Derrick Williams enters the fold

Benjamin Polk —  June 24, 2011 — 15 Comments

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Photo by Zephyrbunny

Becoming a media-savvy NBA player generally involves whitewashing one’s own spontaneity, taking care not to offend, not to reveal, not even really to amuse or express much of anything at all beyond rote gestures of confidence and deference.  Derrick Williams seems well on his way to mastering this drab, corporate non-speak (a style that is all the more disappointing when one overhears the colorful, often clever and playful, occasionally crass and nasty ways that players interact with each other).

But his principle charm, at the moment, lies in the fact his nervous smile, his wide eyes and mumbled, teenager-y speech belie the canned, practiced phrases. Williams is a late entry in the game of being famous. He still seems less like a professional personality than an actual naive, college aged human person.

For that matter, as he explained earlier today at his introductory press conference, he’s also late to the game of basketball. He didn’t take the game seriously until ninth or tenth grade. He wasn’t a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school. He was barely in the draft discussion entering his sophomore year at Arizona. This is the story; the theory is that this means he still has gallons of rich, untapped potential.

David Kahn and the Wolves really seem to believe in this narrative and one is strongly tempted to join them in their belief; after all, the Clippers own the Wolves’ first-round pick in next year’s seriously loaded draft. The Wolves badly need an offensive star and right now Williams looks like their best shot.

For this to happen, though, the matter of his role in the Wolves’ frontcourt needs to be resolved.  Despite the talk that he is undersized for a power forward, Williams is actually bigger than both Kevin Love and Michael Beasley and his great strength and long reach make him seem, on paper at least, like someone who could indeed guard most NBA fours. Add to this the fact that, like Beasley, one of his great advantages as a scorer was his ability to use his quickness and explosiveness to face up against opposing power forwards and it would certainly seem like the four would be Williams’ most natural NBA position.

But because Kevin Love has that spot locked down, the rook will probably have to play a lot of three. And to do this, explained his agent Rob Pelinka, he’ll need to get quicker and leaner. This is a slightly touchy situation. In Beasley, Love and Williams (and even Anthony Randolph), the Wolves now have at least three forwards who don’t seem to have one obvious position. In order for this to work, whoever their coach is will have to craft a way to rotate them through the three forward positions, exploiting favorable matchups on both sides of the ball, putting all three players in positions in which they can succeed while still finding consistent, predictable minutes for everybody.

Do we trust Kurt Rambis to be able to do this without creating an unholy, unproductive mess akin to last year’s swingman debacle? I’ll say ‘maybe’ to that one. How about Bernie Bickerstaff or Lorenzo Romar? Um, I guess ‘trust’ is not the word I would use there. Sam Mitchell or Lawrence Frank? Feeling slightly more comfortable now.

So this whole dark, unruly mess of a coaching situation is a major problem (not to mention a major source of ridicule and ‘what the effs’ from observers around the league). But Kahn and Ronzone did pretty well for themselves on draft night. In taking Williams, they very much improved the team’s offensive talent level. In craftily landing Malcolm Lee with the 43rd pick, they improved their perimeter defense, which they further improved by moving Jonny Flynn. They landed a savvy-passing, good-shooting, well-bearded veteran big man in Brad Miller (whether he’s grist for the trade mill, or simply a future buyout remains to me seen) and they scored some cash to boot.

So the Wolves did a lot of work, but in that they didn’t end up moving the second pick, they are still gravely in need of some veteran leadership. And this, according to Kahn, remains a priority for the rest of the Summer: “I think that it is important that we simply become older,” he said. “We’re too young, and we know that…I don’t expect the roster to be changed fundamentally. I think we need to sprinkle in some vets now.”

Benjamin Polk

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15 responses to Derrick Williams enters the fold

  1. how is derrick williams bigger than beasley and love? D will is 6’9” and beasley and love are supposedly 6’10”.

  2. Right, but neither of them are actually anywhere near 6’10″. The only measurements you can trust are the ones they get at the combine. Beaz and Love are both closer to 6’8″.

