The Minnesota Timberwolves have been quiet this offseason, but the speculation about how they’ll be next year has been deafening. It has been centered around the synergy and continuity concept pushed by the front office, specifically GM Gersson Rosas. However, they have addressed a glaring hole at power forward and added a rim-protecting big are the two specific areas that we have seen needed improvement.
The Naz-KAT duo was heavily requested from fans when the team was struggling under Ryan Saunders. However, it didn’t happen with much frequency until Chris Finch took over in the second half of the season. Naz is the backup center, but he’s listed at 6’9”, making him and KAT interchangeable at the 4 and 5 due to their inside-out offensive games.
Naz and KAT are not anything spectacular as rim defenders at the 5, respectively. However, together they bring the Wolves team Defensive Rating per NBA.com from their individual average of 115 to 111.
Bringing the high ceiling of the third-worst Defensive Rating in the league may not seem like much as it is in the bottom third. However, this is something they can build off of. The league is headed towards less small ball, and having the versatility to matchup or take advantage of a smaller roster with this duo gives the Wolves options to tinker with.
Relying on Strengths
KAT and Naz are two of the most efficient players on the team. This past season, they posted two of the top-three true shooting percentages on the roster. KAT and Vanderbilt tied at No. 1 with 61.2 and Naz right behind at 3 with 59.9. For reference, the league average was 57.2, which is a great foundation for the duo, who averaged 12.1 3-point attempts per game. The stats are weighted to help these types of players, assuming they are efficient. Still, you will see the stat dominated by players in the mold of Rudy Gobert, Mitchell Robinson, and Robert Williams III, or prime DeAndre Jordan.
These archetypes will be more valued in the modern game, with more 3s and fewer mid-range shots. This was the modus operandi of the Houston Rockets’ 3-laden offensive strategy, which Rosas implemented when he ran their D-League team. Naz will never take a mid-range, and KAT has the offensive freedom to take those if they come his way, but they are not a staple of his game. When he takes the occasional mid-range shot, it comes from a step back of the catch-and-shoot looking for the 3-ball.
The final integral piece of the duo puzzle is finding the correct fits around them to cover up their weaknesses. Naz and KAT need complementary pieces around them, beginning with Jaden McDaniels, who would slot at the 3 and be the driving force on defense, especially as an on-ball defender.
He can limit offensive players from getting easy one-on-one drives to the rim, which is one of the primary reasons behind KAT’s poor defensive metrics. McDaniels has shown the ability to maximize his wiry frame and potentially be one of the most impactful help-side defenders in the league.
Whether he was getting a block or a simple arms-straight-up contest, Jaden did enough to affect others and help his teammates. He is the most significant piece next to the duo. Best-case scenario? Ben Simmons could bring these results to a whole other level above and beyond. Just sayin’.
At worst, Naz has shown the ability to come over to help side under the rim and block elite driving scorers when he is off-ball and hustle down to get the easy bucket.
Additionally, any combination of Minnesota’s guards should complement Naz, KAT, and McDaniels, and the key to it all is spacing the floor and making it easier for ball-dominant guards to create. Easier creation makes drives for Anthony Edwards or 1-on-1 shots for D’Angelo Russell much more accessible.
If push comes to shove and this duo isn’t as explosive as expected, it can still be used effectively against mismatches. Having this open floor spacing concept to go along with help-side defenders has been needed for KAT during his tenure in Minnesota. It is a step in the right direction given Minnesota’s roster composition heading into the 2021 season.