Patience is a virtue… even when we have access to a trade machine

Zach Harper —  February 17, 2012 — 19 Comments

Patience is supposed to be a virtue, but there rarely seems to be room for it in today’s sporting world.

Rookies get drafted and we immediately start wondering how they’re going to get 36 minutes per game to fulfill their destiny of saving the franchise. If they’re a high draft pick, then immediate impact is expected and nothing can be brought along slowly. The problem with this intensity of expectation is it assumes every draft class happens in a vacuum.

There are some years in which a draft is loaded with All-Star potential. There are also some years in which you get unlucky by acquiring a top-7 pick because the talent pool just isn’t there. It’s hard to know it in the moment or even immediately after we start seeing these rookies at the NBA level. Because you “never know when a guy is going to surprise all of his doubters” and become an elite NBA talent.

Derrick Williams is caught up in this very problem right now, whether he’s aware of it or not. The number-two pick in the NBA draft is supposed to be a superstar, no matter what. And so far, D Dub has been underwhelming based on the stigma and expectations that come with the draft pick used on him. He isn’t starting and he isn’t getting consistent minutes. He doesn’t really fit in with where the Wolves are right now.

His natural position is the stretch-4 and the Wolves kind of have the best stretch-4 not named Dirk Nowitzki. You can move Kevin Love to the 5 in order to accommodate this clog at the 4, but Nikola Pekovic has proven over the last month that it’s impossible to move him from the space he occupies. You could move Derrick down to the 3 but he hasn’t exactly proven that he can play the 3 at the NBA level.

The first thing we heard about him during training camp is that he isn’t a 3 right now. And this is where the problem of Derrick Williams exists with impatient fans.

Some people think Derrick Williams is a bust – after 30 games in a chaotically truncated season. Does this seem erratic to anybody else?

I don’t find it frustrating that Derrick Williams doesn’t fit in with the current construct of the roster because I don’t look at the current construct of the roster as anything close to where it will be in two years. The foundation seems to be solid right now. Love, Rubio and Pekovic (how drunk would you think I am if you read this last season?) are the building blocks right now and everybody else has a chance to prove them belong or up their trade value to move on to the next point in their careers.

Looking at Williams’ numbers so far, there is nothing that really shows he fits in with this team and system right now. But there also isn’t anything that shows he won’t fit in with it a year from now.

We keep trying to find a position for him because that’s what we’ve been conditioned to do. Is this guy a small forward? Is he a power forward? Does he fit into the wing? Can we play him and Love in the post at the same time and get by defensively?

Positions are archaic. They really are. A lot of great coaches in the NBA worry about having their best unit on the floor, regardless of who fits into whichever position has been preordained by basketball ideals in a different era. This is why we’re seeing a lot of Luke Ridnour at the traditional shooting guard positions. It’s because he poses a matchup problem for a team’s defense that isn’t a typical thing to have to deal with (also because apparently Wayne Ellington is kidnapped before every game and held for ransom until the final 50 seconds of a blowout when he escapes).

It doesn’t mean this is a long-term solution because it’s not. But for what the Wolves have to work with right now, it seems like the best option.

Derrick Williams may not have a set traditional position but according to basketballvalue.com, he’s been a part of the Wolves’ most successful lineups on the floor this season. The Wolves have had 13 lineups get 20 or more minutes together this season.

The six lineups that have received the most minutes this season all have a negative net rating, and Derrick Williams has only been included in one of them. Five of those 13 lineups have gained a net positive in overall rating and Williams has been a part of four of them.

The Wolves seem to find ways to be successful with him on the court. It could be entirely coincidental because judging 557 minutes of playing time is not nearly a large enough sample size to examine. But in the small amount of evidence we have, he seems to be a good guy to have in a 5-man unit.

On a more individual level, Williams has definitely been a mixed bag of awesomeness and frustration. He floats… A LOT. Too often, it seems like he’s just waiting around the perimeter, hoping something will happen for him. He’s spotting up for jumpers more than he’s doing any other thing on the offensive end. It accounts for 21.1% of his plays that end in him taking a shot, attempting a free throw or turning the ball over.

The problem with this is he’s not a good spot-up shooter at all – at least not right now. He’s making just 34% of his spot-up shots and 26.7% of his spot-up 3-pointers. Where you find D Dub being successful is on offensive rebounds, isolation plays and, most of all, cutting to the basket. According to mySynergySports, he’s ranked 53rd in isolation plays, 48th in offensive rebounding possessions and 29th in plays in which he cuts to the basket.

Get Williams moving toward the basket and he’s a monster. Watch him float on the perimeter and you wonder why he’s even out there. So what’s keeping him from putting himself into situations in which he’s likely to be more successful?

It could be that he’s not naturally as aggressive as he needs to be or it could be that he’s a rookie who is getting lost in a system he had essentially two weeks to learn once the lockout ended. Cutting him some slack seems like the most logical thing to do because we may not truly get a good look at what he can do for this team until next season.

