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In the winter of 2006, the Minnesota Timberwolves were foundering. They were two years removed from a Western Conference Finals run on the strength of the best Wolves roster ever assembled and they were in disarray. The 58-24 record that had won them their division and earned them the first seed in the playoffs had given way to a 44-38 finish the next year and 33-49 the year after that. Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell had been replaced by Ricky Davis and Randy Foye. Wally Szczerbiak was gone. The team was paying Mark Blount $7.2 million. Kevin Garnett was 30 years old and unhappy. If something dramatic was not forthcoming, all signs were pointing to Garnett leaving.

In the present day, things look much different. Last season, the Wolves were threatening to sneak into the playoffs after a seven-year absence until Ricky Rubio went down with a torn ACL in early March. For all of Kevin Love’s testiness about his contract, he had an incredible season and only looks to be getting better. So far in the offseason they’ve jettisoned what Love termed the “bad blood” in the locker room and made major upgrades to their rotation, specifically on the wings, and look poised for a solid year and possibly the playoffs.

But something the 2006 and 2012 teams have in common is missing out on a player who might have turned the tide or pushed them over the top, respectively. Strangely enough, both have the initials A.I., both were drafted and became stars for the Philadelphia 76ers, and both ended up going to the Denver Nuggets instead of the Timberwolves.

In the winter of 2006, something was rotten in the City of Brotherly Love. If Kevin Garnett’s big moment had come two years earlier against the Lakers in the Conference Finals, Allen Iverson’s had come five years before when his Sixers had squared off against L.A. in the NBA Finals and lost 4-1. The intervening years had not been kind, with Philadelphia never advancing further than the Conference Semifinals and twice missing the playoffs altogether. Seventeen games in and wallowing in the basement of the Atlantic Division at 5-12, the team was in trouble and Iverson demanded a trade. Never known for his easygoing personality and now increasingly problematic, he was sent home and ruled out of the team’s next two games on December 8.

At the time, it seemed like there was a shot at him coming to Minnesota. The contractual kerfuffle with Sprewell and Cassell had torpedoed the 2004-05 season and ended with Sprewell gone and Cassell on the Clippers in exchange for … well, you know how that worked out. But maybe those last two seasons had just been a stumble, a speed bump towards another playoff run with Garnett if the Wolves could get him a sidekick who was every bit the crazed competitor Garnett was.

There were concerns about Iverson’s ball-domination (not knowing then that the platoon of guards the Wolves had—Troy Hudson, Mike James, Marko Jaric, and Randy Foye—weren’t people in whose hands you wanted the ball anyways) and concerns about how he would fit with Garnett (not knowing that Garnett would go on to lead the Celtics to an NBA championship as a defensive alpha dog, not an offensive one). There were even concerns about what the Wolves would have to give up. Hindsight being twenty-twenty, it’s tough to imagine fans were concerned about giving up on Randy Foye, Ricky Davis, Marko Jaric, and Mike James.

But Iverson didn’t come to Minnesota. Instead, he went to the Denver Nuggets, where his tenure was not an unabashed success. Two first round exits and a full serving of the attitude problems that dogged him in Philly later, he was shipped to the Detroit Pistons for Antonio McDyess and Chauncey Billups.

Would Iverson have turned things around in Minnesota, though? Well, probably not, or at least not without a lot of other moves. Garnett made $21 million that year, and Iverson was owed $17.1 million plus $19.1 million and $20.8 million in the next two years. And given what the Wolves would have had to give up, they would have been sending out some mishmash of Garnett, Iverson, Craig Smith, Rashad McCants, and Trenton Hassell to start.

And yet given how Garnett left after the 2007 season in exchange for a package that eventually yielded (I believe) Chase Budinger and a bag of hammers, and how awful and dark the Wolves’ roster got for a while there—their top seven highest paid players in 2007-08 were Theo Ratliff, Antoine Walker, Juwan Howard, Marko Jaric, Troy Hudson, Greg Buckner and Michael Doleac—I can’t help but think how it might have been fun. I mean, we’re talking about the guy who wanted to know why we were talking about practice. We’re talking about the guy who did this stuff.

Maybe that’s all the dream of Iverson on the Timberwolves was: a highlight-filled Band-aid that might have only staved off an inevitable post-Garnett swoon. But when the trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers and Bynum to the Sixers also sent Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets, the Wolves might have missed out on an A.I. that genuinely could have taken them to the next level.

Strangely enough, when Iverson was moved in 2006, part of the reason was to clear the way for third-year player Iguodala to step up and become the new face of the franchise. But Iguodala—about as underrated defensively as Iverson was overrated offensively—never quite turned into the centerpiece that Philadelphia wanted. Despite solid numbers, outstanding defense, and regular playoff appearances for his team, Iguodala has never looked like a superstar in the manner of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or Kobe Bryant. But that’s precisely why he could have been so valuable on the Timberwolves.

With Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love already in place, Iguodala wouldn’t have had to be the face of the franchise. He wouldn’t have had to distribute the ball, hit 3-pointers, and create his own shot. He could have played lockdown defense, run the floor in transition, knocked down the occasional jumper, and gotten to the hoop and the stripe when defenses collapsed on penetration. He would have provided a fantastic all-around game to go along with Rubio’s passing, Love’s shooting and rebounding, and Pekovic’s rebounding and post game.

But as it was with Iverson, salary was a major concern with Iguodala. Next season he’s owed $14.7 million and the season after, $15.9 million, should he exercise his player option. By comparison, Andrei Kirilenko (including his player option) is owed $20 million over the next two years—$10.6 million less than Iguodala will make.

Maybe Iguodala going to Denver won’t matter. Maybe Kirilenko will play like he has in the Olympics and maybe Alexey Shved and Kirilenko will become the shadow to the the Rubio/Love tandem that clicked into place last season. And maybe Iverson in 2006 wouldn’t have mattered either. Getting him then would have been a huge gamble for a player who was, at 31, about to enter the downslope of his career. Maybe Garnett was already done in Minnesota and wouldn’t have been able to push his hard-nosed work ethic on Iverson the way he did with the Celtics in 2007.

No team is immune to the what-if game of trades, draft picks, and free agency. But the Timberwolves and their fans seem somehow highly susceptible to the near-miss or the nearly great move. What if the team hadn’t traded Ray Allen for Stephon Marbury? What if Sam Cassell’s back had held up into the Western Conference Finals in 2004? What if they hadn’t taken Jonny Flynn with the sixth pick in 2009 and instead taken Stephen Curry? Or, I don’t know, a Starbucks Gift Card? Allen Iverson likely wouldn’t have saved the franchise in 2006. Here’s hoping we never have to conclude the same about Andre Iguodala.

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Today, the Minnesota Timberwolves signed Andrei Kirilenko to a two-year, $20 million dollar contract and thus achieved what many had long seen coming: one of the absolute whitest lineups in the NBA in a long, long time. Sure, last season their three best players were white guys (Ricky Rubio (who counts—come on, now), Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic), but they also had Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, and Anthony Randolph. With signs pointing to them being more or less done dealing now, they’ve exchanged those players (plus Brad Miller, Darko Milicic, and the 18th pick in this past draft) for Chase Budinger, Greg Stiemsma, Brandon Roy, Dante Cunningham, Andrei Kirilenko, and Alexey Shved.

Now before you jump down my throat, I don’t mean they traded them straight up. There were lots of steps that brought the Timberwolves to this roster, but basically, they’ve exchanged the production of the outgoing players for the production of the incoming players. And yes, they got a whole lot whiter. But here’s the thing: they also got a whole lot better, and at each stage of this offseason, they always made the smart basketball move based on what was available.

Let’s start at the beginning. The moves a team makes can’t be considered in a vacuum, but must rather take into account what the team needs and the Wolves’ two greatest needs were on the wing and at the center position. The production from the rotation of Johnson/Ellington/Webster/Beasley at the 2 and 3 was so generally awful that when Rubio was healthy, Adelman started point guard Luke Ridnour at shooting guard. And with the emergence of Nikola Pekovic as a legitimate starting center and the consigning of Darko Milicic to the shadows, it was clear that the team was going to need more size up front.

The first move came when the 18th pick in the draft was traded to Houston for Chase Budinger. This ended up being Terrence Jones. At the time, there had been talk about Kevin Martin coming from the Rockets, and it seemed initially like Budinger was a big step down from Martin, but in hindsight, it’s a solid move. Thanks to Eric Maroun and his analysis of draft picks we can see that the average expected win shares per 48 for an 18th pick in the draft is .062. For his career, Budinger is averaging .101 WS/48. Is it possible Jones (or someone else who was available at 18) becomes a great player? Completely. But Budinger addresses the Wolves’ woeful three-point shooting on the perimeter (a career .363 3-point shooter, plus shot .402 last season) and, moreover, he’s a known quantity: a solid player off the bench who’s played for Adelman before.

The next move was signing Brandon Roy to a two-year, $10 million contract. Clearly, there are more question marks on Roy than the Riddler, but the contract is insured in case Roy’s knees really aren’t up to snuff. If they’re not, the Wolves can get out of it and if he’s simply not good, the contract is over in a short time. But if Roy can provide half of what he was capable of in his prime, that’s a value-add for the Wolves simply because of how atrocious their production was from the 2 last season.

Alexey Shved is also something of an unknown quantity, but again, his ceiling seems high while his floor seems low. His biggest problem appears to be his slight frame and the fact that he hasn’t played in the NBA yet. If he plays up to expectations, he will work fantastically well next to Rubio and if not, could he be any worse than bringing Wayne Ellington off the bench?

Speaking of Ellington, the signings of Roy and Shved made him redundant, and so he was shipped off to Memphis in exchange for power forward Dante Cunningham, who gives them another big body off the bench. And speaking of big bodies, they lured Greg Stiemsma away from the Celtics to back up Pekovic at the center position. Between him and the other option they pursued, Jordan Hill, it’s pretty much a toss-up. Hill comes off better offensively (13.2 pts per 36 versus 7.6 points per 36 for Stiemsma), but Stiemsma was much better defensively, posting a fantastic defensive rating of 90. If Milicic did anything, it was block shots, which Stiemsma is also good at (4.0 blocks per 36). Pekovic is great offensively and great on the offensive boards, so a big thing the Wolves needed was defense in the middle and Stiemsma addresses that issue.

