(Note: 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 2014-15 went and what we see for them going forward. One player (or group of players) a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and/or those who have moved onto other teams, and rolling up to the starters.
Why do some players succeed in the NBA? Why do others flame out? Is it a matter of the individual player’s talent, injury luck, and hard work, or are there other factors? Over the past couple of years, the importance of being drafted by an organization that is the proper fit for a specific player has become more and more apparent. Does your team have a coach who works well with young players? Is there a healthy, nurturing atmosphere, as opposed to a place where the inmates run the asylum (what’s up, Sacramento)? If the player needs to be brought along slowly, does the organization keep the long view? If the player needs consistent playing time to keep his confidence up, can the coaching staff remain patient with him?
Once players are in the league for a few years, different kinds of labels begin to stick. There are the “good numbers on bad teams” guys (remember
Kevin Love Corey Maggette?), the “talented knuckleheads who bounce around” (hey, Anthony Randolph, welcome to your future, Derrick Williams), and the “wise, ancient big man who occupies the 15th spot on the roster” (a la Juwan Howard, Kurt Thomas, Brad Miller and Nazr Mohammed). One of the kindest characterizations applied to a given player is that he “belongs on winning teams,” often a euphemism for “he starts on crappy teams, but he’d be ideal coming off the bench for a playoff squad.”
The Wolves, a crappy team, employed two such players in 2014-15: Corey Brewer and Mo Williams. Both of them wound up in better situations via trades, Brewer to Houston (in exchange for Troy Daniels and a second round pick) on December 19th, and Williams to Charlotte (for Gary Neal and a second round pick) on February 10th. While Mo’s team fell short of reaching the postseason, he got to be part of a playoff chase (even if it was the Eastern Conference), and Brewer’s still drunkenly dribbling in the Western Conference Finals. Setting the two of them free was about more than prudence; it was the just thing to do. They don’t belong on a 16-20 win team. They belong on teams that matter, and in games that matter.
Brewer signed a 3 year, $14.1 million deal to return to the Wolves prior to last season, and while year one was full of dunks off K-Love outlet passes (and one 51 point game), year two turned into Brewer running the point for an injury-ravaged, lottery-bound squad. He averaged 4.7 assists per game over his final 11 appearances in a Wolves uniform, nearly double his career rate. He willingly accepted a bench role, ceding the starting small forward spot to Andrew Wiggins. He was credited by a few of the young guys (Shabazz in particular) for teaching them how to move off the ball.
Long story short, he was a damn good veteran to have around. There’s a reason the Rockets were willing to part with what figured to be a favorable second round pick (which that organization really covets) in order to bring Brew aboard; he plays hard all the time and will do what he’s asked to do. Sure, he’s got flaws; he gambles too much on defense, is a poor three-point shooter, and can be a bit turnover-prone, but it was hard to stop smiling when he was helping the Rockets overcome a massive third quarter deficit to stun the Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals last week. He’s an easy guy to root for.
Mo Williams’ case is a bit more complex. The former All-Star came to the Wolves on a one-year deal after Portland declined to re-sign him. While he could be a tad myopic at times, liable to dribble the air out of the ball while barking instructions to teammates, then looking for his own shot rather than setting one of them up, he helped run a functional offense when he was on the floor. His defense left a lot to be desired, but he is what he is at this point of his career… someone who should play limited minutes running the second unit for a playoff team, where the effects of his poor ‘D’ could be minimized.
His most memorable moment was, of course, this 52-point outburst he had versus the Pacers, which helped stop a 15-game losing streak:
After Mo arrived in Charlotte, he helped propel the Hornets into the mix for the East’s 8th seed. They were desperate for a backcourt playmaker, which is exactly what Williams provided. During his first 12 games, he averaged 21 points and 8 assists on 43/36/89 shooting splits, and the Hornets went 7-5. While the hot streak couldn’t last (and Charlotte ultimately missed the postseason by five games), it was more fun to watch him in that context than when he was with the Wolves.
This past season, Brewer and Williams were veterans who were extended beyond their means in Minnesota before finding better fits elsewhere. The goal for the TImberwolves franchise is to someday be the team acquiring players like them to be their missing pieces, the team that needs a Drunken Dribbler or a backup point guard for a spark off the bench or a little more depth.
As for Mo and Brew, at least we’ve got memories of 51 and 52.