Timberwolves Season in Review, Part 2: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

David Kahn at the NBA Draft Lottery. (The fun begins around 2:15) Will Kahn be around for this season’s Lottery?

[This is Part 2 of a multipart season review series. This post looks ahead to the future–mostly next season–and what it might look like.  A subsequent post will look at the team’s longer term prognosis.]

1.  What Should The Team’s #1 Off-Season Priority Be?

Patrick J: Re-signing Pekovic.

You’ve gotta retain a high-quality big who is dominant at times and keeps adding dimensions to his game each season. That’s priority number one, hands down. A second important priority, though, is getting a legitimate shooting guard. This dead horse been beaten elsewhere, so I won’t focus on it here. And the Adelman situation might be more important than both for the Wolves’ long-term outlook. Is he a coach, a GM, or a retiree? More on that below.

Andy G: Ditto. You’ve gotta match Pek.

They’ve gotta re-sign Pek, or match whatever offer sheet he signs. They can’t let a good starting center walk. The team won’t have any options in free agency that could offset losing The Godfather. (If Kirilenko opts in and they re-sign Budinger, they won’t really have any cap space at all.) There aren’t any trade ideas that I can see that could offset losing The Godfather. This is entirely within the team’s control and it’s imperative that they retain a foundational player that happens to be in his prime.

2. How much can a rookie – any rookie, take your pick – actually help the Wolves win next season?  Can you parlay that into win-column improvements that are meaningful for contention next?

Patrick J: I think so. But only if you draft certain types of guys. It remains to be seen if the Wolves can do that given their past draft failures.

The Wolves will likely have the 9th pick, the 26th pick, and a pair of second rounders. At #9, I’d take a long look at Shabazz Muhammed.  He has a pro-style game, and would actually be able to score the ball, and thus fill a key need, in Adelman’s anemic offense, which ranked 25th in the League last year – to put it in context, the only teams worse were Philly, Orlando, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Washington (points per 100 possessions).

He’s already a veteran! (By age standards, at least.)  I know Muhammed isn’t a popular choice among hardcore Wolves fans. Agree to disagree?

At #26, I’d be looking for a shooter like Doug McDermott.

OR, I’d go Russian, with Sergey Karasev, a 6’7’’ SF out of Moscow with a knack for scoring and getting to the line. Karasev is only 19 years old. He wasn’t expected to declare for the draft, but did, and he could be a great Euro-stash (or have a great Eurostasche…or both!) And the Boston Marathon Bombings will almost certainly lower his draft stock, perhaps dropping him into the second round even though he isn’t Chechen! (Just kidding about that, by the way, but still– too soon?) Anyway, check out Karasev’s scouting video. Tons of good stuff on him there.

Finally, with the 2nd rounders, anything could happen. But assuming the Wolves won’t have both JJ and Luke, I’d be very okay with taking a flyer on Minnesotan Nate Wolters of SDSU. I almost can’t not post a video of Wolters highlights since almost no one has seen him play even though he’s from ‘Sota. So here it is.

Does a Muhammed, McDermott or Karasev, and Wolters draft translate into more wins in the W/L column? Maybe not as much as acquiring the right vet, but I think that getting the right vet in exchange for, say, number 9 and number 26 will be a lot harder than coming away with a couple of guys who fill specific needs – scoring and shooting, respectively – and who’re about as NBA-ready as they come.

Muhammed has an NBA body and skills, even if his upside isn’t as high as we thought it would be when he was coming into college, sort of like OJ Mayo a few years back. I suspect Muhammed will be sort of like Mayo as a pro–a capable starter or 6th man who can score from the day he sets foot in the League, but a career role-player who doesn’t have the tools to become a star.

McDermott is a senior, seems very mature, and could stick jumpers at a high rate off the bench in limited minutes. He’s shot 48 and 49 percent from distance his last two years at Creighton. Then again, Jonathan Givony’s DraftExpress rates McDermott’s “best case” comp as Luke Harangody, so there’s that to bear in mind.

Karasev is the only one who wouldn’t help next season – likely because he’s 19 and would probably still be in Russia next.

Andy GHow much could rookies help next year? Probably not much.

There is every indication that the Wolves will be gunning for a playoff spot, next season. With that in mind, any rookies that they draft will not be playing meaningful roles right away. That’s true even on the small chance that they win a top three pick in the lottery. Rookies aren’t very good in the one-and-done era of college hoops.

The 9th Pick? Well, we don’t know exactly who will be available, but it doesn’t seem like it’ll be too good.

Nerlens Noel isn’t walkin’ through that door, fans.

Ben McLemore isn’t walkin’ through that door and

Anthony Bennett isn’t walkin’ through that door.

And if you expect them to walk through the door they’re going to be grey and old.

(Sorry, got off script there.)

But it seems based on a review of Chad Ford’s page and Draft Express for the past few months that the “best available” might include Shabazz Muhammed and and some project big men like Alex Len, Cody Zeller, MASON PLUMLEE!, and Kelly Olynyk. I can think of worse ideas than taking the long view with a huge player that’ll need a year or more to develop. Front-line depth matters. (See how many games Pekovic misses with the inevitable sprains and bruises of a 290-pounder running up and down the floor so many games.) Also, there is more potential for a triple or home run with a huge young player than with a wing that doesn’t have great size or elite athleticism. So taking somebody like Len or Zeller and giving him the time he needs to get stronger and smarter on the floor is one idea.

