For two-plus years, we talked about the expectations of Derrick Williams. The NUMBER TWO PICK IN THE DRAFT had to be a star because that’s what you are when you’re picked so highly in a draft. It doesn’t matter if the draft is good or the draft is bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re supposed to be a project or you’re supposed to contribute right away. It doesn’t matter if the team has a spot in the rotation for you now or if it is going to make you wait a short while to get in there and prove you belong.
We like that number of where he was picked because it’s part of the NBA lottery. And throw the word lottery into something and we’ll start expecting to get rich quick. That’s just the culture, especially in sports.
What are the expectations when you’re traded for that NUMBER TWO PICK IN THE DRAFT though?
It doesn’t matter that we (I know some of us disagree, including myself, but it’s just easier to generalize here) never expected much out of Williams right before he was traded. After two-plus years of slowly deciding his way through what to do with the ball and thinking he’s a 3-point shooter when he’s not, he wasn’t exactly a cauldron of potential and destruction like he seemed to be when he was drafted. The memories of him obliterating Duke in the NCAA tournament had become holding your breath when he went up for a dunk because you didn’t know if he’d make it or not. He wasn’t a small forward and he wasn’t going to play alongside Kevin Love much any time soon.
It was another David Kahn mistake the Wolves had to navigate postmortem. That’s what Flip Saunders did last November. He removed another piece of Kahn shrapnel from the Wolves’ organization by trading him straight up to the Sacramento Kings for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. It wasn’t the type of needle-mover you’d hope for as a fan base. It was giving up on a 23-year old power forward in exchange for a 27-year old defensive specialist. It was about as sexy as the majority of candidates you’d find on a dating website.
There are three things that I truly believe in regards to this trade:
1) It’s extremely hard to bring somebody in mid-season and expect them to acclimate to something that’s been building for three years.
When you’ve got a team like this season’s Wolves team, you can’t just bring anybody in to the offensive system they aim to run and expect them to fit in right away. If it happened to be an offensive-minded player then it would be a lot easier, but that’s not what Mbah a Moute is. He’s a defensive specialist with limited offensive ability in the NBA game. It’s hard for a guy to crack the rotation when the bench unit when they need scoring as much as they need just competent players out there who can move the ball. Moute’s specialty doesn’t necessarily fit into that criteria without a training camp and preseason to help figure it out.
2) This was absolutely the correct trade for what the Wolves were trying to do last season.
This team was sorely lacking a defensive specialist. When you look at what Corey Brewer was brought in to do and what he actually did, this team didn’t have perimeter defense for scoring wings. And that was a huge problem because you had Kevin Martin getting in a defensive stance like he was a 90-year old man with a spine condition walking home from the market with grocery bags and Corey Brewer aggressively playing the wing like he belong in a Gambler’s Anonymous meeting. The Wolves needed that defensive specialist and I believe Mbah a Moute was the right guy for the job.
His defense is sound. He makes you work for position. He makes you work for space. His wingspan is over seven feet and he’s able to move his feet well enough to make that wingspan matter. You can’t just take him into the block and bully him. You can’t just isolate him on the wing and consistently blow by him. He’s a great defender, but he needs to be able to play. Part of that was in-season acquisition and part of that was it’s hard to crack Rick Adelman’s rotation (which is both good and bad) if you can’t contribute on both ends. The Wolves seemed to get mesmerized by Brewer getting steals in the passing lanes and getting those leakouts to keep letting him start.
The frustrating part was he wasn’t brought in to be the starting small forward, and in an ideal world LRMAM would have been traded for, made the starter after a few crash courses in practice and games, and been the Andrei Kirilenko on defense this team desperately needed. He’s a great defensive specialist on a playoff team. The acquisition itself was perfect in that respect because you’d want him for the great scorers in this league, especially in a playoff environment. The trade was perfect in that sense, however…
3) It ended up being a complete flop with the current state of the team after missing the playoffs once again.
With how the team and the structure of the offense are going now, the trade has ended up being a bust. If the Wolves somehow decide to keep Kevin Love this year, make the necessary changes and coach hire to make the playoffs, make said elusive playoffs, and make things all good with their star, Mbah a Moute could end up being the right trade again. But like so many of their moves over the last year, they made a push for the playoffs, got pushed back, and don’t have a lot to show for it right now. You could get value in a trade for Mbah a Moute, but today’s NBA is more about 3-and-D guys instead of just defensive specialists, so the return on LRMAM is unlikely to be stellar — kind of like the return on Williams when his trade value was so low.
In an alternate universe in which the moves the Wolves made ended up coming together nicely, Mbah a Moute is an ideal acquisition. The NUMBER TWO PICK IN THE DRAFT doesn’t weigh so heavily on the perception of how the deal was executed and the fallout behind it. The 26-point, 11-rebound effort Williams had in a loss to the Wolves doesn’t get magnified, or if it does, it gets met with the same local notice as Mbah a Moute matching his production in the next showdown or Williams doing nothing against the Wolves in the previous match-up.
Instead, we cherry pick what we want to feel about the trade. There were many possible outcomes to the trading of a no-stats, important role player, and somehow the Wolves seemed to embody all of those outcomes at different point in this season. Assuming he’s a part of the roster next season, it’ll be intriguing to see what kind of impact he can have after a training camp with whatever the Wolves look like moving forward.