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:
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.