  3. Yes, consider (all from DX’s database):
    Kevin Love – 6′ 7.75″ no shoes, 255 lbs, 18 bench reps, 35″ max vert
    Michael Beasley – 6′ 7″ no shoes, 235 lbs, 19 bench reps, 35″ max vert
    Derrick Williams – 6′ 7.25″ no shoes, 250 lbs, 19 bench reps, 34.5″ max vert

    In fact, you start looking at all of their times in agility etc, these guys are all as near to identical as you can get. From watching highlight clips of them, though, Kevin Love clearly plays under the rim and looks to me what I would call a center. Beasley is more perimeter oriented, whether that’s because he doesn’t like contact or just loves shooting longish 2′s I don’t know. Williams is thick and strong, and appears to be a blend of Love and Beasley in that he can bounce around in scrums under the basket (a la Love) but has the athleticism and hops to finish above the rim (a la Beasley). In other words, Williams won’t have as many shots blocked as Love does.

    One final measurement note:
    Love – 6′ 11.25 ” wingspan, 8′ 10″ standing reach
    Beas – 7′ 0.25″ wingspan, 8′ 11″ standing reach
    DWill – 7′ 1.5″ wingspan, 9′ 0″ standing reach

  4. Sure, you guys got Williams. Big deal. We got Chukwudiebere…for one confusing hour. http://t.co/DFVt0ok

  5. What are people’s thoughts on this whole Tanguy issue? I haven’t had time to really look into it.

  6. You know, the truth is there doesn’t seem to be great info out there about it yet, or the Jonny Flynn/Rockets thing. We’ll keep looking into it though.

  7. With those measurements, it seems like Williams is indeed the biggest of the three. Why no mention of playing him at the center? By all indications he can stretch the floor and take his guy outside as well as Love can. And he can probably be just as effective guarding most centers. So what about this?

  8. Well he’s not quite that big. I think the only reason Love can get away with playing the five is that he has such transcendent ability to get and maintain position against bigger players. Williams wouldn’t be able to do that and the Wolves would really struggle defensively and on the glass with him at the five.

  9. I think we are about to see extended minutes for Love and Randolph at the ’5′ (if this team is even going to have positional designations next year). This might actually be very good solution for us. First, the visuals, then the numbers.

    If you watch highlights of Kevin Love, what you see is a classic earthbound wide body, a guy who creates a zone of chaos around him by constantly fighting for position, or setting guys up/boxing them out, etc. Love is never going to be the tallest or best jumper under the basket, so it appears that he uses his court vision and great lower body strength to simply keep everyone else slightly out of position or unbalanced. That is, in part, how he is able to get so many boards and putbacks. For all the world he plays like a center. If he was 6′ 11″ – all else being the same – we’d call him a center and be done with it.

    According to 82games, Chuck Hayes played (if you do the math) over 1700 minutes at center for Houston last year and held his opponent to a neutral PER despite giving up more shots and points to them. WS wise he was clearly a positive – 6.3 WS (good for an easy second best on the Wolves last year). Why does this matter? Because short guys can be solid, productive centers in the league today.

    Kevin Love – 6′ 7.75″ no shoes, 255 lbs, 18 bench reps, 35″ max vert
    Chuck Hayes – 6′ 5.5″ no shoes, 232 lbs, 20 bench reps, 33″ max vert

    Kevin Love – 6′ 11.25 ” wingspan, 8′ 10″ standing reach
    Chuck Hayes – 6′ 10″ wingspan, 8′ 8.5″ standing reach

    In the time that Kevin Love has been here, he has played 2376 minutes at center (all data from 82games, with me doing the math to arrive at precise numbers where not given). He has been significantly better than his opponent center counterpart in two of those three years, with ’09-10 being the outlier (it should be noted that he only played 79 minutes at center that year – yay small sample size theater!). Why are we not playing at ‘center’? He’s strong enough, wide bodied enough, and clearly super productive (in 700 minutes at center last year Love annihilated his competition – among other things drawing 4.2 more fouls per36 than he committed, leading to an absurd +6.2 FTA per36 advantage over his opposing center. He outrebounded them by over 7 boards per36. Outscored them by 10.6 points per36!)

    The knock on him is that he can’t defend other centers. The data is a little more…variable…on that one, but according to BBall-Ref he was tied for second best on the team last year (with AR) in Drtg at 108, only behind Darko’s 107. Drtg is an estimation of points allowed per 100 possessions. He’s an average NBA defender who happens to be a slow white guy who doesn’t jump very high, but he’s otherwise quite fundamentally solid.

