Retaining Nathan Knight Reveals Something About Connelly’s Methodology

The Minnesota Timberwolves found themselves in another interesting situation following the Rudy Gobert trade. They had to fill out the remaining roster spots left by Patrick Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, and Walker Kessler.

Tim Connelly and the Wolves moved fast, adding veteran guards Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes on veteran minimum contracts. That left them with one more to work with to add some more size. The Wolves still had their biannual exception ($4.105 million) available, but they went the in-house route, retaining former two-way big-man Nathan Knight.

Knight signed a partially-guaranteed deal worth up to $1.836 million with a team option for next season. The contract gives both the Wolves and Knight a lot of flexibility.

The Wolves were able to retain a player who knows the team, coaching, and system. He can also follow a blueprint that has been successful under Tim Connelly in Denver and Sachin Gupta. That is landing young upside players that can develop at their own pace or fit the roster without messing up the flow of the rotation. When you have a top-heavy roster in salary, you must make savvy moves around the margins to bring in role players like Forbes or Rivers and low-risk developmental projects like Knight.

That’s why bringing Knight back was much more beneficial than using the open market to find another veteran. Signing low-risk developmental projects have been a specialty of Minnesota’s front office lately. They signed Jaylen Nowell and Naz Reid to four-year deals with non-guarantees tied in each year. Jordan McLaughlin also spent two years under the two-way and is finally earning himself a multi-year deal after solid play in critical moments.

The market is nothing spectacular at this point. The best available bigs are Hassan Whiteside, DeMarcus Cousins, and LaMarcus Aldridge, further justifying the reasoning for bringing back Knight. He has been around the team all off-season, putting a lot of his work in at the downtown training facilities.

Connelly has had luck with low-risk deals in the past. In Denver, he immediately inked Monte Morris and Nikola Jokic to three-year minimum rookie-scale deals after drafting them in the second round. Isaiah Hartenstein developed on a minimum deal of a year. Torrey Craig earned a two-year deal after his two-way stint and coming over from winning the MVP in the NBL in New Zealand.

Connelly and Gupta’s expertise in finding value late in the draft or internationally makes them an exceptional pairing. Knight can follow a direct blueprint from other players Connelly and Gupta have developed while offering depth behind Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Naz Reid.

Knight plays with a ton of aggression and energy. He will always have an impact if he can fill in when others are injured and offer depth over Reid in specific situations, even if it’s a brief three-minute stint. For example, he can replace Naz if he continues to struggle against bigger bigs or finding a fit in the offense like he did last year.

Knight is too good to be playing in the G-League. He played one game with the Iowa Wolves this past season and put up 31 points and 12 rebounds on 13-25 from the field and 4-9 from three. Knight played heavy minutes with the Wolves when other players were out with COVID. Against a then-middling Boston team, put up a 21-point, 11-rebound stat line while shooting 8-11 from the field and 2-2 from three. Knight was a huge reason for them coming home with a W that night.

Knight is clearly more polished offensively than defensively. But he has the athleticism and size not to be a complete liability defensively. Knight will not have much of a rim presence, but he has the quickness and low center of gravity to move laterally against matchups of his size. Knight is the perfect project to keep around the organization. Connelly and Co. can continue to try to polish and turn him into a rotational NBA player. There was virtually no downside given the other bigs available in free agency.

Acquiring Knight from the Atlanta Hawks on the two-way deal this past season was already an impressive swing for the Wolves. But being able to retain him after he looked like the odd man out before the Gobert trade could pay dividends. If Knight finds his way into the rotation in any capacity, he has the potential to be low-cost depth of the future or a rotational big. The Wolves were wise to keep him around and continue to see how his game develops.

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