And so we come to the Kirilenko signing. The Wolves lost out in their pursuit of Portland’s Nicolas Batum. Simply put, the Blazers had complete control over whether Batum was leaving or not and they kept him. In the meantime, the Timberwolves forced them to pay him a lot of money based on the hope that he develops into something like an All-Star. By the time Portland matched, it was a win-win for the Wolves: they either got their guy or made another team in their division shell out for him. With Courtney Lee off the table to the Celtics and Ronnie Brewer gone to the Knicks, the Timberwolves’ options were dwindling. But with Kirilenko they get a player who was once a borderline All-Star and who has been tremendously consistent throughout his career (he only once had a PER below 15—the league average—once in his career). He’s also a jack-of-all-trades player who can defend, shoot, and block on a team that has a lot of specialists—Rubio passes incredibly but shoots below average; Love shoots the three well and rebounds, but doesn’t defend very well.

The move for Kirilenko is also good because of the deal itself. Giving a two-year deal with a player option for the second year means that if things don’t work out, Kirilenko either walks or becomes a valuable trade asset as an expiring deal in the $10 million range. The alternative would have meant trying to get a younger, lesser player like Brandon Rush or Dominic McGuire for less money but perhaps more years, making the contract itself less valuable as a chip.

So in this offseason the Wolves have generally gotten not just a good player, but a player that fits well with what they need. But of course, that’s just my opinion. Let’s look at the numbers for some support.


*To explain two anomalies here, I’ll point out that I’m using Brad Miller’s career WS/48 even though his WS/48 last year was just a little more than a third of that and he’s retiring because I’m also using Brandon Roy’s career WS/48 even though his was about half that his final season. Basically, if you eliminate them both completely from this calculation it’s a bigger hit on the incoming Timberwolves than the outgoing when it’s pretty clear that Roy will contribute more on the floor this year than Miller ever will again.

So if you take the average WS/48 of the outgoing players, you get .063. Do the same for the incoming players and you get .137. In a lot of ways, that’s really all she wrote. This team wasn’t designed to be white—it was designed to be better than last year’s team, plus more capable of becoming a better team going forward. Because three years out—coincidentally the time when Love will have to make a decision about staying or going—the Wolves are only committed to Love, Rubio, Williams, and Barea. The color of the players is secondary to the fact that judging by win shares, the Wolves just made their rotation roughly twice as good.

Steve McPherson

If you’re a Timberwolves fan who spends time over at Canis Hoopus, you know who the Unicorn is. And if you’ve spent time at A Wolf Among Wolves you know about the rare blend of innocence and exuberance that Zach Harper has termed #puppybreathandcinnamon. But did you know that new Timberwolf Alexey Shved wore this shirt when he visited the Twin Cities? It has a panda doing a crossover on it! And what’s BangoTango? A first kiss, a power chord, a $10 bill on the ground. It’s all this and more.

In the era of the Internet meme, nicknames grow like weeds. Do they always make sense? Well, if we only like things that make sense, why are we following the Timberwolves?

You can get the T-shirts pictured above in a variety of colors and styles right here.

Derrick Williams is 1-12 from the arc over three games in the Las Vegas Summer League. That’s bad. And that’s playing against borderline NBA players. Granted: he’s also playing on a team of borderline NBA players. But 1-12? And he’s supposed to be the Timberwolves starting small forward?

Beckley Mason makes a great case here for the idea that players like Williams, Kenneth Faried and Paul Millsap—in other words, tweeners—should just be considered power fowards in today’s NBA. And Rob Mahoney makes a great case here for the idea that a leaguewide identity for positions is not functional—that each team runs its own system and has its own philosophy. Thus, it’s fine to have your tweeners play small forward so long as the plays you run and the ways you defend make sense with that.

The problem with the idea of Derrick Williams as a small forward on the Timberwolves is that it doesn’t work from either of these perspectives. He’s 6’8” and now down to 228 lbs, which makes him more or less exactly the same size as Kenneth Faried, a player who crashed the boards with energy and abandon for the Denver Nuggets last year as a power forward. But let’s look first at some measurements from their DraftExpress profiles. Granted, things like the bench press are not the end-all-be-all of strength measurement, but Faried, who’s lauded for his strength did 16 reps on the bench press versus the 19 Williams did. Williams has more than an inch on Faried’s wingspan, tested better in the ¾ court spring and lane agility tests, yet it’s Faried who’s known as defensively superior. Again, I don’t want to put too much stress on predraft workouts since it’s only a snapshot of physical fitness and not a game, but I think it points to the fact that Faried and Williams are at least physically pretty comparable.

