In somewhat of a surprise flurry of moves, Timberwolves jack of all trades Flip Saunders made the first splash in the NBA’s annual February trade season. Let’s start by looking at what exactly went down:
Charlotte receives: Mo Williams, Troy Daniels
Minnesota receives: Gary Neal, 2nd round pick
Atlanta receives: 2017 1st round pick (Lottery-protected from 2017-2020)
Minnesota receives: Adreian Payne
First, we must say goodbye to a pair of Wolves, whose total combined number of games played barely exceeds half a season. Troy Daniels’ time with Minnesota was especially short-lived, and he didn’t get too much opportunity to get on the floor as the roster started to get healthy. He never got much of a shot to showcase his shooting ability, but will hopefully have more of an opportunity in Charlotte. He did have one wild game with the Wolves, when he shot 4-4 from deep for 14 points in 9 minutes against Golden State in late January. Past that, his opportunities were hard to come by.
Mo Williams was forced into more of an opportunity than he ever expected, when he signed with Minnesota on a 1-year deal this past summer. Williams had his ups and downs with the Wolves, but was mostly put in a situation (primary starting point guard) that he is no longer able to do at a high level. As a backup, he had some head-scratching moments, mostly with his shot selection, but was for the most part serviceable in that role.
“With Mo’s situation he’s just not going to be able to get the minutes that he probably really deserves to be able to play as a veteran player,” Flip Saunders said yesterday. “We started thinking that there’s an opportunity for him to get him to a playoff type team, we would move that direction. We were able to accomplish that.”
The trade opens up playing time at the backup point guard position, which will likely be manned between Zach LaVine and Lorenzo Brown (assuming he stays for the rest of the season).
In return, Minnesota will receive guard Gary Neal, whose skillset lies somewhere between Williams and Daniels. In short, his job is to shoot the ball well. This year, however, has been anything but. His field goal percentage has dipped nearly 10 percent from last year, and his 3-point percentage is below 30 on the year. The hope for Neal mostly comes from Ricky Rubio’s ability to set up jumpers. Kemba Walker’s passing vision has never been a strong suit, but to be fair, Neal has lowered his shooting percentage on his own on plenty of occasions.
Writer Dakota Schmidt put together a pretty good compilation of Neal’s offensive arsenal.
Neal could be a nice addition, but the one potentially long-term piece involved in this deal is Adreian Payne. A sizable chunk of Timberwolves fans were hoping to hear Payne’s name called when their 13th pick came around last June. Instead, Zach LaVine was chosen.
Payne ended up going 15th, which for his playing time, turned into in a bad Atlanta situation. While he landed on a championship contender, he was also buried behind a bevvy of All-Star caliber big men, and lots of experience (see: Elton Brand) on the bench. Because the Hawks didn’t want to waste his talent, they’ve had him stashed away in the D League for a majority of the season, where he’s averaged 13.6 points and 10.3 rebounds in 31 minutes per game.
More than anything else, Payne is known for his high energy and athleticism, but he’s also a pretty skilled big. He has a decent shooting stroke, and will have a good chance to be a pick and pop guy with Ricky Rubio if the situation calls for it. Though, he apparently hasn’t shot the ball in Atlanta as well as some hoped for. Part of that could be his limited playing time, but it’s hard to tell at this point. Either way, works hard on both ends of the floor, which should make for a good player, when keeping his excellent athleticism in mind. Figuring out the pace of the game will be important for him, and getting some time in the D League should help him as he enters the Wolves’ rotation.
The next question: if Payne is part of the Wolves’ long-term plans, what does that mean for Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young?
Both are in different situations. Young has underachieved this year, but is still the most trusted power forward on the team. He has a player option this summer that he will likely opt into, unless he is really desperate to leave Minnesota/get a long-term deal done as soon as possible. Bennett, unfortunately, hasn’t been a trustworthy option this season, but he’s just in year 2 of his (first overall pick) rookie deal.
Before any course of action is to be taken with Young and/or Bennett, Payne is going to have to prove that he’s a rotation guy. How Saunders plans to handle the situations of the current guys relies completely on that. To this point, Payne’s true value is not set in stone, but the foundation will be there for him to succeed. It sounds as though Flip Saunders liked his game all along.
“We thought Zach (LaVine) had the talent to be a home-run player — we also thought at that time that Payne could come in and help us win more games,” Saunders said. “From that perspective, it was more like a four-year veteran guy ready to play, and a guy who had a huge amount of upside.”
With both LaVine and Payne, the word “upside” applies. LaVine has been considered an upside guy since he was at UCLA. When Ricky Rubio went down with an ankle injury, he was forced to get playing time that he wasn’t ready for. The upside was showcased, but so was the fact that he isn’t completely ready for big minutes in the NBA. He probably could have used time in the D League this year, but never got that chance.
For Payne, he entered into a situation where the D League was his only real chance to get consistent playing time. Now, after half a season of D League play under his belt (something Flip Saunders probably loves), he’ll come into Minnesota’s rotation after the All Star break, and will want to play well.
Saunders ended up getting both of them. One on draft night, and one half a year later. Overall, the reaction to the acquisition of Payne has been mostly good, but there has been some chatter. But had they both been acquired on draft night, the overall critical response probably wouldn’t have been negative. He was a popular option for the Wolves at 13, but ended up going 15th to Atlanta. Now he’s here. Time to earn those minutes.