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.