Now look at their per-36-minute numbers from Basketball Reference:

Player FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB BLK PTS
Kenneth Faried 6.3 10.7 .586 0.0 0.0 3.8 5.7 .665 4.9 7.3 12.2 1.6 16.4
Derrick Williams 5.2 12.6 .412 0.9 3.5 .268 3.5 5.0 .697 2.0 5.9 7.9 0.8 14.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/20/2012.

I don’t know how much clearer it could be that part of the problem is how Williams is being used. He’s taking 3.5 3-pointers per-36 and hitting them at .268. His FG% of .412 is well below Faried’s .586, but if you take those 3.5 3-pointers and make them 2-pointers and then grant him making half of those, suddenly his FG% jumps to .555. The fact that he’s floating on offense and often taking longer range shots also would appear to crop up in offensive rebounding numbers, where he grabs only 2.0 per-36 to Faried’s 4.9.

The advanced stats tell a similar tale:

Player PER TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% BLK% USG% ORtg DRtg WS/48
Kenneth Faried 21.9 .618 .586 16.5 22.9 19.8 3.6 18.7 123 103 .212
Derrick Williams 12.9 .499 .449 6.0 18.4 12.2 1.6 20.7 100 106 .059
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/20/2012.

Higher PER, higher true shooting percentage, higher effective field goal percentage, higher total rebound percentage, higher block percentage and thus a much higher win share per 48 for Faried than Williams. None of this is exactly a revelation since Faried finished third in Rookie of the Year voting and Williams didn’t even register.

What’s vexing is to see that Williams played 21% of the team’s total minutes at small forward and 33% of those minutes at power forward (as opposed to 40% for Faried between PF/C and zero at SF) last season—and failed to deliver SF-type production which also hurt his ability to deliver PF-type production—and yet he’s supposed to be a small forward this year.

And lest you think this is all stats-based, I watched a lot of Timberwolves games and you could see what Rick Adelman is talking about when he says that Williams “floated” on the floor. It seemed like he couldn’t tell where he was supposed to be and whether he was supposed to be getting to the hoop aggressively or shooting from range, whereas Faried was like a one-man wrecking crew on the court. In Summer League, Williams has gotten to the basket and to the line, shooting a staggering 40 free throws over three games, but that in itself might be a bit of a problem if he’s asked to do that while both Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic are down low: there’s just less room down there. Just look at the problems the Knicks encountered with both Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler on the floor and look at how the offense suddenly opened up when Carmelo Anthony played the four. Based on Mason’s idea of these tweeners as actually fours given the way the NBA is going, it seems like Williams could become a truly deadly player in an offense that would allow him to be a fast, aggressive four.

But what of Mahoney’s contention that it’s more the system the player finds himself in than a leaguewide idea of roles that’s important? The problem is Rick Adelman more or less runs the Princeton offense, a system that is founded on a four out, one in configuration with the center in the high or low post and the rest of the players spread out at the three-point line. Now, Ricky Rubio often ran straight pick-and-rolls with Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic that didn’t involve this offense, but as the video at the link demonstrates, it’s still there in the offense. This is great for Love, who’s completely comfortable shooting the three-pointer and also has the skill to rebound outside of his area and works tremendously hard for those boards. But the Princeton offense also calls for the shooting guard and small forward to be more or less interchangeable: both capable of hitting from distance and cutting into the lane.

Now, you can argue that Williams is somewhere between a small forward and a power forward, but no one is going to mistake him for a shooting guard. A player like the recently-acquired Chase Budinger makes a lot more sense in this system at the 3 than Williams. Wes Johnson—if he had turned out to be the kind of shooter and defender the Wolves thought they were getting—would also have worked well as an interchangeable SG and SF.

The thing is, at this point, it’s doing more of a disservice to Williams than the Timberwolves to try and fit him into the 3. I expect him to improve as a player this season and that will most likely mean he’ll be a serviceable small forward, but whether you look at him in comparison to other tweeners across the league or just in terms of how he fits into this specific team, it seems clear that he will only blossom as a player when he’s put into the kind of context that has been so productive for a player like Faried.

Steve McPherson

I’m not going to say our long, national nightmare is over, even if I’m talking just about Wolves Nation. I wouldn’t even say it’s the end of an era. But today, the Timberwolves officially amnestied Darko Milicic, agreeing to pay him $7 million of the $10 million remaining on his contract over the next two years but removing the salary from their cap, per Jerry Zgoda at the Star Tribune. This move frees up $5 million to work with, but the move is maybe more important in non-dollar terms because it removes from the team someone who just apparently doesn’t care about doing a good job.

Now, to make an important distinction, it’s possible to care a great deal about doing your job and just be straight bad at it. You don’t see it very often in professional sports. The pool of people who get to the NBA is so small that even the players fans deride as “bums” are usually in fact good at a specific something and generally way better than most people at basketball. But you probably see it all the time at work or in school: students or coworkers who put their all into what they do but still just come up short. That’s not Darko.

