INBOX: With Pek’s emergence as a great center and DMC’s continued problems, is the 2010 Draft validated?

30″ x 22″
mixed media on paper
painting by Holly Grimsrud

Andy G: SCENARIO: You just pressed rewind all the way back to June of 2010.  You are David Kahn and you possess the rights to the fourth pick in the NBA draft.  You have two choices.  Draft Wesley Johnson out of Syracuse or DeMarcus Cousins from Kentucky.  You cannot draft any other player and you cannot trade the pick. Oh, and most importantly, you have all the benefit of hindsight from mid-November 2012 going backwards. What do you do?

Patrick J: I’m not super-enthused about either player. But look at the differences: Cousins averaged about 14 and 9 as a rookie. He averaged 18 and 11 last season. DMC is on the same track this year, averaging 17.3 and 9.

Wes Johnson’s production has gone down from 9 ppg as a rookie to 6 ppg last season. Now he’s putting up a rosy 1.3 ppg for Phoenix after the guy who drafted him, David Kahn, cut bait with him in the offseason. (Johnson doesn’t really do anything else, so it isn’t worth mentioning his peripheral stats.)

But despite Cousins’ talent, he is wildly erratic.

Last year, (now former) Kings coach Paul Westphal remarked that Cousins was “unwilling/unable to embrace traveling in the same direction as his team; it cannot be ignored indefinitely.” Shortly thereafter, DMC was suspended.

This year, DMC has already been suspended again, this time for a seemingly-odd confrontation he had with Spurs play-by-play man SEAN ELLIOTT.

After the incident, a friend of mine commented, DMC is “50% clown, 50% dickhead.”

He’s right. And I knew that going into the 2010 Draft. I would’ve taken Cousins over Johnson then. And I’d still take Cousins now.

So G, I see where you’re going with this. The question is, if you knew then what you know now about how Pekovic would develop, do you still roll the dice on the troubled big? The answer is obviously yes–even moreso in retrospect, because there’s no opportunity cost outside Cousins himself – Johnson is a non-factor, and Cousins still has (presumably) at least some trade value. So If you’re looking at assets, Cousins has some value, and the Wolves could’ve exploited that way more than they did Wes Johnson’s non-value.

Andy G: The Pekovic angle is exactly where I’m going with this. (Hence the ARTWORK–more on that below.) Isn’t this comparable to the Pistons choosing Darko over Melo? Detroit drafted a bum who never played… but things worked out pretty well in the end. The team in place–with a key mid-season addition of Rasheed Wallace–went on to win the title with Darko on the bench and Melo (importantly) not in the game, training on the job as an aspiring star. The year after that they made the Finals and the three years after that they made the Conference Finals.  That’s a mini-dynasty right there, and if they drafted Melo instead of Darko, I doubt the chips fall the same way. Despite the fact that Melo >>>>> Darko, the decision to draft a non-factor proved to be beneficial.

Wes Johnson is a non issue.  He was traded away for a bag of chips.  And look where we are:  Projected by some smart statisticians to win over 50 games, and currently on that pace without the team’s best players even on the floor! In Summer 2010, we were fresh off a 15-win season, the worst in franchise history. Had we drafted DeMarcus Cousins in 2010, there would’ve been a lot of pressure on Coach Rambis to play him over fellow rookie Nikola Pekovic; particularly when you consider that Pek was a trainwreck foul machine as a rook. Instead Pek was only up against the miserable Darko Milicic (DOUBLE DARKO REFERENCE!) for playing time, eventually winning the job early last season.  By now, after extended work with Bayno, Sikma, and the rest, he’s a Top-10–maybe even Top-5–center in the NBA.  Last year, he stopped fouling and committing 3-Seconds violations (on both ends of the floor). This year, he shows improved defense and passing. He’s leaner and in better shape. The team has Greg Stiemsma to spell Pek when he’s in foul trouble or tired. Stiemer blocks a lot of shots on defense and on offense, he makes open ones. Does the “fantasy basketball” potential of having Cousins on the roster outweigh the probability that he would’ve forced Pekovic out of improvement and/or a spot in the rotation? With the benefit of hindsight, I like where things sit with Pekovic at the 5, and DMC suspensions being somebody else’s problem.  I’d draft Wesley Johnson and be happy with where things are today.