    I simply don’t get why this team can’t roll with Love defending the other team’s centers when he is clearly shown that he can be dominant against them. Are guys like Bynum or Gasol or Howard going to give Love trouble? Absolutely, just like they give everyone trouble. There’s a reason Darko will be kept around, at least in the short term. Kevin Love is one player on this team who plays under the basket, who appears to enjoy the scrum and is capable of being productive down there. Why are we fighting this? Because we’re worried about stretch 4′s or athletic centers?

    Anthony Randolph, he of the 7′ 3″ wingspan and 9′ 1″ standing reach to compliment his 35″ max vert, has played just over 1000 minutes at center so far, with the results being rather fascinating (at least to me). Using 82games’ data, his lowest PER at the position has been 18.8 (in fact, his lowest PER at either PF or C is 17.1, which is pretty awesome). His worst year at C was his first, but after that he’s settled down notably. What he gives up in shooting percentage (a negative) he makes up for in volume and drawing fouls. He’s clearly a different kind of player than Love, but still productive overall. His overall Drtg has never been higher than 108 which, while high, is upper echelon for the Wolves.

    Most importantly, AR represents the athletic, long, springy stretch defender you’d want next to Love. Defensively it’s pretty easy – Love gets the strong, slow ones and AR gets the long athletic ones (the LMAs and Carmelos and KDs of the world). Darko and Pek come in for fouls and to body up with the super huge guys.

    So I’ll repeat my first statement:
    I think we are about to see extended minutes for Love and Randolph at the ’5′ (if this team is even going to have positional designations next year). This might actually be very good solution for us.

    These guys can play there. No, they won’t be perfect there, but they will represent massive improvement over what was there last year, and the year before. Go check out what the Thunder had at center and PF last year and tell me why we are worried about Love and AR at ’5′ this year? (The Thunder weren’t very good at PF and C at all last year. Despite the love for Ibaka and Perkins, they simply weren’t all that get in the net).

    On a team such as ours, where versatility is apparently hugely important, playing Love and AR at 5 opens up more minutes for Beasley, Williams, and Wes at the 3/4, and most importantly gives Rubio more floor time with his best players.

  10. biggity2bit,

    Your analysis is simply fantastic. And I could not agree more about Love playing minutes at Center. Why not? He has done well there, it allows us to get our other best players on the court, and the only thing preventing it seems to be the misconception that he is a PF and not a center. He played Center his whole life until the pros and dominated at every level, and as you point out above Biggity, he does very well against other NBA Centers. He and Randolph with some Darko and Big Pec off the bench seems like the ideal way to fill the 5 this year.

  11. I think B2b is on the right track. The only thing keeping Randolph from becoming a solid 5, is consistency. He easily has the size and athleticsm to become a Marcus Camby or Theo Ratliff type center… undersized, from a “bulk” standpoint, but extremely effective defensively (Camby has averaged 2.5 bpg, Ratliff 2.4 bpg). And he definitely has the potential to be much more effective than either of them on the offensive end (Camby 10 ppg, Ratliff 7ppg). He just needs to be given consistent minutes, in a consistent position, on a consistent team. But I would think that if he does develop into that kind of a player, it would be a perfect compliment to Love’s rebounding prowess.

    Then you have Rubio running the point, Wes at the 2, and either D-Will or Beas at the 3, with the other as the all-too-valuable 6th man, to spell Love and whoever IS starting.

    I’m not saying that we are a whole lot closer to competing for a championship… but at least this is starting to LOOK like a team that COULD develop into a contender. Hopefully we get a a good “glue” coach, who can keep everyone as a cohesive unit, moving forward. And hopefully Kahn gives the team some time to develop and mesh, before he takes the axe to the roster.

  12. Its true that Love played very well at center last year but part of that is because Rambis picked his spots pretty shrewdly. He generally only played minutes at the five against other undersized guys and backups. There are games where you just wouldn’t be able to use him there–against the Lakers for instance or Dallas, assuming Hayward and Chandler are both healthy. The comparison with Hayes is apt, I think, except that Hayes has an unnaturally wide and strong lower body which allows him to defend much taller players. Love uses his lower body well to rebound, but at this point his defensive strength and positioning still leave a lot to be desired. So I don’t think you could expect him to have close to the same defensive impact against tall centers as Hayes.