I’ve already explored what I think makes—or rather doesn’t make—Darko tick, but basically, he’s a tremendously large person with some basketball skills who can make millions of dollars a year without trying very hard. And while being able to make millions of dollars playing a game—and not even playing it particularly well or with a modicum of what one might construe as joy—seems like something to envy, it mostly just makes me sad. Once the amnesty goes through, teams that are under the salary cap will be able to start bidding on Darko. To offset the non-guaranteed portion of his salary, the bidding will have to begin at $2 million. Given the way the league works, with salary floors and max contracts undervaluing stars, there’s a team out there who’s probably going to pick him up. Milicic apparently wants to continue playing in the league, even though his last season with the Timberwolves began with him in the starting lineup and ended with a string of DNPs. Supposedly, they were for a hamstring injury, but Adelman admitted that “[Darko] hasn’t done anything to really give you a lot of faith that he’s going to go out and do the job.”

And faith is really what it comes down to, if you’re talking about fidelity and devotion. Milcic has shown neither when it comes to bettering himself as a player and yet he’s still been rewarded with contracts time and time again. I’m not going to mention the now infamous phrase Kahn invoked when signing Milicic, nor play on it by talking about what a Hell having Darko on the team has been, because if it’s been Hell, it hasn’t been pitchforks and fire and brimstone. No, it’s been more like Samuel Beckett’s idea of purgatory, stuck in stasis and hoping an actual basketball player would show up, waiting for what we hoped would be the real Darko.

Having taken a look at a couple of possible free agent targets for the Timberwolves, it’s time to turn our attention to possible trade targets. This, obviously, is more conjectural by a good sight since it involves more than straight dollars. But the Wolves’ fundamental need remains the same (a scoring or defending or scoring and defending wing player), so we’re going to look at four players here: Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger and Andre Iguodala.

But before we jump into that, let me make a wild, completely unfounded prediction: I think it’s more likely that if a big move comes for the Wolves this offseason, it will be in a trade and not via free agency or the draft. Here’s my purely speculative reasoning: the two-year option on David Kahn’s contract has been picked up by the Wolves and the one thing he hasn’t done is snag a big name via trade. He’s made some smart and stupid draft moves and made one majorly dunderheaded signing (Darko Milicic) and done some savvy wheeling and dealing to get Michael Beasley for peanuts (for all his shortcomings, Beasley was worth the two second-round picks). Kahn isn’t going to score bigger with the 18th pick in the draft than Ricky Rubio and as it stands, he’s got a young duo of Rubio and Kevin Love with Nikola Pekovic as a big third contributor, at least offensively. With two years left on his contract, he needs a player to make an impact now, not two years down the road, and that would be the absolute ceiling for an 18th pick. Consider how long it’s taken for Pekovic and even Love to come into their own and how long it may take for Derrick Williams to develop into a well-rounded player

Kahn’s best option for keeping his job is to bring in a player who can contribute immediately and the clearest path to getting that to happen is to deal the 18th pick, Derrick Williams and whatever combination of players it takes (Martell Webster, Beasley in a sign-and-trade, Darko Milicic if by luck or witchcraft the Wolves can find a team interested in him, Luke Ridnour if absolutely necessary) for an impact player. Now don’t mistake this for me saying Williams is no good or will never be good: I think he will be and that’s why we should trade him. If the Wolves don’t, they have to bank on his becoming a productive small forward because if he becomes a productive power forward, there’s no room on the roster for him. I don’t think there’s any way Williams matches any of the four aforementioned players at the 3, so the best thing to do would be to move him.

Now why these four players? Each of their situations are a little different, but all have been mentioned in trade scenarios over the past year. Iguodala is getting older on a team with a bevy of young wing prospects including Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner. At the end of the season, it was even uncovered that the Wolves could have had him in exchange for Webster before the season began. Indiana may also be looking to move Granger in an effort to feature Paul George more, while Rudy Gay has been rumored to be unhappy in Memphis for a while. Deng is possibly the hardest to unmoor from a team that was expected to go deep in the playoffs until Derrick Rose was hurt. That very injury, however, puts their next season in doubt, so they may be looking to re-tool by adding more depth at the point guard position.

ESPN’s Trade Machine is a little inadequate for our purposes at the moment since it doesn’t account for picks and you can’t manipulate Michael Beasley as a sign-and-trade. But essentially we’re talking about the above package (Derrick Williams, 18th pick plus [x] where [x] equals one to three players) for any of the four small forwards mentioned up top. So let’s look at those four players in comparison to each other first. Here are their career per 36 stats from Basketball Reference:

Player G MP FG% 3P% FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
Luol Deng 539 19119 .465 .337 3.9 .765 6.5 2.4 1.0 0.6 1.8 16.2
Rudy Gay 437 15797 .456 .347 4.0 .771 5.7 1.9 1.3 0.9 2.3 17.9
Danny Granger 510 16953 .438 .384 5.2 .847 5.7 2.2 1.1 1.0 2.2 19.8
Andre Iguodala 615 23216 .461 .331 4.7 .737 5.6 4.6 1.7 0.5 2.3 14.6
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/13/2012.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the numbers, let’s get some other stuff out of the way. Luol Deng is 26 and in his 8th season; Danny Granger is 28 and in his 7th season; Andre Iguodala is 28 and in his 8th season; and Rudy Gay is 25 and in his 5th season. So Gay has played the fewest games and is youngest while Iguodala has played the most and is oldest. Maybe surprisingly, though, although Deng is the second youngest player of the group, he’s played the second most games (although anyone watching Tom Thibodeau’s rotations would know he’s run Deng ragged). Deng has played more than 2000 more minutes than Granger, despite being two years younger.