Another idea — that I wouldn’t be surprised if happened — is to package the 9th Pick with Derrick Williams and one of JJ or Luke for a *real* shooting guard; preferably in a move that sheds a little bit of salary to help make room for Chase and Pek in free agency. Question is: what team would want Derrick, JJ/Luke and #9 in exchange for a helpful starting shooting guard? Probably only a team that is CLEARLY rebuilding — so much so that they’d rather give Derrick a fresh start (kind of like we did with Beasley) and take a late lottery pick instead of having a veteran.

Potential candidates:

  1. Charlotte
  2. Orlando
  3. Sacramento
  4. Phoenix

Veteran wings, among those four:

Ben Gordon, Bobcats – 1 year, $13.2 Million –> Wolves probably don’t do this. If they did it would involve a third player going out to make it a money-saver in both the short and long term. Gordon still takes — and makes — 3’s, but he isn’t what he once was: a prolific scorer. Still, it’s hard not to think he’d be an upgrade over the point guard shooting guards we’ve trotted out in recent years. One year of Rubio-Gordon-AK-Love-Pek, with financial relief after that (Gordon expiring or re-signing much more cheaply) could be interesting.

Arron Afflalo, Magic – 3 years, $22.5 Million –> This one is interesting to think about. For some reason AA shot WAY below his career norms from three-point range, last year. (roughly 30% after multiple seasons in a row of about 40%). It seems likely that last year was an aberration and he’ll again be an accurate perimeter shooter. He can defend, and handle it some, and is a good all-around starting off-guard. Would his $7.5 Million salary be a problem for the Wolves down the road? Probably not if they ditch JJ and the lottery pick they’d otherwise pay. That’s pretty much an offset.

Marcus Thornton, Kings – 2 years, $16.6 Million –> This is not a good contract. You could probably go so far as to call it a Kahntract. Nah, that might be a bit strong, for two reasons:

  •  It’s only 2 years. The Wolves biggest salary concerns are to avoid next year’s tax (can be accomplished if they send out a couple players and the lotto pick to get Thornton) and to avoid adding undue salary burden to 2015 (Thornton’s expires then).
  • Thornton isn’t a bad player. Not on offense anyway. He shoots a ton of threes (7.9 per 36) and hits them at a rate of 37 percent. That’s Houston Rockets kinda stuff and seems like the type of off-guard that would mesh well with Rubio. (Of Thornton’s 141 threes last year, 125 were assisted).

Jared Dudley, Suns – 3 years, $12.75 Million –> This one is a little different because Dudley is really a small forward (Chase would then have to play shooting guard, along with Alexey) and because Dudley’s contract is so cheap that it would probably be just JJ or Williams heading out, along with the 9th Pick. Dudley hits 40 percent of his 3’s in medium volume, passes and defends pretty well and seems like a solid filler between the things Rubio does as a passer and the things Love and Pekovic do on the interior. Despite the bargain value of Dudley’s deal, it’s possible that Phoenix would do a deal like this for the 9th Pick. They need to get going on their rebuild. They half-assed it this year. Adding the 9th Pick along with their own (which will be in the Top 5 or 6, maybe Top 1 or 2) would be a nice way to get young players with upside.

Alright, that’s a lot of words on possible uses of the lottery pick. For the rest of the picks I just hope they can spot a player with NBA wing size (6’5 or taller) and shooting mechanics and statistics suggestive of a competent if not prolific catch-and-shoot player. Allen Crabbe of Cal? Reggie Bullock of UNC? Somebody like that. I don’t follow college ball enough to know all the names, but they need to get a super-cheap role player that can shoot, run, and defend a little bit. If the entire Timberwolves draft loot is a veteran off-guard like the ones listed above and a super-cheap wing with the potential to quickly become a three-point threat, that’s good enough for me. Taylor’s money will be spent on AK, Love and Pek. They need to be strategic and resourceful with the other spots.

4. Most random, but not unrealistic, player would you like to see on the Wolves next season?

Patrick J: Tyree Ricardo Davis.

Hey, it’s random, but not entirely unrealistic. According to this recent Jonathan Abrams story, Ricky Buckets was just one Tyreke Evans Workout away from being a Twolf…THIS SEASON!* FFS, how did we not know about this until Abrams broke the story?? Paging Jerry Zgoda and Ray Richardson. How’d we miss this? This kind of thing is the reason Punch-Drunk Wolves was born. Anyway, if Kahn’s at the wheel again next season, we may still be only one Tyreke Evans Workout from Buckets’ return to ‘Sota.

Andy G: Greg Oden? Just kidding — we’ve beaten that severely-injured dead horse. My choice is Randy Foye.