The idea that the Wolves should have traded the number-two pick in the 2011 draft is valid but it’s also a big steaming pile of conjecture too. There were plenty of rumors of things that could have gone down, but none of that is substantiated as anything real. Could the Wolves have traded the second pick for JaVale McGee?

Possibly. But if that had happened, would Pekovic have emerged as the player he has become over the last month? It seems unlikely. Watch McGee aimlessly frolic around the Wizards frontcourt and tell me you’d rather have him on this team than Derrick Williams.

Now this doesn’t mean the Wolves should treat Derrick as untradeable by any means. If they can use his potential as trade bait to acquire an All-Star caliber player at a much-needed position, I’d do it in a heartbeat. That has more to do with wanting this team to build seriously now than any doubts I have about Williams’ ability to fit in with this system.

Maybe this is a copout thing to say, but I think trying to judge individual players (ESPECIALLY rookies) on this team in the spotlight of a clusterfluff of a lockout-shortened season seems irrational to me. I have faith that he’ll get more comfortable on the team as the season goes on, will get good advice in his exit interviews once the season is over, and then we move from there.

If the advice is to be comfortable as Kevin Love’s backup and fill out the Sixth Man role on this team, then I’m intrigued to see how he handles that. If the advice is to slim down to 225 so he can become the missing link at the Wolves’ small forward, then I’m intrigued to see if he has the work ethic to heed this calling and become a monster at the 3.

After all, patience is still a virtue and I’m willing to be patient with a guy after 30 games of NBA experience.

Zach Harper

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19 responses to Patience is a virtue… even when we have access to a trade machine

  1. all of the article is valid except the part about Javale Mcgee. that guy is a punk and would definitely not fit in with the wolves, especially with his fiery attitude. look up on youtube, his arrogance of attempting a free throw line dunk and not being so much as get close is a sure sign that he does not fit in with the modest Ricky Rubio and others among the roster. I am glad the second pick was not traded for Javale.
    All other articles are very good though

  2. I agree with you entirely. Williams has a lot of talent and has shown flashes. But, jumping from College to the Pros isn’t always the easiest thing for everyone out there. Typically, the biggest/best jump is made between year one and year two of your professional basketball career. As long as patience is shown (with all parties: coaches, management, fans, players and Derrick Williams), I think he will be a really good player for the Wolves up coming.

    But, I also agree with you regarding a trade. If a great trade piece can come in and help the Wolves immensely (and immediately) at the 2 or 3 position, I could part with Derrick Williams. We shall see.

  3. I have him 100% of confidence that he will become a monster as a SF. He just needs a regular training camp and to train alone even out of that regular camp. He needs time to settle nothing more. I would not trade him for nobody.
    For me my three building blocks are Rubio-DWill-Love.
    Even with the recent play of Pekovic I would change him if possible for an all star defensive minded center or SG or both.

  4. Nice post. I just like watching Derrick Williams – the improbably sick crossover, the reverse alley-oops – so I hope we find a way to make him fit. I also will probably always love him for his single-handed demolition of Duke last year in the tournament (definitely the most enjoyable game of the season, and I’m not even an Arizona fan).

    Perhaps controversially, I even like it when he salutes the crowd after a dunk. Can you get a technical for that?

  5. Pekovic is indispensible in my opinion. He can dominate the paint with a very high FG% and more than adequate post-D…….Williams is so athletic that its probable he will be molded into a SF next year (as a 21 yr old). This team just destroyed the Rockets (17-14 now). Twolves looking scary to opponents nowadays!

  6. Dont trade D Williams!! He is too good, and we can make the playoffs this year without making any trades at all. He is a piece of a championship team in Minnesota’s future….just needs to stay with this young, talented squad.

  7. Keep him. Both he and the team have scary potential.

  8. I like Derrick Williams. If we can keep him we should, but if we could get even value on a trade for a SG we really have to do that, right? It’s probably irrelevant because the guys that I’d consider a decent return for him (Martin from Houston, Gordon from New Orleans, Mayo from Memphis, Turner from Philly, Matthews or Batum from Portland, probably in that order) are probably not getting moved at the deadline anyway. Keeping Williams is definitely preferable to a panic trade. I do hope he can play some 3, otherwise we’ll have a hard time finding minutes for him next to Love & Pekovic.

  9. I agree that positions are irrelevant- offensively, but you have to be able to guard someone on D . NBA teams do not exactly play zone for long stretches of time. Right now, Derrick’s problem is he can only guard players in the traditional 4 range. Quick 3s are not where he does well. Neither does Beas for that matter. And because Love and Pek are almost as limited defensively, well, minutes go bye bye for D-Dub.

    I wonder, failing a helpful trade, if mgmt is going to discuss with Derrick the possibility of getting his weight down into the Granger range, about 225. It worked for Love. Just a thought.

