The Minnesota Timberwolves landed Robert Covington and Dario Saric for Jimmy Butler, which was an interesting haul for the organization.
Covington and Saric are both capable of immediately providing playing time for Minnesota. While it’s unclear what their starting lineup is going to look like, these are our projections for how the team will use their new players in the new era for the Timberwolves.
Jeff Teague, Guard
For all intents and purposes, Jeff Teague is the starting point guard for this team. He has played just seven games this season and was in the first unit for all of them. Teague was also in the starting lineup for all 70 games that he appeared in last year as well. But it’s also no secret his backup Derrick Rose has performed well, averaging 18.8 points and 4.7 assists per game. During the 87 minutes that Teague and Rose have played together, the team has scored 114.9 points per 100 possessions. Their defense has been putrid, however, allowing 119.3 points per 100. That would be among the worst in the NBA. Expect the organization to pick one option between Teague and Rose rather than a two-guard lineup, which has been thus far unsuccessful.
Don’t be shocked if there is another move to come for the Timberwolves. Tyus Jones is a capable starting point guard but now sits as the third option for Minnesota. We’ve previously written about why he would be a perfect fit for the Phoenix Suns, who are still looking for a backcourt fit next to Devin Booker and were recently linked once again to Boston’s Terry Rozier. Jones simply does not make sense as a third-unit option for this team. If the front office can extract value from him and create more depth, it’d be a wise move going forward.
Andrew Wiggins, Wing
Now with Butler no longer in the picture, his high usage rate will not be as much of a concern for the Timberwolves. Wiggins is far from a typical shooting guard but he may play down a slot to make room for Covington on the wing. While he not gotten any run there so far this season, Wiggins has played 16 percent of his minutes at shooting guard during his career. Wiggins has also played as a power forward in smaller lineups, accounting for six percent of his minutes during his career. Their best three-man offensive lineup this season has been when Wiggins has played with Teague and Rose.
On the bright side, he is shooting a career-high 39.6 percent from downtown so far this season. He actually ranks in the 70th percentile on three-pointers, per Cleaning the Glass. If his outside shot is even remotely sustainable, it might not be a huge disaster having him play shooting guard. And if Wiggins can perform as even a league average defender, he will maintain his value for the organization. While he won’t take over the offensive load the way Butler could, he might have better overall production without sharing the ball with an All-Star playing a similar position.
Robert Covington, Wing
It was no secret that Minnesota head coach and basketball executive Tom Thibodeau wanted a starting-caliber player to replace Butler in a trade. Other names rumored in deals were highlighted by Miami Heat wing Josh Richardson, developing Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert as well as Los Angeles Clippers forward Tobias Harris. Even though Covington might not offer the same upside as any of the players mentioned above, he is a reliable two-way player with a strong skill set on both offense and defense.
It’s most important that he is on a team-friendly long-term contract, too. Rather than a player who was destined to leave during free agency like Butler, they’ll now have an above average option in their starting lineup. His low-usage rate will not distract from Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. His shooting will help, though, considering he is 28-for-69 (41 percent) on non-corner three’s. That ranks in the 79th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass.
Dario Saric, Forward
One reason why Dario Saric is such a good fit is that his age is right in the timeline of Towns and Wiggins. The former lottery pick is just 24 years old, which increases his value within the relatively young team. Saric is an adept playmaker who can knock down shots. Last season, he averaged 1.11 points per possession as a spot-up shooter for Philadelphia. According to Synergy Sports, that ranked in the 78th percentile. He will allow them to space the floor in a way they could not when Taj Gibson was on the court. Gibson is still a serviceable player but one likely better suited for the rotation than in a starting lineup. For what it’s worth, Philadelphia outscored opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions when Saric was on the court with Covington last season.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Big Man
The biggest winner of trading away Jimmy Butler is Minnesota star Karl-Anthony Towns. The chemistry issues were obviously terrible, but besides that, this could be great news for the big man for basketball reasons. Last season, Towns averaged 19.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per 36 minutes when he shared the floor with Butler, connecting on 39.3 percent of his attempts from long distance. During the time that Butler was not playing alongside him, however, Towns averaged 24.2 points and 12.5 rebounds per 36 while shooting 46.0 percent from three-point range. His usage rate spiked from 23.0 percent next to Butler to 26.3 percent when the wing was injured or resting. We can expect to see him more on the perimeter, shooting long-distance, in their new offense.