Is it *random* if Foye is an unrestricted free agent that’s already played for the Timberwolves? Works for me. Foye isn’t a great player — he isn’t even a *good* one — but he jacks up 7 three-pointers per 36 minutes and hits 40 percent of them. He’s a “survivor” in the NBA (and not just because he’s still here, despite having the organs on the wrong side of his body) and that largely stems from his transformation into a shooting specialist. If he comes cheap, Foye would be a decent pickup for a team that needs a shooting boost.

5. Most “addition by subtraction” player currently on the Wolves — who do you want gone, and why?

Patrick J: Derrick Williams. Without a doubt.

Look, it is no secret that teams can get better simply by getting rid of bad seeds or dead weight. Williams is neither of those, really. So before getting into the details, let me make clear that this isn’t a classic addition by subtraction situation. We’re not talking about JR Rider on the Lakers here. It’s a bit different. But still, I think the Wolves increase in play quality and wins will increase if Derrick Williams is not a Twolf next year more than it would if any other single player goes.

The argument goes like this:

  1. He isn’t very good at basketball: His numbers improved some this year, but he hasn’t learned the fundamentals and at this point in career, it doesn’t look like he ever will. His “touch” around the hoop? Doesn’t exist. His court awareness? Doesn’t have any. You could go on and on. For one metric of some value, check out where he falls on the Timberwolves ranks of plus/minus per 36 minutes. (Hint: by far worst among the guys who played a lot.)

  2. His value will (probably) never be higher: Despite #1, Williams is still a recent second-overall pick, had a few big games in the extended run he got after Kevin Love left the team, and had some highlight-reel dunks. Some team will take a flier. Sure, his value is far, far lower than it would’ve been on the night he was drafted. But still, he should fetch *something* of value in a trade. This is important because of #3…

  3. The Wolves don’t need him anymore: Kevin Love is walking through that door (we hope), and Dante Cunningham is a perfectly capable backup PF; D-Will is going to struggle to find minutes next season. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if he racks up a bunch of DNP-CDs next season, especially since we know he isn’t Rick Adelman’s favorite player. And if the Wolves need Williams to play big minutes, it will mean that there has been a meltdown of some sort, probably involving Kevin Love again, which will pretty much ruin the season like it did 2012-13, in which case it won’t matter if you have D-Will or someone else filling time at PF.

  4. Opportunity cost is the reason he’s addition by subtraction: So if we know D-Will isn’t very good but other teams think he might be good and we don’t need him but we do need someone else, we trade Williams right? (Eds. Note: Swingers Vince Vaughn voice for that sentence.) And profit.

Andy G: Greg Stiemsma

There aren’t any hugely negative players on this team. Stiemer isn’t terrible. But he isn’t very good either, and — it seems possible, at least — Chris Johnson might make better use of the backup center minutes. Stiemer was second-worst to Williams in the +/- per 36 of high-minute guys, linked above. (To be fair, Johnson was even worse.) He shoots under 46 percent from the floor; low for a center. He fouls a lot. He presents none of the vertical opportunities that Johnson and other athletic bigs do, which have value when paired with opportunistic passers like Ricky and Shved. I guess I vote Stiemer here.

6. Most fatalistic move (or non-move) the Wolves seem destined to make (or not make) this off-season? 

Andy G: Letting Pek walk

If Pek signs a $45 Million offer sheet and the Wolves decide that rather than match they’ll just replace him with draft choice Alex Len (or Cody Zeller or even Nerlens Noel) that’ll be a catastrophe. They cannot afford to look long term. Not with just two years remaining on Love’s contract, and him being five years into a playoffsless career. Not with Rubio being so obviously disgusted with a 31-win campaign (uhhh, does he realize how *good* that is?) They can’t let Pek go. They can’t. They need to be in the playoffs next year.

Patrick J: Moving Adelman to the front office and gambling on a new coach

I think retaining Adelman as coach– rather than GM or POBO or whatever it is they’d label him as a Front Office guy. Even though we smart guys in the blogosphere like to think we know that Adelman has been calling all the personnel shots the last two years–except for the Brandon Roy signing, of course–it’s far from clear that Adelman would make nearly as good a GM as he does a coach.

There’s chatter that Elston Turner might replace Adelman if Adelman replaces Kahn, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible thing. Turner was Adelman’s assistant for ten years, and he would supposedly run the same sets as Adelman and all that jazz, easing the transition. I like Turner but I like Adelman more, and I think if he wants to stay with the Wolves organization, keeping him on the sidelines should be a major priority.

Yes, even if that means maintaining the status quo in the current Front Office, Kahn national media appearances and all.

* “Tyreke Evans Workout” is Punch-Drunk Wolves shorthand for “a seemingly outstanding workout, usually against sub-par or physically overmatched competition” that leads to David Kahn wanting to drafting that player with a lottery pick or to sign him to a kahntract. Could also be called “Jonny Flynn Workout.” See here. It’s as if Kahn himself posted it to RealGM.com’s message boards.

** For terms like this, we’ve started a Punch-Drunk Wolves Glossary page so you can just go there to translate our arcane slang.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Timberwolves Season in Review, Part 2: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

  1. Nathan Anderson

    Thanks for the Kahnzie.

  2. Dave A.

    Rubio makes everyone better. Key to next season is Rubio making Rubio better. He has to be a scoring threat in the 4th quarter.

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