  10. I really hope Williams stays in Minneosta for a long time, love his explosiveness and ability to shoot from the outside. I do think this off season is going to be huge for him because he needs to become a small forward in order to get his minutes and have a big impact on the team.
    Wes Johnson has been incredibly frustrating but I don’t think we should trade D-Will for a shooting guard. In the past few games, Johnson has been getting better. I get the feeling he is about to have a break out game and I like the fact that he’s playing with intensity now.

  11. we would have to get a really good 2 for me to sign off on trading Williams. I would also think that anybody getting him would have to take back Darko as well.

    How bout Darko, Williams, and Ellington to GS for Monta?

    It’s a lot to give up, but finding a true 2 is hard. It would solidify the lineup for at least 2 seasons at 4 of the 5 spots, and make wing scorer the only clear need.

    Picks or cash could be inserted by either side to address any percieved deficiencies.

    Rubio\Ridnour
    Ellis\Berea
    ? Wes Johnson? Beasley? Webster?
    Love\Randolph?
    Pek\Miller

    Rubio, Ridnour, Barea, Love, Ellis, and Pek are all under contract for at least 2 more full seasons, so the team could grow together nicely.

  12. If we’re looking for a trade that has some remote possibility of happening it’s a three team deal with the wolves, the lakers, and houston. Houston loves Gasol, we want martin and there are pieces in between that could make the trade work for all three teams.

    A deal where LaL gets a package with something like Ridnour/D-Will/Scola
    Houston gets Gasol and pieces
    We get K-Mart and whatever other junk is being thrown around.

    We have little use for the draft, for a year or two and we can move the Utah pick that we still have. I think that’s really the only scenario that has a small chance of actually happening, and a trade that could actually work out for each team.

  13. Timberwolves needs a consistent scorer as shooting guard. Kevin Martin is the right guy and have played for coach Adelman. Williams and Ellington or Wes Johnson could be enough to persuade Houston to a trade. Another good fit would be Mayo from Memphis.

  14. I agree that Derrick Williams should definitely not be judged harshly in such a short time. If he was playing for the Cavs right now he would have the monster numbers that you expect out of a top 3 pick. He unfortunately is a little iced out of the line-up due to the mind-boggling play of Kevin Love and Pekovic. But there is no way that you trade him at this point. I see him at a similar juncture now as where Wes Johnson was last year (and even at the beginning of this year). He is a guy who is use to being to first scoring option on the team and needs to figure out how to be an efficient scorer when the opportunity to take a great volume of shots to find your rhythm isn’t there and NBA Defenders are much more refined guarding a guy one-on-one which limits his efficiency on isolations. If he works hard on being a better team defender and limits his offensive game to cuts to the basket, put backs, and drive-and-dish or drive-and-dunk he will be an invaluable 6th Man. He is electric around the rim and his 3pt shots will fall eventually. I saw him frequently hit 3′s five feet behind the line in college so the potential is most definitely there to be a guy who can score from anywhere on the court.

    Plus, every T-Wolves fan knows that a guy like Derrick fits easily into the high-flying transition offense that has been David Kahn’s wet dream (that features Love grabbing the board, sending an outlet pass to Rubio running the break, and any combo of Wes, Derrick, or Beasley finishing at the rim).

  15. I think Derrick is living mostly in his head right now. I would be, if I was thrown into the NBA with virtually no team practice under my belt. He thinks he should be playing like a young Kobe, so he starts shooting from everywhere. Then when he fails to hit shots, he starts to doubt his abilities. Then he thinks again and decides “of course I have enough talent.” Naturally, he goes on Twitter and complains about his minutes, which has the net effect of putting even MORE pressure on him. Then he thinks more and more, and starts getting more grandiose.

    It’s like a schizophrenic gradually drifting away from society as their thoughts take hold of them and don’t let go. I know, from personal experience.

    Basketball in particular among sports requires impeccable focus, and unnecessary thoughts only get in the way. This is why professional athletes are often incredibly un-savvy with words; in their line of work words get in the way. So, my advice to Derrick: stop thinking, stop writing, just be patient and play.

  16. I think what Kahn needs to do is call Phoenix and find out if they would be willing to take Beasely for Shannon Brown (who is already whining about not getting any minutes). Shannon will get plenty of minutes here, it eliminates Ridnour from being on the court trying to defend larger SG’s and SF’s and let’s Rubio have the ball more, and it gives PHX some youth and a possible replacement in case Grant Hill does not play again next year. Everyone wins!

  17. I agree that he shouldn’t be traded… yet. His trade value is low right now. There were several rumors about the pick around draft time and we will know a lot more about him as this roster shakes out. If he develops well as a SF next year I would keep him.

  18. i said it once before. if d-dub gets his head together and gets aggressive, we can be looking at a gerald wallace archetype out there, only bigger and stronger with similar skillset. i still believe in the kid, but would trade in a heartbeat for a reliable wing.
    speaking of wings, are the tpups not going to go for JR smith? everyone else seems to be. or is he too volatile?

  19. crap, i’ve apparently been under a rock. jr already in nyc.

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