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Wolves Mailbag: More trades, defensive scheme, and the short rotation

Welcome to the 1500 ESPN Wolves Mailbag! I felt like this was a good time to start this as the Wolves have climbed back into the Western Conference playoff race after an abysmal start to the season and I’ve had around a month around the team to this point.

As we move along, this will likely be made into a bi-weekly column appearing every other Friday morning, depending on the Wolves’ schedule. Thanks for the questions. The response was better than expected and unfortunately there were some that I was unable to fit and several about Josh Okogie (that much I did expect).

Without further adieu:

The date that Peter included in his question is significant because Dec. 15 is the first day that players that were signed over the summer are eligible to be moved to another team via trade. Of the group he mentioned, only Anthony Tolliver is affected by this rule. Tolliver, coincidentally is probably the likeliest to get moved as well. He’s not in the rotation right now (more on that later) and his $5.7 million contract for this season matches up well with younger players across the league. It would make sense to move a guy that currently isn’t in the rotation, even if it potentially does sacrifice depth.

As for potential players that they could be looking at in return, with the amount of depth that they currently have it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take an opportunity to take on a younger player that could contribute if needed or next year, especially with uncertainty at a few spots, including the point guard position.

Jerryd Bayless was the third player acquired from Philadelphia with Robert Covington and Dario Šarić in exchange for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton. Bayless hyperextended his knee during training camp with the 76ers and hasn’t played a second for either team this season.

After he was introduced by the team following the trade Bayless went back to New York to continue his rehab. That process has since been completed, and he’s been doing on-court stuff with the team over the last 10 days or so. While he’s been doing things at practices and shootaround, he is not yet 100 percent ready to go and able to do everything he needs to in order to be on the floor.

Once the time comes for Bayless to be activated, he’ll likely be used as depth. It’s hard to see him cracking the rotation for Tom Thibodeau.

To get to the second question, there definitely are two players on the bench and out of the rotation that deserve to be on the floor. The first is Tolliver and the other is rookie Josh Okogie. Neither of the two players enjoy sitting on the bench and watching when they’re certainly qualified to be helping the team on the floor, but it hasn’t caused a stir in the locker room at all. It’s easy to see how it could potentially be the case as it does happen in the NBA routinely. Look no further than the way the Cleveland Cavaliers have had to deal with J.R. Smith this season.

While both Tolliver and Okogie would like to be playing, they’ve both handled being out of the rotation as professionals. Tolliver is typically one of the last players to leave the court following practice as he puts extra shots up. Okogie has also produced in very limited action since he’s fallen out of the rotation and everyone in the locker room has great things to say about him.

This is an interesting question, not just because we don’t know right now whether the Wolves will be looking for a new front office or coach this upcoming summer, but we also don’t know if Fred Hoiberg is a good NBA coach.

Hoiberg was injected into an odd situation in Chicago to say the least. He wanted to put forth a “pace and space” style of basketball with a healthy amount of 3-point shooting. In his first year he was hired to do that, only to have the Bulls go out and sign Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo that summer. Both Wade and Rondo are historically very poor shooters from the outside and alpha personalities. It’s an impressive feat that Hoiberg was able to get that group – featuring Butler – to work out and find a way not only to the playoffs, but to a 2-0 lead in the first round over the No. 1 seed Boston Celtics before falling in six games. For the record, I’m of the belief that if Rondo doesn’t break his thumb, the Bulls win that series.

After that, Chicago went into rebuilding mode and he never got an opportunity to try and prove he could be a good coach in the league. If the Wolves are holding a coaching search next summer, I think he would be worth talking to, but I’m not sure he’s the top candidate.

Thibodeau has modified his defensive scheme since the trade, but the reason he’s been able to do that is the presence that Covington has on that end of the floor. The Wolves switch more defensively now than they used to because Covington gives them that ability.

Covington is also one of, if not the best perimeter defenders in the league. Yes, Butler was a good defender as well, but in my opinion, Covington is better than him, and may be the best off-ball defender in the league. I’ve been blown away by what he’s been able to do at the end of the floor. Whether it’s been the highlight plays such as his block of Clint Capela or other little intricacies that often go unnoticed, he’s been great for Minnesota.

Right now, no. Early on I thought Okogie could be leaned on if Covington found himself in foul trouble, but it’s happened one or two times since the trade and Okogie hasn’t been a solution to the rotation for Thibodeau.

One of the faults of Thibodeau is that he can be sometimes too hesitant to make rotational adjustments. I think there are some nights when Tolliver may be a better matchup for the Wolves than Gorgui Dieng, and others where Minnesota looks like it needs energy and Okogie would be the perfect solution.

I’m not an NBA coach, however, so I can’t make those changes.





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Previous Story Last Shots: On Wiggins’ dunk, digging out of the hole, Towns’ leadership, and locker room happiness Next Story Talkin’ About Practice: Winning away from home, Covington’s impact, and a wild Western Conference