We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.
What a strange, uneven, and relatively anonymous season it was for Anthony Jordan Price, better known as A.J., backup point guard to the backup point guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was signed late in the free agency period last offseason (September 27th, just four days prior to training camp) and released before the end of the regular season (on April 3rd); in between, he never appeared in more than five consecutive games, tallied 99 total minutes on the floor, underwent an emergency appendectomy, and missed every free throw he attempted (yep – both of them).
Given Price’s short stints, it’s somewhat difficult to evaluate his performance. He logged double digit minutes in just one game (an early season annihilation of the Cavaliers) and played three or fewer minutes on 13 of the 28 games in which he appeared. Price shot 41% from the floor and 27% from beyond the arc, dished out 13 assists and turned it over 7 times. He neither impressed nor disappointed – he simply wasn’t on the court enough to do either. Nor was Price the “victory cigar” you may have thought he was – the team was 15-13 when he made the box score with something other than a DNP.
The other result of A.J.’s infrequent floor time was the inclination of some to wonder if he should be given a shot to run the point on the second unit, especially given the struggles of the Timberwolves’ reserves. This is a fair question, and one that’s impossible to answer definitively, but is still worth examining.
J.J. Barea’s shortcomings as a distributor were undeniable, and contributed largely to the problems Minnesota’s bench faced all season. Granted, he didn’t have a ton of offensively gifted options on the backup unit. Is it possible Price would’ve fared better than Barea?
My answer: probably not. Their career usage rates (Barea 22.9%, Price 20.3%) and turnover rates (Barea 15.6%, Price 13.2%) favor Price, but Barea has the edge where it really counts: assist rate. Price has assisted on 23.7% of available baskets during his career, whereas Barea’s figure is 29.8%. Furthermore, Price is almost exclusively a jump shooter, attempting just 9 total “drives” this season, per SportVu data. Driving and kicking isn’t exactly his modus operandi, and that’s probably what the second unit needed at the point – someone who could move and create for others.
Finally, another way to look at: Price logged more than 1,200 minutes for the league’s worst offense in 2012-13, and garnered no free agent offer other than the veteran’s minimum last summer. Adelman keeping Price in his warm-ups was probably the right decision, and even if you think it wasn’t, it’s certainly not a damnable offense.
But I don’t want to spend the entire piece detailing his shortcomings or describing why Price deserved to sit on the bench so much. He did a few good things! Didn’t he?
Okay, I have FOUR things.
First, A.J. Price led the league in field goal percentage in the paint! Yes! One hundred percent! 4-for-4! Well done!
Second, he was on the receiving end of Derrick Williams’ lone assist in the 162 minutes the former second overall pick spent in a Wolves uniform before he was dealt away to Sacramento. So, thanks, A.J.! There’s almost no way the deal would’ve been consummated if Williams had a big ol’ donut in the assists column.
Third, A.J. Price is in this picture with Nikola Pekovic:
Fourth, Price played 4 fourth-quarter minutes in Minnesota’s 121-120 victory over Golden State on January 24th, which was one of the best wins of the season for the Wolves. Fun fact: it was one of only three games in which Price appeared that wound up decided by single digits. Every other Price game was either a blowout win or a blowout loss.
It would have been nice to see Price get more minutes than he ultimately received. It’s tough to watch a veteran toil away at the end of the bench, with little to hope for other than a blowout win or loss so he can play out the string. He seemed like a solid teammate, though given his weak statistical track record and the fact that he couldn’t earn playing time for one of the weakest benches in the league, it’s fair to wonder if his professional future lies somewhere overseas.
Had Barea suffered an injury that cost him a significant amount of time, or if Price had been healthy late in the season when the Wolves were shorthanded, we might have a different impression of him. Instead, he’ll be one of the obscure facts about the 2013-14 season. As we learned with many of the Timberwolves’ players this season, it’s all about health and opportunity. For A.J. Price, neither factor worked in his favor. Such is life in the NBA.