But on to the numbers. Granger seems to have the edge in terms of scoring, posting a points-per-36 of 19.8. (For what it’s worth, all these players average around 33–36 minutes, but the per 36 numbers just smooths stuff out a bit more.) He shoots the worst from the field (.438) but the best from the arc and the line (.384 and .847, respectively). That high percentage from the line is important because he also gets to the line more than the other three. Pulling a few numbers from Synergy Sports, we can also see that he was most successful offensively off of cuts, in transition, and on the offensive glass (1.31, 1.17 and 1.05 points per possession, respectively).

The other thing that jumps out from this particular table is Deng’s rebounding, which is a full rebound higher per 36 than the others. On a team with Kevin Love (plus Pekovic on the offensive end), a wing player grabbing boards is maybe not essential, but it’s a nice thing to have. Also, the per 36 numbers seem to indicate that Iguodala is the weakest offensive player here: lowest point average, worst three-point shooter, worst free throw shooter. However, he has the highest assist average and gets to the line more than Deng and Gay and, looking again at Synergy Sports’ data, he scored 1.17 points per possession on spot-up plays, which constituted 17.8% of his offensive plays this season. That’s an encouraging stat given the way the Wolves offense works around pick and rolls with Rubio and Love or Pekovic. Having a wing who can knock down spot-up jumpers when his man leaves to help would be huge.

What Iguodala brings to the table come to the fore more when you look at the advanced stats:

Player PER TS% eFG% TRB% AST% STL% USG% ORtg DRtg WS/48
Luol Deng 16.0 .529 .485 10.2 11.3 1.5 21.4 107 103 .125
Rudy Gay 16.2 .531 .490 9.3 9.2 1.9 23.9 104 108 .081
Danny Granger 17.6 .564 .503 8.8 10.7 1.6 24.2 110 106 .132
Andre Iguodala 17.1 .554 .500 9.0 20.8 2.4 19.6 110 105 .127
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/13/2012.

His PER of 17.1 is second best of the group, and PER is a stat that often discounts defense, which is one of Iguodala’s best areas. His true shooting percentage (which adds weight to three-pointers and accounts for free throws) is solid and second-best at .554, as his effective field goal percentage of .500. That highest assist rate per 36 also really jumps out now put into the context of the total percentage of field goals for the Sixers that came about due to an Iguodala assist: his 20.8% there is almost double any of the other players.

The biggest problem with Gay—looking at his per 36 and advanced stats—is that he’s simply not worth his gigantic contract compared to the other options here. At best, he sits in the middle; not as good offensively as Granger and not as good defensively as Iguodala, with a distinctly ho-hum win share per 48. Next year, he’s owed $16.4 million, building up to $19.3 million in the 2014/15 season. Deng, meanwhile, makes $13.3 million next year and $14.3 million the year after. Iguodala is on the hook for just one more year at $14.7 million (with a player option for $15.9 million the year after) and Granger is owed $13 million next year and $14 million the year after next.

So clearly, moving for any of these players puts a lot of money on the book for the Wolves. But given how close the Wolves seemed to be to securing a playoff berth this year with dreadful wing production, any of these players might be the key to pushing them over the top.

In my opinion, the best option is Iguodala. Having a strong perimeter defender to pair with Rubio’s ballhawking defense can help mitigate Love and Pek’s weaker defense; if Rubio can harass ballhandlers and Iguodala can stop drives, it will take some of the defensive responsibility away from the frontcourt. Add to this Iguodala’s abilities as a secondary creator on the wing and his ability to get to the line and he looks like a perfect fit for the Wolves. Granger is probably the second best option and would bring more scoring punch to the table. Deng could also be a good fit given his comfortability with not being the focus of the offense but contributing across the board, but I don’t think he could bring as much specifically to the Wolves as Granger or Iguodala. And Gay is just too much salary for not enough production.

Steve McPherson

Chad Ford’s Mock Draft 6.0 on ESPN (Insider required) has Doc Rivers’ son Austin Rivers from Duke going to the Timberwolves at #18, so let’s take a look.

The thing that stands out most is his creativity and ability to get the hoop, which you have to love for the Timberwolves at shooting guard. NBADraft.net compares him to Doc Rivers, which, I guess, duh, but also to O.J. Mayo, a player I wouldn’t mind see suiting up for the Wolves next season. In terms of measurements, the long and short of it is that he’s long (6’7” wingspan) and short (6’4”) for a shooting guard. It’s encouraging to hear from Draft Express that he was “the only player on Duke’s roster dynamic enough to consistently distort defenses with his dribble penetration and generate his own shot in a pinch,” since dribble penetration and shot creating are two things the Wolves have sorely lacked at the 2 for a long time. Neither Ridnour, Johnson, Webster nor Ellington have been able to do either of those things, so he could add an interesting dimension to pair with Rubio/Love and Rubio/Pek pick and rolls in the half-court.