  13. You are absolutely right that we should not expect Love to have the defensive impact of Hayes – but that’s not why you’d play Love at center. You play him at center because the value of every other thing he can do.

    I’ll liken it to a baseball analogy: Joe Mauer at catcher. Everyone wants to move him away from catcher, but Joe Mauer is worth $23 million a year at catcher whereas at first, or third base, he’s not. Why? Because compared to all other catchers, Mauer’s offensive production is literally HOF worthy after only 5-6 seasons (or whatever it’s been). Move him to a different position and his comparative production isn’t nearly as good.

    Similarly, centers in the NBA on the whole are not very good (http://bkref.com/tiny/ZBeAD). These are the guys considered centers by BBall-Ref who played 1250+ minutes last year. And actually, the list isn’t that bad. However, where are all the other guys who played C last year?! We trotted out Darko for 1700 minutes last year, with Pek and Koufos taking up another 1200 minutes! The net WS of these three was 0.8!

    To maintain the status quo at center for the Timberwolves simply because of ‘issues’ over Kevin Love’s mediocre defense is a ridiculous proposition given that Love can hold his own against other bigs. Against LAL last year Love averaged 12.75 ppg and 13.75 rpg. Adding a DWill and AR to the mix to offset Lamar’s one game shutdown of him will only help (and that is the point, ultimately – playing Love at center allows other mismatches on the floor, and that in turn might/will help Love perform better at C).
    Against Dallas last year Love averaged 17.5 ppg and 16 rpg.
    Against OKC last year Love averaged 25.6 ppg and 19.6 rpg.
    Against Utah last year Love averaged 23.25 ppg and 14.25 rpg.
    Against Memphis last year Love averaged 13 ppg and 11.3 rpg.

    This isn’t a perfect solution, nor is it intended to be argued as such. What it is, in my mind, is a very prudent one that gets our best players on the floor together for more minutes than less. It puts our team in better position to win more games and develop faster. Doesn’t mean it won’t have to be tweaked (don’t want Love guarding Bynum all night long), but worrying too much about that side of the equation blinds us to the reality of the other side of the equation – all of these big, matchup problem causing centers that we’re worrying about all have to worry about Love as well, a big man who’s shown that he can drop 20 and 15 on any given team any given night. A big man who fights for position as hard as anyone in the league, a big man with a .400 three point shot.

    If this is our mismatch (or one of them), we have to exploit it.

  14. B2B- Your Mauer analogy is perfect. And here is why: Joe Mauer has NO value at Catcher, if he continues to sustain injuries, due to the daily grind of playing that position. The exact same way that what Love presents, in terms of mismatches on the offensive end, has absolutely no value, if he gets a) injured, or b) completely worn down, by banging with the big nasties. And Kevin has to bang. He doesn’t have the length and atheleticm to play off of people. So it would be a grind on his body. And I can almost guarantee that we would see a major decline in his numbers, as his body started to wear down.

    Just like Mauer Catching… it isn’t just about the short term value. But rather what is the best thing for the team and player, for years to come. They are both young guys, with a lot of career ahead of them. But that is only if management/coaching does NOT put them in a position to wear down too soon.

  15. Andy,

    Do you really think that banging against PFs on a nightly basis is that much better than banging against Centers?

    I’m sorry, but the list of centers at B2b’s link above is not THAT intimidating. When you think about going up against guys like Zach Randolph, NeNe, Blake Griffin, Josh Smith, etc. it just doesn’t seem that much better.

    I personally think that Nikola Pekovic should be a benchwarmer, and should not see rotational minutes unless there are injuries. I’d rather have Anthony Tolliver or Brad Miller in there than Pekovic. I don’t see him being a good NBA player. Not only did he not look good offensively, but he also fouls more than any NBA player I’ve ever watched.

    I’m starting to like the AR/Love at 5 possibility more and more. I’d like to see the minutes by the end of the season something like the following:

    Love: 36
    Beasley: 34
    Rubio: 34
    D Will: 32
    Wes: 28
    AR: 28
    Webster: 24
    Ridnour: 14

    With spot minutes for Lee, Hayward, Darko, Ellington, and Tolliver when the match-ups are good and/or when the above get injured…

    That’s just if we keep our current players… I’d like to see us move one of Beasley or Wes Johnson (+ other throw ins), because I just don’t think that we have room for both of those guys.

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