Oh what the hell, I’ll even add this one: If we draft DeMarcus Cousins, and he develops a similar relationship with Coach Rambis as he did with his first NBA coach in Sacramento (the now-fired-largely-because-of-Cousins Paul Westphal) does Rick Adelman agree to come out of retirement to coach this team? Or instead, is Don Nelson spending his winters in Minneapolis rather than Maui? (!!!) And instead of The Adelman Family calling personnel shots, is it still Kahn?  These are some “proximate cause” questions, I realize, but I think you can make (or hell, I just DID make) a pretty strong case that the Wolves are in better position now than they would have been had they drafted DeMarcus Cousins instead of Wesley Johnson.

Patrick J: G–I like where your head’s at here, but you’re overthinking this one. What are the odds of all those things happening like they did? Close to zero, I reckon – and there’s no way anyone could’ve known it at the time. I mean, look at the scenarios you describe above: they’d read like science fiction – or like many of the emails we used to send each other before starting this blog as a way of entertaining ourselves despite Real-Life Wolves Misery (BTW: that was totes a missed opportunity for a solid reality show, which former Wolves 1st rounder Rashad McCants would’ve gladly headed up) – so it’s all well-and-good that like a billion other things kinda sorta worked out, but when you’re holding the joystick, you’ve gotta hit the right buttons. And POBO David Kahn seems a lot like the kid who joined the game late after hearing a lot about it from his more-experienced peers–his learning curve has had him hitting a lot of buttons while he’s figured out which are the right ones.

BOOSTER CLUB!

This is a way-fun thought experiment, but in all seriousness, let’s just state the obvious, for the record and for any readers who don’t traffick in irony the same way we do: Kahn f*cked up by not taking Greg Monroe. Or Paul George. Hell, maybe even Gordon Hayward. Who could’ve known?

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM – To cap off what’s turned into a fairly self-referential INBOX exchange (thanks Twitter followers – ahem, cough, *follow us* – you guys keep us between the lines most of the time, and mostly for better), we have this nifty BADASS (dang caps lock, again) artwork at the top of the post.

So tell me, G – where did it come from, and what does it have to do with THIS post?

Andy G: Although I am not one myself, I come from a family of artists–as I’ve mentioned before my dad designed our blog headline (That M/T Wolves logo was submitted to the team in the late 80’s as a contender for the inaugural logo. They obviously went in a different direction, but it’s now being put to good use!)–and my sister recently finished up her MFA at San Francisco Art Institute. Naturally, I have leaned on both of them for help in spiffing up this site. I was going to use the Pek/DMC piece on the Kings Game recap, but had some tech issues.  So I had to save it and come up with a different excuse–hence this oddball email chain.  How did I do?  In any case, the favor she paid in providing artwork deserves a plug which I happily include below.  She has a basketball background, having lettered 4 years for her college team, and has produced some great pieces that portray NBA players. (A Christmas-gift example is one of Kobe Bryant that hangs in my apartment.) If she has time and the inclination she might contribute here again.

Holly Grimsrud is a Minneapolis artist who uses drawing and painting as a means to connect her interests in athletics, art and social life.  To view more work, visit her website:  www.hollygrimsrudart.comRecently, she was featured in Quiet Lunch Magazine.  Read full interview here:  http://quietlunch.com/for-sport/
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10 responses to “INBOX: With Pek’s emergence as a great center and DMC’s continued problems, is the 2010 Draft validated?

  1. Sean

    Good Stuff. I think I lean more towards Andy in that, yes, in a vacuum, Cousins is more talented and the better value in the draft; however, basketball isn’t played in a Vacuum. Cousins has been deemed immature by two coaches and US Basketball, and three seasons into his career, he is still no closer to avoiding suspensions. I won’t touch on the proximate cause issues for the bevy of decisions that followed hypothetically picking DMC,l but I like that angle. After removing the Beasley’s, Randolph’s, and Darko’s from this team and instead, relying on true passionate basketball savants like AK47 and Rubio, the culture change on this roster is palpable. I don’t think that culture change happens with Cousins, therefore, under the premise of this hypothetical, Wes Johnson all the way.

    • As the 2010-11 season fully set it in, and I was unhappily digesting it during that lockout, I was starting to think I really wished we had Cousins. But the way Adelman has transformed this team–its roster, culture, and quality of play–forced me to change my mind back to where it was on that draft night, which is “Say No to Cousins.” I actually think DMC will get it together–maybe in Sacramento, but probably somewhere like that Detroit team Sheed joined up with. In my opinion, Boston should try to get him while Garnett is still around to help. Or San Antonio. He is a great talent, but I think the Wolves are better off having gone a different direction and avoided him altogether.

