As the Wolves season inches closer to its end, (we’ve been screaming ‘uncle’ for weeks now, it seems) I’ve taken a bit more interest in some of the team’s former players, many of whom are playing meaningful roles on competitive teams. After watching Randy Foye posterize the mighty Serge Ibaka last night on national tv (more on this, below) I thought it’d be fun to scan the league for former Timberpups making various levels of noise in their respective situations. Without further ado, here is your 2011-12 Minnesota Timberwolves Alumni Team:
Point Guard: Ramon Sessions
As a Wolf: Sessions was bad in Minnesota because Kurt Rambis was epically-horrendous in Minnesota. Ramon is an above-average NBA point guard who thrives off the pick-and-roll but doesn’t shoot 3’s (at least he didn’t until this season), and Rambis ran some diseased version of the triangle that played to all of Sessions’ weaknesses and none of his strengths. Also, Kurt devoted heavy minutes to Jonny Flynn over Sessions, which, amazingly, wasn’t even close to as bad as his decision to start Ryan Hollins over Kevin Love. 2010-11 was not a fun season in Minnesota, even by the post-KG standards which helped inspire the name of this blog.
Now: No big deal, Sessions is just the starting point guard of the LA Lakers. After splitting time with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland (and in some respects outplaying the wonderful rook) Sessions was dealt to the Lakers who needed athleticism at point guard and a player who can relieve pressure off of the aging Kobe Bryant. Since acquiring Sessions the Lakers are 12-6, winning at a higher rate than before the trade (.666 vs .628) and 10-4 since he became a starter (.714). Sessions will play a key role in determining whether the Lakers can return to the NBA Finals after a one-year hiatus. (Oh, to have “Laker problems.”)
Shooting Guard: Randy Foye
As a Wolf: Foye was always held to ROY Standards in Minny, due to the infamous draft-night trade. He never lived up to those–not even close. Randy Wittman tried playing him at point guard, which was sometimes comical and other times tragic. Things only got worse when he fractured his kneecap in his sophomore season, further hindering his development. In 2008-09, now surrounded by a modicum of talent (Rookie Kevin Love and budding star Al Jefferson), Foye put together his best season as a pro, averaging over 16 points and 4 assists per game on a team that started to look competitive before Al Jeff went down with a torn ACL. The best part of Foye’s career in Minnesota was when he was traded (along with Mike Miller, who we’ll get to later) for the draft pick that would yield Ricky Rubio.
Now: Foye shares an arena with Ramon Sessions, but wears a different jersey. Somewhat inexplicably, Randy Foye is the starting shooting guard on a fringe contender, the LA Clippers. This has more to do with injuries (Chauncey Billups) and the Clips’ trade deadline inactivity (unless you count acquiring NICK YOUNG as “activity”) than his own play, but he’s logging almost 26 minutes per game for a team that currently finds itself 15 games over .500. His stats are relatively modest, but he is hitting almost 38 percent of 3’s, and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2:1. Oh, and last night he did this:
Small Forward: Corey Brewer
As a Wolf: When Brew came into the league he was probably the worst perimeter shooter (amongst perimeter players, at least) in the NBA. But what he lacked in polish he (partially) made up for with a dogged work ethic not seen before or since in Wolves Nation. I’ve never seen a wing player with this much energy and adrenaline-fueled decisions, both good and bad. Six foot nine with elite speed and agility, Brewer’s calling card was always going to be his defense and energy. But for a short while there he looked like he might have the shooting thing figured out. His improved accuracy even inspired a Brewer’s Blend promotion at Caribou Coffee, with a comical even if endearing campaign for Corey to win the league’s Most Improved Player Award. He didn’t. With the unfortunate drafting of Wesley Johnson, Brewer became seemingly expendable and was dealt as part of the Carmelo Anthony Trade where David Kahn intervened for the services of Anthony Randolph.