I don’t like his questionable decision-making on drives (echoes of J.J. Barea there), but if he’s not the primary ballhandler, I don’t have as much of a problem with it. I also have no problem with a guy who has the mental fortitude to take big shots like this:

It’s one of the things that was great and awful about Michael Beasley’s first year with the Wolves. He certainly had the willingness to be the go-to guy down the stretch, but his haphazard play in the game leading up to the point often meant the Wolves weren’t in a position to win a close game that season.

His defense appears to be average at best, plus being undersized for his position means he may have a hard time with other SGs at the NBA level, but keep in mind the Wolves are a team that played the 6’2” Ridnour at that position for much of the year.

The whole father-was-an-NBA-player seems like a red herring as well, but hopefully Austin Rivers is more Stephen Curry than Luke Walton.

Steve McPherson

The Timberwolves’ major need for next season couldn’t be any clearer: help on the wing. While Luke Ridnour did yeoman’s work at the 2 this past season (and could still provide an interesting look there next season), the shooting guard/small forward rotation of Wes Johnson, Martell Webster and Wayne Ellington (and Malcolm Lee at the end of the season) looked awful most of the time. Depending on what happens with team options and qualifying offers for players like Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph (neither of whom I anticipate returning) and Martell Webster and the expiring deal of Anthony Tolliver and Brad Miller’s retirement, the Wolves are looking to have somewhere in the area of $12-$15 million available for signing free agents this offseason. Now that’s not a hard number, but it means that there’s enough room to make a substantial offer to some choice restricted and unrestricted free agents this offseason, so without further ado, I present a breakdown of some of those options.

ACT LIKE YOU’VE BEEN THERE BEFORE
The two best options for savvy vets are Ray Allen (unrestricted free agent) and Jason Terry (restricted free agent), but in both cases the team has to weigh the benefits of having proven veterans who have made definitive contributions to championships against age (Allen is 36, Terry is 34), injury, and the size on contract it will take to get them. Allen is making $10 million this year and Terry is making $11 million, so the Wolves would have to be prepared to commit something like that to attract them to a team that’s still working towards a playoff berth. Allen has also struggled with injuries and his shooting has been erratic at best this postseason. Neither is exactly explosive either, meaning they’re not going to create on their own from the perimeter with consistency.

But both Allen and Terry would feast on the opportunities created by Rubio’s drive-and-kick game, plus with Love presenting a strong pick-and-pop threat and Pekovic a pick-and-roll threat, the Wolves could really space the floor if they had a strong shooter at the 2. Allen has a career true shooting percentage of .579, Terry’s is .554. Wes Johnson’s is .486, plus either player basically doubles Johnson’s weak career PER of 9.0.

Personality-wise, either would be great. Allen brings a no-nonsense, get-it-done attitude that would be great for a young Wolves team while Terry brings the swagger and grit. But my gut also says neither of these deals get done. Minnesota’s not a prime destination and won’t contend for a championship next season, even if they make the playoffs, so it’s a long shot for aging players hoping to contribute to one more championship.

PUT ME IN, COACH
A player like Manu Ginobili who’s willing to come off the bench is an exceedingly rare commodity. Players want to start, and so it seems like one area ripe for the picking for the Wolves would be offering players currently coming off the bench an opportunity to start on a dynamic offense alongside Rubio and Love.

O.J. Mayo (RFA) makes perfect sense in this scenario. Memphis has already locked up a lot of cash in Marc Gasol, Rudy Gayo, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley (those four are owed $53.9 million next year alone) so it will be hard for them to match the qualifying offer for Mayo, which is $7.3 million. He’s had personal issues, but his per 36 career average of 16.7 pts and his solid .433/.375 shooting percentages would be a welcome addition as a starter for the Wolves. He can shoot, penetrate and handle the ball, including playing some point guard. He also brings playoff experience from the last two years. The downside comes on defense (where the Wolves struggled mightily without Rubio) and the very basic question of whether he can genuinely shine as a starter. I suspect that Wes Johnson may look very good for some team coming off the bench as well, but he clearly shouldn’t be starting. Will Mayo’s erratic play be brought into high relief with starter’s minutes?

Another attractive option is Rudy Fernandez (RFA), who can play the 2 and some 3. The biggest red flag on Fernandez is the back surgery he underwent late this season. Webster has had a long road back from his back surgery, and the Wolves certainly don’t want to end up with another injury plagued SG/SF, even if his qualifying offer is only $3.1 million. The contract Fernandez signed with Real Madrid during the lockout also allows him to return to Real Madrid once his NBA deal expires, and given the way Fernandez has struggled to find a consistent role for a team in the NBA, it’s entirely possible he returns to Spain if no deal looks good for him. On the plus side, he’s a creative, freewheeling player who would make a great fit alongside his countryman, Ricky Rubio. I mean, he did have this assist to a trailing Kenneth Faried this season:

Fernandez has had his ups and downs, like Mayo, but there’s reason to believe either one might be able to find a home in Adelman’s comfy offense.

