A lot has happened over the couple days and now we’re getting a better idea of the way this roster could look heading into next season. After missing out on Nicolas Batum (when evil Paul Allen wouldn’t let him go despite Neil Olshey wanting to let him go or at least work out a sign-and-trade), the Wolves were left with a plan B. Only nobody really seemed to know what the plan B was. The team missed out on Courtney Lee because… well… let’s just say negotiating issues, and it left the team without many options.
So here are the four transactions that have gone/will go down:
1. Greg Stiemsma signs with the team.
2. Wayne Ellington is dealt to the Grizzlies for Dante Cunningham.
3. Wes Johnson and a 1st round pick are part of a 3-team deal that brings back
Brad Miller’s contract (CJZero corrected me that he’s going to Phoenix), Jerome Dyson, and a couple of picks.
4. The Wolves sign Andrei Kirilenko for two years and roughly $20 million.
Let’s look at these in order of importance:
Andrei Kirilenko signs with the Wolves for two years and roughly $20 milliom
This is the big get of the offseason for the Wolves, assuming Brandon Roy’s knees haven’t been replaced by Wolverine’s DNA.
Before we get into the analytics of the signing, let me start by saying the contract is completely fine and anybody freaking out about the money isn’t looking at the new lay of the land after the latest CBA was put into effect. $10 million per year sounds like a lot of money, but there really isn’t such thing as a bad two-year or one-year contract in the new CBA. It essentially is a one year deal with a player option, and even if he picks up the player option you can still move him as a valuable expiring at the trade deadline in 2014. The flexibility isn’t really lost at all. When you get into three and four-year deals, that’s when things become crippling for a player if he doesn’t produce.
So money aside, is Kirilenko a good fit for this team? I say absolutely.
Kirilenko is an extremely intelligent basketball player that should fit in nicely with Rick Adelman’s system. You can put him on the wing and he can attack off the dribble. You can put him in the high post and he’ll pick apart the defense with his passing ability. Scoring-wise, he was really efficient in the 2010-11 season per possession, according to mySynergy Sports. AK scored 0.95 points per possession, which was good for 163rd in the NBA. Part of this was because he shot really well from 3-point range (36.7% compared to his career percentage of 31.1%).
Another big reason he scores so well in points per possession is he gets to the free throw line a lot. He only shot 32.5% from the field in isolation plays and yet he ranked 90th in the isolation points per possession. Why is this? Because Kirilenko drew a foul on isolation plays 29.3% of the time. That’s a pretty incredible rate for someone that isn’t know as a physical player or a guy that really makes a huge impact on offense. And that’s why I think he can be a pretty incredible offensive weapon on this team.
I don’t think he’s an All-Star caliber player anymore, but even in 2010-11 (which was the second worst season of his career) he attempted 4.9 free throws per game. Nikola Pekovic was second on the Wolves last year with 4.0 attempts per game. Kirilenko shot 77% from the charity stripe two years ago, and this past year he made 74.7% of his free throws in Russia. He’s a very solid FT shooter when he gets to the line and he gets there a lot. That’s going to get the opposing team into foul trouble a lot, in theory. Playing alongside Kevin Love shouldn’t change that much either. He played with CJ Miles, Deron Williams, and Devin Harris during that season, and all of those guys had usage rates (25.1%, 26.2%, and 25.2%, respectively) fairly close to Love’s (28.8%).
In terms of Kirilenko’s overall impact on an offense, he’s had good success being on teams that are better with him on the court than off the court. According to NBA.com/stats, here are the offensive ratings of the team overall and with Kirilenko on the court over the last four seasons he was in the NBA:
2010-11 season: Utah Jazz – 104.9, Kirilenko – 106.6
2009-10 season: Utah Jazz – 107.9, Kirilenko – 106.5
2008-09 season: Utah Jazz – 107.1, Kirilenko – 108.0
2007-08 season: Utah Jazz – 110.8, Kirilenko – 113.4
Defensively, Kirilenko has been a mixed bag over the past two years he was in the NBA. In 2010-11, AK was not very good defensively. Most of the points he gave up were off of spot-up situations, meaning his help defense wasn’t spectacular. He was very good against hand-off and guys coming off of screens. But when he had to cover ground and close out on shooters, he struggled to get there. The year before, he was a nightmare defensively, but for the other team. Opponents shot just 37.3% against him overall. He still struggled against spot-up shooters, but everywhere else was an elite status.
