(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.
There was a revolving door on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ frontcourt positions this past season. Sure, 25 different players suited up for the Wolves, meaning there was plenty of turnover up and down the entire roster, but the power forward and center positions were particularly unsettled. Neither member of the opening night starting tandem of Pekovic and Young appeared in more than 50 games. The only big who broke camp with the team and provided consistent minutes from the beginning of the season to (near the) end was Gorgui Dieng.
Just about every other power forward or center who wore a Timberwolves jersey was a stopgap, a woefully inexperienced young player or a waiver wire pickup. The three subjects of our first roster review fit each of those respective categories: Jeff Adrien, Adreian Payne, and Justin Hamilton.
The stopgap: Jeff Adrien
Barely one month into the season, the Wolves had already lost Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin to long-term injuries, and center Ronny Turiaf was headed towards possible career-ending hip surgery. Flip Saunders and Milt Newton used their maiden hardship exemption on 28-year-old Jeff Adrien, formerly of the Warriors, Rockets, Bobcats and Bucks.
Listed at 6’7 and weighing 243 pounds, Adrien is built like a tank. While his per-game averages (3.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists on 43% shooting) were hardly noteworthy on their own, he won many fans through his tough, physical play. His best outing came when he scored 8 points, pulled down 11 rebounds, dished out 2 assists and blocked 2 shots in an improbable 90-82 victory over the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers on December 10th.
During Adrien’s stretch with the team (spanning from November 30th through January 5th), the Wolves went just 1-18. But Adrien did what he could, all things considered; he was part of 4 of the best 6 lineups (per Net Rating) that Minnesota could muster during that timeframe. While he is almost certainly a below replacement-level NBA big (there’s a reason he’s had six stints with five different teams in four seasons), it was still tough to see him go. Adrien wound up joining former lottery pick Yi Jianlian and future lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay when he signed with Guangdong of the Chinese Basketball Association. He averaged 13.6 points and 11.3 rebounds on 55.1% shooting for the Southern Tigers.
Jeff Adrien has made many stops on his basketball odyssey. Part of the reason it was disappointing to see him go was that he played hard every time he was on the floor. But part of it was the fact that he was cast aside so the team could sign Miroslav Raduljica; and as Steve will tell you tomorrow, that was, uh, not a successful (or memorable) move.
The woefully inexperienced young player: Adreian Payne
“Young” and “inexperienced” are relative terms. Atlanta selected Payne, a four-year college player, with the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft. After appearing in just three games with the big club (and splitting 17 D-League games between Austin and Fort Wayne), Atlanta had seen enough. A week and a half prior to his 24th birthday, on February 10th, Payne was dealt to Minnesota. It was a rather curious move for both sides; the Hawks were bailing on a lottery pick, and the rebuilding Wolves trading a future first rounder away.
Payne is tall (6’10), long (7’4 wingspan), possesses an NBA-ready physique (he weights a solid 245 pounds) and is fairly athletic for someone his size. His senior year of college, he averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds on 50.3% field goal shooting. Between his junior and senior seasons, Payne hit 60 of 146 three point attempts, or 41.0%. His potential as a stretch four who could even (maybe?) play some center in certain lineups intrigued fans and scouts. Despite his age and somewhat limited ceiling, he was pegged as a mid-first round pick. I, myself, stumped for the Wolves to take him with the 13th overall selection.
It would be a mistake to completely write him off based on two bad months with a parade of fellow rookies and mediocre veterans by his side, but Payne didn’t exactly show anything that warranted sending away a future first-rounder for, much less the 15th overall pick in the first place. Forget “young” and “inexperienced.” There’s a chance (a CHANCE) he’s just bad.
When Payne was on the floor, the Wolves were minus-16.2 points per 100 possessions, minus-6.4 points worse than their overall rate. Payne’s mere presence meant that opponents’ True Shooting percentage automatically shot up two whole percentage points, and for the season, he allowed opposing players to shoot 60.3% at the rim. Though he possesses good size and leaping ability, he blocked just 0.5 shots per-36 minutes in a Minnesota uniform.
His offense wasn’t much better. The three-point shooting he’d exhibited in college didn’t translate to the next level. He took nine threes all season, making just one of them. He was a decent midrange shooter, but was abysmal around the rim (48.5%), especially for someone his size. During his first 20 games with the Wolves, he averaged 8.1 points and 6.3 rebounds on 44% shooting. As the season wound to a close, Payne’s game got even worse; over his final nine contests he averaged just 5.1 points and 3.6 rebounds on 36% shooting. Over that final stretch, the team was outscored by more than 25 points per 100 possessions when he was checked in.
If the Wolves hold onto Mike Penberthy (it would be a big mistake to let him go), it’d be nice to see what he can do with Payne’s jumper going forward. His windup starts with the big man squatting down, almost like he’s loading up to shoot by collapsing himself inward, which hurts the quickness and consistency of his release. It would also be beneficial for him to be able to run through training camp. The Wolves were so shorthanded by the time he came around that they weren’t holding many (or any) practices.
The physical tools are there. In a vacuum, it’s clear why he was a lottery pick. People his size, with his athleticism, are hard to find. But can Payne put it all together? Can this coaching staff unlock the toolbox?
The waiver wire pickup: Justin Hamilton
Less than two weeks after being thrown into the massive Miami-New Orleans-Phoenix three team deal that saw Goran Dragic, Norris Cole and several first round picks change hands, second-year center Justin Hamilton was waived by the Pelicans. The former LSU Tiger was quickly snapped up by the Wolves, who desperately needed help in the front court; he was claimed on March 5th and made his debut just four days later.
A true 7-footer, Hamilton was averaging just 2.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game on 42% shooting for the Heat when he was shipped away. While he played only sparingly with the Heat in 2014-15, the season prior he’d been a D-League All-Star with their D-League affiliate in Sioux Falls. Unlike Adreian Payne, Hamilton made the most of his newfound opportunity in Minnesota, averaging 9.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.5 blocks in 25 minutes of action per game from March 9th through the end of the season. He shot 51% from the field, 83% from the foul line and sank 4-of-12 three-point attempts.
Unfortunately the Wolves were such a disaster by the time Hamilton showed up, it’s difficult to evaluate him properly. Minnesota was 0-17 in his appearances. If you stretch things back to his time in Miami, he was just 1-24 in his 25 post-Christmas games. While his shooting line alone looks pretty decent (51/33/83), he certainly didn’t stand out on defense. Is that a result of the young, inexperienced players he shared the floor with? What would he look like with a little more coaching and slightly better teammates?
While the Jeff Adrien move was slightly unpopular though prudent, and the Adreian Payne move was a head-scratcher, bringing in someone like Hamilton (and giving him extended playing time) was absolutely the right call. It was the end of a disastrous season; why not see if you can find a diamond in the rough?
Hamilton will be a restricted free agent this summer, and while he had a pretty decent month-long stint with the Wolves, it’s hard to imagine he’ll attract enough interest to garner an offer sheet. While he wasn’t necessarily great (-11.7 Net Rating, allowed opponents to shoot 57% at the rim) he certainly did enough to warrant a training camp invitation, and possibly a fully guaranteed deal for 2015-16, depending on what happens in the upcoming draft.