  2. Eric in Madison

    I really like Holly’s work. Some of the lockerroom watercolors strike me as interesting commentary on the intersection of athleticism and sexuality.

    As for this argument…ack. Andy has this one wrong. Or at least in any coherent argument. Yeah, they drafted Wes Johnson (and sucked), and now things have worked out as they have. But you cannot run a counterfactual like you have to conclude that the Wolves wouldn’t have wound up in a good place had they, you know, drafted the better player.

    Take the better asset.

    • She is talented and if she commented here I’m sure she’d say thanks. As for DMC, we’ll score this one for Pat. 1-1…

    • Holly is a rockstar artist and a better person. (Seriously, what Wolves blogger doesn’t want handmade art featuring Pekovic? It’s far better than the prints from Mike Beasley’s estate sale we missed out on, no matter how interesting it might be to find out what kind of stuff Beas chooses to hang on his walls.) Anyway, she did us a solid in making this Pekovic art, and Andy and I are hoping a few people will discover her other stuff through the site.

      Regarding Boogie Cousins vs. Wes, I agree 100% with Eric: you go with the better asset every time, ’cause that’s all you can control. You do it even if the asset is half-clown, half-dickhead, like Boogie is. Because he’s right – that counterfactual becomes more and more unwieldy the more things you add into it. So much so that just reading that makes me feel incredibly lucky that the Wolves have had happen what has happened. Thanks for that, Andy. ;)

      SIDEBAR: After that Mavs game, does anyone else think Vince Carter’s new handle should be “half-dickhead, half-amazing”? (But only if you define ‘amazing’ as “amazingly mediocre” or “amazingly bad”?)

      • I like the nickname for Vince–he was doing a lot of pouting the other night.

        On your piling-on comment about our argument, I think you are discounting the value of hindsight here. The Wolves have the look of a playoff team just 2 years after that draft that followed a 15-67 season. I’m saying WITH that hindsight benefit and knowing how things played out across a number of variables (we’ve kept Love, attracted Rubio to actually come here, hired Adelman, acquired AK47 and Cunningham, developed Pekovic rather than trade him or bench him), you make the same choice. Cousins has enough question marks (that still remain, 2+ years later) to make it more than questionable that the team would be in as good of a place now had they taken him then.

        I’m not arguing that, in a vaccum, you’d rather have Wes Johnson than DMC. That’s crazy talk, even if you don’t like an adult problem-child in your locker room. I’m saying that for the Wolves, things have played out better because they made that *mistake*.

        • @Andy G: Fair enough, but I still disagree. We don’t know the counterfactual of what happens to the Wolves if they have Cousins. I understand lots of other things may or may not have happened conditional on them drafting him, but he’s a hell of a player and that doesn’t change if he comes here and provides something – anything – that Wes Johnson never did. I like a Wolves team featuring Love, Rubio, and Cousins or Pekovic, and am pretty sure they’d have discovered Pek’s value with or without Cousins there to block his way. For example, maybe Pek would’ve broken out during one of the temper-tantrum suspensions we can assume Boogie would’ve had here like he’s had in SAC. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand Cousins and think he needs to grow up. But I like that you can still trade him and get something good in return, or even (in a far, far worse scenario) trade Pek and still get something in return, unlike having to beg a team to take Johnson off your hands.

          Still, the big picture issue (which I know you know, but I think is worth reiterating for the record) is that Kahn whiffed on both Monroe and George and that’s pretty much unforgivable.

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  4. //I find it very hard to believe they would have even been in a pstooiin to blow a close one to the Nuggets last season.Well, they were. They lost 115-113 to Denver in a game last year in which they clawed their way back from double-digit deficits. They blew a 16-point lead in losing by 7 to Denver in December 2010. And the previous year’s 15-win team counted Denver among those wins.As you know, I don’t buy into the idea of using last year’s team as a yardstick to gauge this year’s team, so it doesn’t matter to me if last year they might not have been as close. But this year’s Denver team isn’t anywhere near as good AND three of their best players weren’t available to them.So I’m going to suggest that even using the previous two year’s lousy teams as a yardstick, last night is no moral victory. The Timberwolves should’ve won. They didn’t win. Martell is only a poster boy for a bad loss. There are plenty of those to go around.

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