Now: Brewer logs significant minutes (21.8 per game) for a playoff-bound Denver Nuggets team. His shooting remains a weakness (42.8 FG% 26.3 3P%) but he’s found a niche as an energy guy who helps his team win. It should also be mentioned that Brewer won a championship ring with last year’s Mavericks. He didn’t play a single minute against Miami in the Finals, but he did have an impact in the West Semi’s against the defending champ Lakers. Trailing by 16 in the early 2nd Half of Game 1, Coach Carlisle put Brewer in for a much-needed spark. The two-time NCAA champ rose to the occasion, helping cut the lead to 5 in an 8-minute stint where he chipped in 5 points, along with a steal, assist and rebound. But most importantly, his insane energy level shifted that game’s momentum. I think I remember Dirk specifically crediting Brew in the post-game interview after a dramatic comeback win. Dallas was not winning that game without such a dramatic burst of energy from a reserve like Brew. He’s doing well in Denver and will have a long career.
Power Forward: Al Jefferson
As a Wolf: Big Al was the centerpiece of the Kevin Garnett Trade. He was at first surrounded by an epically-bad supporting cast headlined by Ryan Gomes and Rashad McCants. Jefferson would miraculously lead this crew to 22 wins; one of the higher totals in recent franchise history. But after the Love-Mayo Trade of 2008 which brought K-Love and Mike Miller to town, and also Randy Foye’s recovery from a knee injury, things began to fall into place. Al was averaging a mighty 23 & 11 per game on a quickly-improving and Kevin McHale-coached Wolves squad when he went down in a heap with the all-too-familiar ACL tear. He was never the same in a Wolves uni, and was eventually traded for pennies on the dollar.
Now: We’re all Big Al fans as we want Utah to make the playoffs (they’re currently one half game behind Phoenix and Houston) so we get their draft pick. He dropped 28 & 26 last night in 3 Overtimes and is leading the over-.500 Jazz in per-game scoring, rebounding, and blocks. He may never be an All-Star but he produces at a high level on a competitive team. If Utah can significantly upgrade its point guard position, they could possibly become a contender with Jefferson playing a big role.
Center: Kevin Garnett
As a Wolf: The best player in franchise history and arguably the best power forward in league history. Not a traditional “give me the ball and get out of the way” go-to guy, but dominant in nontraditional ways for a nontraditional freak athlete. I won’t waste time explaining how great KG was; if you’re reading a Wolves blog, you’re well aware.
Now: Garnett has obviously reshaped his legacy in Boston by winning a title and contending for many more. This year, Doc Rivers moved him over to center which may extend his career another five years. He’s had a resurgence that sparked the seemingly-dying Celtics back from the dead and possibly into contender mode. He’s playing fantastic ball of late.
Bench: Sebastian Telfair, Mike Miller, Gerald Green
As Wolves: Bassy was a fun Wolf in some ways; a teenage celebrity whose point guard, “floor general” persona was only as popular as his wretched scoring ability would allow. Mike Miller, or as we like to call him, Pimp Mike, started inking up his arms and cutting his hair in all sorts of stupid ways when he returned to the Midwest in the aforementioned Love Trade. Miller quickly became famous for two things: 1) NOT shooting open trey’s set up by Al Jefferson double-teams; and 2) rolling around the floor in agonizing pain, only to get up and stay in the game. If you want a laugh, read this (Insider) blip from David Thorpe about Mike Miller. (WARNING: Don’t read while drinking coffee–it’ll end up on your keyboard.) Miller was a decent player for the Wolves, but never seemed to embrace his best skill (shooting) and always wanted to be something he wasn’t (a slasher). Gerald Green was really bad for the TWolves. He could jump out of the gym (so much so that he could do stuff like this) but his hops never translated into good basketball plays.
Now: Bassy is backing up the legendary Steve Nash in Phoenix, playing 14.6 minutes per game. I really thought his career was done after he (last) left Minnesota. Good for him for finding another team. Miller was “recruited” by LeBron and Wade for who-knows why after The Decision and the other aftermath. As in Minnesota and Washington, he’s generally disappointed with his play. By now at least, people have realized and recognized that he’s not the player he once was. But the most amazing story is Gerald Green who spent serious time in the D-League and might have actually figured the game out. Since joining the Nets in the middle of the shortened season, Green has averaged 13 efficient points per game, including 7 games of over 20 points with a high of 32 against the Cavs. Gerald is likely earning himself a contract next off-season. He hadn’t played in the league since 2009.
Well, that about covers it. Did I miss anybody? Who will you be cheering for in the playoffs? Should the Wolves bring back any of these guys? Should we regret letting some of them go?