EAT YOUR GRUEL
An important thing to remember is that the Wolves were in a strong position to make the playoffs based on Rubio, Love, and Pekovic and subpar contributions from the wing, so while landing a difference maker at the 2 or 3 may be the dream, it’s entirely possible that even an average upgrade to competence at the wing would improve the team dramatically.

I present you with Landry Fields (RFA). Now Fields was fairly terrible for the Knicks this season, and it’s entirely possible he’s no great upgrade from Johnson, but the Knicks were also a team in complete disarray for most of the season. They couldn’t even figure out how to use their stars next to each other, much less where roleplayers like Fields fit in. And Fields’ rookie year showed that he can be a solid, no-nonsense option at the 2. Unfortunately, his 3-point shot has looked mega-broken (his shooting percentage on 3-pointers dropped from .393 his rookie season to .256 this past one) plus he shot free throws at an abysmal 56% this season. Excited yet? No? Me neither. But coming off a year when he made $788,872, Fields will probably be a reasonably-priced option if other possibilities fall through.

While we’re at it, why not consider Philadelphia’s Jodie Meeks (RFA)? He pulled down $884,293 last year and managed to play his way into starting 50 games on a team with Evan Turner, Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young at the 2 and 3. His 11.9 career PER isn’t going to light anyone’s hair on fire, but again, we’re talking about players who would upgrade the wing position from abysmal to competent.

DREAM BIG
While there aren’t too many huge prizes out there amongst restricted and unrestricted free agents, Eric Gordon is a young player (just 23) with a ton of upside. Although he played in only nine games this season (and so also presents something of an injury risk), he was clearly the Hornets’ best player when he was on the floor. Unfortunately, that’s also a major obstacle to getting him. With Anthony Davis presumably going to New Orleans with the first pick in the draft and only $31 million on the books without Gordon’s contract next year, the team is likely to match any offer for Gordon, who will presumably collect a lot more than the $5.1 million qualifying offer. That said, Gordon’s ability to shoot, drive, and handle the ball would be a godsend on the Timberwolves, who have struggled with all of those things from the 2 and 3 positions.

Another more enticing option, at least to me, is Portland’s Nicolas Batum. The 23-year-old small forward (who’s also played shooting guard recently) has improved his scoring every season since coming into the NBA and had several notable games this season, including this breakout against the Nuggets where he scored a career high 33 points and made 9 three-pointers:

You think the Wolves couldn’t use that on any given night? At 6’8”, he’s also long and a solid defender on the perimeter—something the Wolves could desperately use. All in all, given his youth, upside, and current toolset, he seems like the most ideal possible fit for Minnesota. The big obstacle is that Portland’s only other big salary right now is LaMarcus Aldridge, and when they detonated the team by trading away Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby, they made noises about Batum being a building block for the future. But since then, there’s been noise from Batum’s camp that he will sign the first good offer sheet he gets. Although his qualifying offer is ~$5 million, the offers he’s likely to receive may double that, and will probably be in the $8 million range. Thus, signing him will probably eat most of the Wolves’ cap space and possibly leave them with little to fill up the bench with.

I LOVE THE UNKNOWN
You can call me crazy, but Gerald Green (UFA) is also out there. While he barely managed to find the floor with the Timberwolves in ‘07-’08, his play in New Jersey this past season revealed a player who actually developed in the D-League. He averaged 12.1 ppg and shot 48% from the floor and 39% from 3-point range in 31 games. Oh and he also threw down what is unquestionably the dunk of the year:

If Green’s tremendous athleticism is now topped with a level head and solid shooting, he can be a great option for a team looking for consistency and explosiveness on the wing.

Of course, free agency isn’t the only way for the Timberwolves to improve this offseason. With the 18th pick in the draft and some pieces that may be redundant, there’s reason to hope that the team could also improve via trade. I’ll be looking at possible trade scenarios for the Timberwolves soon.

Steve McPherson

Mike Schmitz from Valley of the Suns has a great video here with info on Baylor’s Quincy Miller, whom Draft Express currently has going to the Timberwolves with the 18th pick in their most recent mock draft.

You can put me down for preferring that the Wolves pick a SF over a PG at this spot (previous mock drafts from DX had them going with  Marquis Teague). Of course, Miller’s got some red flags, like having already had ACL surgery, and I’m definitely concerned about his jumpshot and his ability to body bigger players.

But I’m also encouraged by his 7’4″ wingspan, which could make him a defensive terror at the 3, and adding bulk shouldn’t be a tremendous concern at the NBA level. Look how skinny Kevin Durant was as a rookie. Not that he’s a tank now or anything, but he’s definitely put on some muscle and is starting to use it.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them try to move this pick in a package with players for some veteran help. With a young core of Rubio, Love, and Pekovic, the Wolves may only be a solid wing defender and scorer away from being a playoff lock next year.

Steve McPherson

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