If Kirilenko can come back to solid defensive efforts like he showed in 2010 (and he was pretty good defensively in Russia), this signing looks genius. If not, I still think he fits into this system nicely and can figure out how to contribute on a nightly basis. Again, forget the money because two-year deals are just smart signings. He fits the system really well and that’s what matters the most here (although it would be nice if he could shoot better from 3).
Wesley Johnson and a 1st round pick traded to the Suns for Brad Miller, Jerome Dyson and some picks
This one is surprisingly tougher for me than I thought it would be. After seeing Wes show SOME light at the end of the tunnel during Summer League and his comments after the fourth game of the week, I was talking myself into him having a pretty decent season. In fact, I still think he can be a decent NBA player at this point if he comes through on his realization that he was in his own head last year and needs to just play basketball.
HOWEVER, let’s not kid ourselves on this trade. Even if you want Wes to be good (which he probably won’t be), trading Wes for the cap space for the Andrei Kirilenko signing is a huge upswing in talent and production. I want Wes to be good and he’s a really good guy, but AK is a lot better in the next two years than Wes, already 25 years old, will be in this time. Giving up the Memphis 1st round pick kind of sucks but we don’t exactly know the draft picks coming back to the team yet. They’re future second round picks, but perhaps they’ll be closer to the first round than the end of the second.
Wolves sign Greg Stiemsma
This is not a signing I’m crazy about. I’ve never been a Stiemsma fan, even though he finally broke through to the NBA and got some playing time this past season. He’s supposed to be the defensive center on this team, and with very few options in the frontcourt, he’s going to have to be. Stiemsma had a great season blocking shots, with a block rate of 8.5% and getting 4.0 blocks per 36 minutes. He definitely protects the rim, and this team is desperately going to need this.
But can he play significant minutes for this team?
He averaged 6.8 fouls per 36 minutes, meaning he was almost always in foul trouble when he was on the court. When he was on the court for the Celtics, they had a defensive rating of 95.1, which was slightly better than their 95.5 defensive rating for the entire year. But his foul rate is kind of ridiculous. It was fine when he was playing just 13 minutes per game for Boston, but won’t he need to play more minutes for this team?
Can he stay out of foul trouble and provide 20-25 minutes on nights when Pek is in foul trouble? What if Pek isn’t okay after his offseason surgery? What if Pek can’t start the season or has a setback because someone put Kryptonite in his basketball shoes? Can Stiemsma step forward and be a guy playing more than 13 minutes per game? If not, where does this team go?
I will give Stiemsma this — he’s not Jordan Hill and he’s not Darko Milicic. It could be a lot worse.
Wolves trade Wayne Ellington to the Grizzlies for Dante Cunningham
I like this move from a standpoint that Dante Cunningham is going to provide some much needed depth in the frontcourt and Wayne was in a crowded backcourt. Wayne is such a good guy, and I believe he can be the fourth guard in a rotation somewhere. He’s a good guy, a good shooter, and I’ll miss having him around the team. But it’s a numbers game right now and he is in a crowded part of the depth chart, with the additions of Roy, Shved, and Chase Budinger.
Cunningham is coming off the best season of his career. He had a career-high PER of 14.9 and a career-high WS/48 of .147. Just as a reference point, JJ Barea was fourth with the Wolves last year in PER with a 14.9 and Anthony Randolph had the third highest WS/48 on the team with 0.099. It looks like he can produce if given an opportunity, especially in a thin frontcourt.
Overall, I’m happy with where this team has gone in the offseason. People can make a big deal over acquiring a lot of players without a lot of melanin, and the jokes are all in good fun, but if that’s all you see the team has done this offseason then you’re missing the point of basketball. The Wolves have acquired talent this offseason, and that’s something that was greatly missing from the team last year. The Wolves acquired guys that fit the system, and sometimes that means more than any other thing a team can do. Organizations can keep piling on projects and hope it comes together, but eventually you need guys that fit what you do. I think the Wolves have done that so far.
Here’s the problem though. Can this team do anything relevant if Ricky doesn’t come back and galvanize his teammates like he did for the first 41 games last year? Can this team play enough defense to win games? There are four good defensive players signed to the roster right now. That’s Rubio, Kirilenko, Cunningham, and Stiemsma. Everybody else needs to figure out how to play team defense and trust each other to make plays. The Wolves were a really good defensive team when Rubio was playing last season. The offense couldn’t make shots and they acquired guys that can shoot the ball this summer.
But will it all come together? I guess we’ll have to wait for medical reports to truly find out.