Let’s get down to it because there doesn’t need to be some cute introduction here.
It’s official. The Wolves have traded Derrick Williams to the Sacramento Kings for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. No other pieces in the deal, just a straight-up swap of the two players. Let’s dive right into it and look at a few sides of this deal to figure out how we feel about it, shall we?
Yes, he was the second pick in the draft but ain’t nobody got time for that
There is a certain point in which divorcing yourself of a player’s draft position becomes the only logical step in understanding what their value is in the NBA. Derrick Williams is one of those players. Yep, he was the second pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. That wasn’t very long ago. The potential he was dripping with leading up to that draft and his rookie season has dried up and isn’t anything people around the league are really counting on. It doesn’t mean he can’t be a really good player in this league; it just means nobody is pretending he can be a franchise-changing guy at any point in his career.
Because he’s a former No. 2 pick in the draft, it makes people expect him to still have star qualities. I don’t want to be harsh here but he just doesn’t have that. Even when he goes up for a dunk, there is a good contingent of Wolves fans wondering if he’s going to finish it. That’s mostly because he missed 12 dunks last season, which is a lot when you’re only attempting 80 of them. Of the previous 10 No. 2 picks in the draft (we’re not counting 2013), only a handful of them are guys you’d really want on your team.
Darko Milicic, Marvin Williams, Michael Beasley, Hasheem Thabeet, and Derrick Williams are guys that were either reaches because of poor scouting or reaches because their draft wasn’t very good. Darko, Williams, Beasley, and Thabeet were results of poor scouting. Williams was a product of being in a crappy draft with very little guarantee of an impact player at the time of the pick. And the jury is still out on Evan Turner but it’s unlikely he turns into a franchise guy. What was their value when they were dealt?
Darko was traded to the Orlando Magic with Carlos Arroyo for Kelvin Cato and a first round pick that eventually became Rodney Stuckey. He also got traded for Quentin Richardson once and Brian Cardinal once. Marvin Williams got traded for Devin Harris (after he was good). Michael Beasley got traded for two second round picks and a briefcase full of money. Hasheem Thabeet got traded for Shane Battier in a multiplayer deal.
That’s right; of the five number two picks were discussing as busts here, Hasheem Thabeet brought his original team back the biggest return (although they had to send DeMarre Carroll and a first round pick with Thabeet at the time). If the Wolves get Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from the Kings, it’s possible the Wolves will have gotten the second best return on a No. 2 pick in the past decade (Stuckey isn’t good).
Does Williams have potential? I guess so. We haven’t really seen it, even during the 2012-13 season in which he showed improvement, I’m not sure he ever showed potential to be very good. He likes to shoot from the outside but he’s not a good shooter (29.8% from 3-point range for his career). He’s a solid finisher but not nearly what you’d expect from him. He’s an underrated rebounder and should be able to do that at a nice rate for his career. He isn’t good at passing the ball or making quick decisions in the offense. He was a solid defender against power forwards last season but struggled in help defense.
If anything, I think his best player comp for right now would be Brandon Bass. If he could become the next Brandon Bass in this league, it would erase the expectations people have of him because of where David Kahn selected him in the draft but it would at least make him a legitimate rotation player in this league, which I’m confident he can become. Let’s look at what LRMAM might bring to the table.
What kind of player does Luc Richard Mbah a Moute bring to the Wolves?
Defense. Defense. Defense. From 2009-10 to 2012-13, Mbah a Moute allowed a below average PER (15.0 is average for all players) to small forwards. In a few stints at the position this season for the Sacramento Kings, the Cameroon Prince (have I mentioned he’s an actual prince in Cameroon?) allowed an 18.5 PER to small forwards but it’s an extremely small sample size to go off. He’s often been very good at defending power forwards as well, giving up below average PERs in most of his seasons in the NBA. Mbah a Moute is a really versatile defensive player that can defend both the 3 and the 4 with success.
Why is this important when the Wolves are trying to figure out how to score with their bench? Because it gives the Wolves a lot of flexibility with the looks they have while not putting someone on the court who struggles to realize what is and isn’t a good shot for him. LRMAM has taken 1,958 shots in his five-plus years career and 1,089 of them have come in the restricted area, where he’s a career 57.1% converter. On the flip side of that, Williams has taken 1,338 shots in his two-plus years and only 562 of them have come in the restricted area where he’s a 57.8% converter.
In 155 games, Williams has taken 349 3-point attempts and made 29.8% of them. In 344 career games, Mbah a Moute has taken 72 3-point attempts and made 29.2% of them. LRMAM shoots 32.5% from midrange while Williams shoots 34.9%. Moute shoots 31.7% from the corner three while Williams shoots 31.0%. Do you notice a trend here? Most people would argue Williams is much more talented than Mbah a Moute is. And in terms of raw ability, they’re right. Factor in defense and his ability to know what a good shot is more often than Derrick has and it feels like the Wolves are getting an upgrade in this deal. Is he an upgrade long-term? Maybe not. In fact, hopefully not just because I don’t want Williams to be considered a failure in his career.
There are some concerns with the condition of Mbah a Moute’s knees but this deal will only be passed through if the physical is positive enough to not give Flip Saunders and company any concerns. Considering Flip seemed genuinely concerned about not making the same injury mistakes of the past the day he took over, I’d assume they’ll do their due diligence in making sure he’s fit to play here.
As of right now, the 6’7″ tweener forward with great defensive ability and a 7′ wingspan fits what the Wolves have going more than what Williams wasn’t able to do/allowed to try under Adelman. For those of you worried about bench scoring, two things:
1) Williams wasn’t giving the Wolves that, anyway.
2) Chase Budinger should be back in roughly a month and then that rotation looks a lot better.
One last thing: read this story by Jonathan Santiago on Cowbell Kingdom. Great insight into Mbah a Moute.
Financial impact of the deal
The Wolves save a little money with this deal. This is important.
Minnesota will shave roughly half a million dollars off their salary cap, giving them a bit of breathing room in terms of approaching the luxury tax if they were to take another swing at a trade and bring in another rotation player that might increase the payroll. They’re roughly $3.1 million under the luxury tax. It’s even better for next season. The Wolves will head into the offseason getting nearly a $2 million savings having LRMAM over Williams. It also means they don’t have to re-sign Dante Cunningham if the asking price is much more than the $2.1 million he’s making now. They’ll now be just under $66 million for payroll, which may give them the flexibility to add a mid-priced free agent this coming summer while still avoiding the luxury tax.
Avoiding the luxury tax is big for saving the team money but it also is big for keeping roster flexibility. Once you get into the repeater tax if you’ve pushed past the luxury tax apron, mid-market teams like the Wolves can get hammered and begin to lose their shirt.
The Wolves accomplished this by getting a better role player for this team now and not giving up any draft picks in the process. Was it selling low on Derrick Williams and his potential? Possibly. I was resigned to hoping Williams would become a rotation player that could float between both forward positions and find a way to impact the game. Instead, the Wolves have traded him for that player. It’s not a sexy deal but they acquired a playoff rotation type of player who can allow them to throw different looks at some of the best forward scorers in the West.
Draft positioning be damned.