fixed jumper.
His offensive role would look somewhat similar to Jarred Vanderbilt’s dunker spot role, but he has stronger hands, is a bigger lob threat, and (hopefully) wouldn’t be a non-threat from deep. According to NBA.com, Clarke ranks in the 77th percentile. Defensively, he would fit as a switchable four which would allow Jaden McDaniels to play as the point of attack defender on the opposing team’s best perimeter creator.
Clarke, who will be 25 before next season starts, wouldn’t be as expensive in a trade as someone like Simmons or Collins would be. However, the Timberwolves aren’t going to be able to throw Jarrett Culver at the Grizzlies and hope they bite. Some sort of asset would need to go out the door. While I’m not sure what they would be, I’m confident in saying the Timberwolves could put something together if they had interest in acquiring Clarke.
Another interesting target is Maxi Kleber. Kleber has only played in the NBA for 4 seasons, but is already 29 years old. Still, regardless of his age, I think he would be a good fit in Minnesota and would be very attainable.
Kleber is 6’10 and weighs 240 pounds. His size would be ideal in the frontcourt for the Timberwolves. Again, slotting someone in at the power forward would allow McDaniels to operate as the point of attack defender in the starting lineup.
Much like Brandon Clarke, Kleber had somewhat of an off year in 2020-21 for the Dallas Mavericks. He played in 50 of the 72 games and in 26.8 minutes per night averaged 7.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting 46.0% from two and 41.0% from three. His two point shooting was a career low by far, as in all three of his past seasons he shot over 58% from two, including two seasons above 60%. However, he only took 1.3 shots from two per game. His 41.0% shooting from three was the best of his career as he’s continuously trended upward from deep every season. He took 4.2 threes per game, which allows us to confidently say he is a real threat from deep.
As you can tell in this shot chart, Kleber is capable of knocking down threes from anywhere around the arc. For the Timberwolves, his offensive role would be a low-usage one, which isn’t a bad thing considering the Timberwolves have 3 high-usage starters in Towns, Edwards, and Russell. Kleber would find himself spaced out in the corner for many offensive possessions, but that wouldn’t need to be his only role. While he did rank in the 75th percentile in spot up situations, he also ranked in the 75th percentile as the pick-and-roll roll man and was in the 92nd percentile for that play type in 2019-20.
Kleber’s offensive skillset, coupled with Towns’ unicorn play style, would allow ample space for Edwards and Russell to create with the ball, while also giving Russell another pick and roll partner. Though he didn’t shoot well from two last season, I’d bet on his percentage jumping upward next season.
Defensively, Kleber would be a good partner for Towns. He brings size to the table, which is something Towns hasn’t had alongside him for a while. On top of that, he also is a capable switch defender onto opposing wings. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say Kleber is a stout defender, I would say he is above average and has a number of the skills that would be valuable to this Timberwolves team. His size would also allow him to play some minutes at the center spot if the Wolves needed him to.
Kleber currently has two years left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2023. This coming season he will be making just under $9 million and the following year is non-guaranteed for just over $9 million. So, if it doesn’t work out you could simply not guarantee his contract for the last season, but if it did work out you’d have a starting power forwards for $9 million for two seasons.
The price to acquire Maxi Kleber shouldn’t be too high. I had one Mavericks blogger tell me that he would trade Kleber for Josh Okogie and a future second round pick. So, it’s not unrealistic to think a trade involving Josh Okogie, Jake Layman (for salary purposes), and the Wolves 2023 or 2025 second rounder would work.
Outside of the aforementioned big fish targets, PJ Washington of the Charlotte Hornets is one of my dream fits next to Karl-Anthony Towns. Washington would cost more to acquire than either of Clarke or Kleber, but the price range would likely be something the Wolves could make work.
Washington just wrapped up his second season in the league, which saw him average 12.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per night on 48.0% from two (6.2 attempts) and 38.6% from three (4.5 attempts). Washington stands only 6’7 but has a wingspan of 7’3. Using Ryan Saunders’ “effective playing eight model,” that makes Washington 6’11.
Jokes aside, his length, coupled with his 230+ pound frame, makes him a good sized player to fill the spot next to Towns in the Timberwolves lineup. Washington is a quality defender that would make life much easier for Karl-Anthony Towns on that end. He can use his length to block opponents shots and deter them from the rim. He is also mobile as a defender and can move his feet well against opposing wings and guards.
Offensively, he is a quality three point shooter and good volume, which means he should garner some attention from opposing defenses and make life easier on the other four players in the lineup. If opponents sag off of him to help on an Edwards drive, Washington can make them pay by knocking down the open three. On top of his shooting capabilities, Washington is also a very effective player in transition. This past season he ranked in the 81st percentile, according to NBA.com. In his rookie year, he ranked in the 69th percentile in transition, so all thanks can’t go out to LaMelo Ball.
Financially, Washington would be a good player to have on the team. Someone with his production making $4.2 million this coming season and has a $5.8 million team option for the following year would be great value. Plus, he would become a restricted free agent in 2023, giving Minnesota the right to match any contract offer. The problem is matching salaries and making the trade make sense for both sides. It wouldn’t be impossible, just more difficult than the previous targets I mentioned. Going after Washington could mean trying to swoop in as a third team to help facilitate a trade between the Hornets and another team. Or, it could mean giving up valuable assets like draft picks or someone like Malik Beasley.
If the Timberwolves think someone like Washington could be the answer at the power forward spot, then trading for him – even if it costs some good assets – might be worth it. I love the fit and think he would boost this team’s status in the Western Conference, but there’s no way to know what he would cost or how much better he would make the team.
It’s important to remember that this offseason isn’t simply ‘Ben Simmons or Bust’. There are a number of players that could help the Timberwolves at the power forward spot. Some have their flaws and quirks, as most players do, and some would help more than others. The important part in all of this is to consider the cost to acquire a player compared to their value to the Wolves. Some guys might be more valuable to Minnesota than they are other teams, and vice versa.
In the end, I – and I assume you too – just want to see the Timberwolves succeed. The biggest factor in that will be figuring out who to play alongside Karl-Anthony Towns in the frontcourt. These aren’t the only options, and maybe not even the best ones, but they certainly are players that I’ll get my hopes up over.