Timberwolves 104, Kings 102: What's in a trade?
I’m fascinated with how we judge/view trades. As soon as a trade is completed, we judge the winners and losers of a trade. This is weird because we don’t wait to see how it works; we simply project our own values and expertise onto the transaction and start deciding how good or bad a deal is.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with this. I certainly do it as well and usually am the one volunteering on CBSSports.com to write the Grade the Trade posts. It’s really fun to figure out which teams are benefitting from a deal and which teams are Kahn’ing their fan base into thinking it’s a good idea. But it’s also important to keep constant perspective on what’s happening with both teams as previous trades are constantly evolving.
After Derrick Williams lit up the Wolves in a losing effort Sunday night, re-grading the trade seemed to be all anybody wanted to talk about, now that the season is all but done in terms of making the playoffs. If we’re going to do that, it’s important to look at all aspects of what is being discussed and where both teams are with their respective players. You remember the deal, I’m sure. Derrick Williams for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. The NUMBER TWO PICK IN THE 2011 DRAFT was traded for a second round guy who is a specialist, at best. It wasn’t ideal value when looking at the stigma and expectations saddled to the second pick in the draft, but the Wolves decided to make Derrick Williams a non-issue and try to grab someone who could help them in a playoff situation.
That’s a hard thing to sell to any fan base. “Hey, we screwed up a golden opportunity with the highest draft pick we’ve ever had.” That doesn’t exactly scream media guide material.
After Williams scored 26 points in a losing effort to the Wolves Sunday night, the entire post-game conversation migrated toward the topic of how badly the Wolves lost that trade. This was frustrating to me because it reeked of recency bias, which I just can’t stand when it comes to judging sports. Recency bias works simply for which team won/lost the game or how well a player did in that game. In terms of telling you more of a story about the season, who that player is overall, what that team is overall, and maybe a few stray tidbits here and there, single game samples don’t really give you the entire puzzle. They are but those frustrating flower puzzle pieces in which they all look the same while looking completely different at the same time.
Since we don’t really have a playoff picture worth looking at after this game, and I’m not terribly interested yet in completely charting the race against the Suns for the 13th pick, let’s look at the potential for this trade moving forward. Shall we?
Derrick Williams is certainly a better talent than Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. His potential seems to be much higher than what Mbah a Moute can offer a team, but that’s something I’d like to circle back to in a minute. Williams has shown us flashes in his career. He’s shown flashes to the Sacramento Kings and their fans. But what if that’s all he is? I know we’ve already wondered this aloud in this space and other spaces, but it’s still a legitimate question.
What if Derrick is simply faux potential, like we saw out of Anthony Randolph? People wanted to pretend that Randolph on the Warriors was a powder keg waiting to explode. He’d show flashes here and there, but mostly he’d show someone who had no clue what they’re supposed to do on the floor. He’d make horrible decisions, or even worse, no decisions. That’s still something that plagues Williams. His lack of decision-making can kill the flow of any game. Against the Wolves, he looked motivated and punished them with quick decisions and good touch on his shots. He scored 26 points, which is the total points he had in his previous four games.
On the flip side, is faux potential going to give you more than what Luc Mbah a Moute can give you? Flip Saunders made the trade for Mbah a Moute because Luc was supposed to be utilized. This has proven to be tougher than previously assumed. It makes some sense that he hasn’t been given consistent time. The team is slightly better (0.7 points per 100 possessions) defensively when he’s on the court and drastically worse offensively (11.7 per 100) when he’s in the game. That differential is a few points better than what the Wolves were doing with Williams on the court.
The problem with acquiring a player during the season is it’s not always easy to integrate that player into what you do. You’d hope that practices would take care of any issues with that, but this team doesn’t full-on practice all that much do to schedule and rest. That has limited Luc’s chances to get to know the offense. But defensively, he’s a match-up guy at this point. In the past two months, he’s seen significant time against Kevin Durant, James Harden, Paul George, Gordon Hayward, and Nicolas Batum/Wesley Matthews. But even then, it’s tough to judge just how good he’s been in those match-ups because you’re asking a guy to shut down some really good perimeter scorers.
What Luc does is much less tangible than what Derrick does when he actually does something. And from that standpoint, it can be a lot harder to figure out if the Wolves have a chance at winning this trade, or more importantly, just not losing it. Personally, I don’t think you can pick a winner of this trade yet because you’re not going to get your winner until next season.
The Kings have Williams for $6.3 million next season, which didn’t look so bad before they acquired Rudy Gay, who has promptly taken a lot of Williams’ chances — and rightfully so. The Wolves have Mbah a Moute at $4.3 million net season, which is much more manageable for a team trying to shirk from having to pay the luxury tax. Who is more likely to fulfill their relative potential?
Do you think Williams will finally have his breakthrough after a full training camp with Michael Malone and the absence of pressure to perform as a superstar for this Kings team? Do you think Mbah a Moute will be able to find a way into the rotation after a full training camp (with Adelman?) and slide in to take some of Corey Brewer’s erratic defensive minutes to help this team make the playoffs? Personally, I think Mbah a Moute is more likely to realize his potential with the Wolves next season than Derrick is with the Kings, but that’s just me looking at the roles of the players and assuming.
My biggest problem with the conversation Sunday night was that if Williams had lit up the previous opponent and then stunk against the Wolves, would he have sparked this discussion? Where was this discussion when he scored just seven points against the Wolves the last time they played? If this discussion is only happening after a random flash of brilliance, are we discussing the potential disaster of this trade or just the faux potential of a guy we want to ultimately succeed?
I don’t think we’re going to have answers to this any time soon, which is a good thing. It gives us something to revisit later on.