An ode to Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt, who re-routed the Timberwolves onto a path to success
The Rudy Gobert trade to the Timberwolves is expected to be made official this week, with a press conference to follow. At that point, the spotlight will be placed firmly on one of the game’s best centers, who is coming to Minnesota to help lift the Timberwolves from playoff team to potential NBA title contender.
Gobert’s official arrival also will mark the official departure of a pair of players who helped raise the franchise to a level where it finally made sense to make a home-run swing — Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt.
Those two quickly forced their way into the Timberwolves’ starting lineup and the hearts of many Wolves fans. As much as the winning helped bring fans back to Target Center, so too did the presence of two athletes possessing the fire and vigor that Minnesota basketball fans have adored since Kevin Garnett first took centerstage in downtown Minneapolis decades ago.
Beverley displayed a not-so-subtle moxie replicated few times in this franchise’s history. He was confident in himself and his teammates, a trait that permeated throughout the roster.
Sure, at times he probably teetered at — OK, maybe even flew over — the line into the territory of “too brash,” but his cocksure was far more benefit than detriment. Beverley’s audaciousness seemed to help young, rising star Anthony Edwards strengthen his voice and gave Karl-Anthony Towns the necessary push needed to find his.
The veteran point guard was the leader who needed to be in place last season while his more prominent teammates worked to transition into such a role. Perhaps no moment was more impactful last season than when Beverley pulled his teammates aside after a loss during a tough start to the season and made each of them state their role within the team.
It was an accountability session for all, the boost the young Wolves needed to finally realize their long-discussed potential.
Someone with a certain stature and volume had to vocalize the fact that these were no longer the Timberwolves of old, that a new era was indeed taking hold. Beverley fit that bill from the beginning — when he stated his plans to return the team to the playoffs — to the end, when he planted his feet atop the Target Center scorer’s table after achieving his previously stated intentions.
His words were backed by actions. Beverley maintained his status as a top-tier perimeter defender, often taking on difficult individual assignments to take pressure off his backcourt mate, D’Angelo Russell.
The Timberwolves’ identity heading into last season figured to be one defined by offensive production. Wolves coach Chris Finch insinuated as much. The roster leaned heavily toward that side of the ball.
The reason Minnesota so greatly exceeded expectations and won 46 games was entirely because that didn’t prove to be the case. The Wolves finished with a defense that finished in the top half of the NBA after keeping the team afloat for the first half of the season. Minnesota flew around, making up for a lack of defensive acumen with relentless effort that created a chaos with which few opponents were used to playing against.
Beverley and Vanderbilt were the heads of the snake, with Beverley providing the perimeter ball pressure that is king in basketball and Vanderbilt flying around to do just about everything else. Of Minnesota’s top 25 most-played two-man lineup combinations, the duo of Beverley and Vanderbilt sported the second-best defensive rating.
Those two were always willing to do the little things that actually win games.
For so long, those intangibles were missing in Minnesota, which was reflected by the win-loss record. Talent matters, particularly in the NBA, but it’s so often squandered because the ability to make shots isn’t properly balanced with the willingness to dive on a loose ball or lock up an opposing offensive player. Rosters and lineups require balance to win in this league.
A problem for so many teams is the inability to bring a consistent energy and effort throughout an 82-game schedule. That was rarely an issue for Minnesota. Because even on the nights when it did get off to a sluggish start, Vanderbilt would make some remarkable third or fourth effort to make a steal or grab an offensive rebound that ignited the crowd and his team.
It was no coincidence that Edwards’ ascension to young superstar and perhaps the best season of Towns’ career coincided with the presence of two teammates who did everything outside of possessing the basketball to impact winning games.
This is not to say Minnesota made any type of mistake in trading Beverley and Vanderbilt, among many other players and draft assets, to acquire a supreme talent in Gobert. The defensive superstar center has the capability to elevate the Timberwolves to a level that may not have been attainable prior to his arrival.
But his acquisition is the kind of move a team only takes once it’s confident it has the culture and direction to take advantage of such a player’s talents in the last few years of Gobert’s prime. It’s certainly fair to say Minnesota has that now, but only after players like Beverley and Vanderbilt helped re-shape the Wolves, and re-routed them out of the mud and onto a path to relevance and success.
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