Positional Previews: The Guards
Remember the year the Timberwolves drafted 4 point guards in one year? Even though (#welltechnically) two of them were used as picks for another team in a trade that was already agreed to, while another stayed in Spain for two more years. Remember how, despite the insistence from anyone who looked at the roster, the “Wolves have a lot of point guards” narrative stuck around like a bad habit?
It’s funny, because you could argue that this year is the year the Wolves are stacked up on guards. In fact, not counting Kevin Martin, the starting shooting guard, you could say that every other backcourt player on this year’s team is a point guard.
That’s okay, though. As Flip Saunders said at media day, nobody on the roster, at this point, is all that redundant. Ricky Rubio is a passer. Mo Williams a shooter. Zach LaVine is an athletic combo guard. We still have training camp to figure out what the final roster will look like, but as of right now, the power of the point guard is strong in Minnesota.
Last season: 82 GP, 9.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 8.6 apg, 2.3 spg, .381 FG%, .331 3pt%
Everyone knows Ricky Rubio shot the ball poorly last year. Everyone knows Ricky Rubio has a history of struggles with his shot. Everyone knows Ricky Rubio is a great passer. Everyone knows Ricky Rubio is young, still improving, and still has time to become a better player. Not enough people realize that Ricky Rubio’s high steal count isn’t his only strength defensively. Most people think (some claim to know) that this is a huge year for Ricky Rubio.
I’ve heard the term “Rubio apologist” before. This is a topic for another day, but the fact that those words exist is very annoying to me. It’s fair to think Rubio is somewhere in the middle of the pack (top 12-15) in terms of starting point guards. To me, it is not fair to consider that a bad thing.
Last season (with Portland): 74 GP, 9.7 ppg, 4.3 apg, .369 3pt%, 24.8 mpg
One thing I picked up from media day: Mo Williams knows basketball. As Steve pointed out over at Hardwood Paroxysm, that is much more of a rarity than a casual fan would probably expect. Maybe Williams talking basketball at media day was a coincidence and won’t ultimately mean anything. Maybe it means that he loves the Xs and Os of the game, and it will rub off on the Wolves in the win column a few times.
Regardless, Williams bring (usually) steady three-point shooting, and a guy that can serve as point guard or small-ball offguard with Rubio down the stretch. Flip Saunders has mentioned his positive history in winning close games. Williams’ past should help with that.
(Note: I just linked Zach, Steve and William in 1 player preview. Success!)
Last season (college stats): 37 GP, 9.4 ppg, 1.8 apg, .441 FG%, .375 3pt%
There are a number of question marks coming into this season, but LaVine’s future may be the most interesting. On one hand, he has absolutely insane athleticism, a nice-looking jumper, and lots of confidence.
On the other hand, he showed frequent laziness on defense, an occasional unwillingness to pass the ball, and poor finishing skills at the rim. And all of that was at the college level, where he didn’t start. Also, he has lots of confidence. That could be for better or for worse, depending on the offensive possession.
But man, can he dunk.
Last season: 79 GP, 8.4 ppg, 3.8 apg, 18.6 mpg, .387 FG%, .316 3pt%
Scary stat: JJ Barea shot about the same from the field as Ricky Rubio, including a worse three-point percentage. The kicker: Barea shot about 7 times more per 36 minutes than Rubio (16 for Barea, about 9 for Rubio). Obviously, this needs to be put into perspective. It was Barea’s job to play as both bench scorer and facilitator all at once. Keep in mind, last year’s bench was pretty horrendous.
Still, no matter how you twist it, Barea had a rough 2013-14 campaign, and with the signing of Mo Williams and drafting of Zach LaVine, his future in Minnesota is unclear. With 16 guys on the roster, there is still one guy (not named Heslip or Fesenko) who will be on his way out. The possibility of Barea being bought out might make sense for both sides.
Training camp invite
Heslip, like Kyrylo Fesenko, is almost certainly on his way out at the conclusion of the preseason, but Heslip is going to bury a lot of 3-pointers in the meantime. He doesn’t have the size to be a shooting guard, and probably doesn’t have the point guard skills to be a point guard in the NBA, but he might be the best shooter on the current roster.