I guess we need to have a conversation about Robbie Hummel, right?
Well, maybe “need” is a bit dramatic, but there is a question of trying to figure out how much value a player like Hummel has on a team. There’s a balance between having a worker like him and looking to fill that roster spot with a better talent who may yield higher results and production. While this sounds like I’m just feeding into the stereotype of the “scrappy white basketball player” (and maybe I am without intending to), it’s a fairly accurate representation of Hummel and his spot on this team since he made the roster in 2013.
We started to see how Hummel could work his way into a rotation early in his rookie season. Through the first four weeks of the 2013-14 season, Hummel had played the same number of minutes (162) as Derrick Williams. This angered some fans and pundits because Williams was the No. 2 overall pick in 2011 and Hummel was a second round afterthought. Williams wasn’t getting time in the rotation, or at most he was getting as much time as Hummel.
How could he possibly lose playing time to Hummel? Some people blamed Rick Adelman because that’s just what you do; you blame the coach for any and everything. But the reality is that Hummel earned that time in training camp, practice, and every other little competition. Williams was “potential.” And Adelman said years prior on a Media Day in Minneapolis that “potential gets you fired.”
Hummel was production and more importantly, he was a 3-point shooting threat the Wolves needed at times. Hummel wasn’t playing big minutes but he was playing enough minutes. And that season he shot 36.0% from 3-point range and played really solid defense, especially in the team concept. Last season, we didn’t see that same consistency from downtown.
He was great at knocking down long 2’s because Hummel is, in theory, a shooter. He increased his rate of taking midrange jumpers from 27.1% to 41.3% of the time and his accuracy improved from 29.2% as a rookie to 43.7% in his second season. However, the 3-point shooting dropped. Perhaps that’s by Flip Saunders’ design or perhaps it just shows that some guys need consistent reps in the flow of games to be consistent threats from outside. As a rookie, 50.3% of Hummel’s shots were 3-pointers. Last season, 3-pointers were 29.2% of his shots and he dropped to 31.4% accuracy.
It’s hard to determine which season is reality for him or if neither of them are or if both of them are. Is he a shooter to help space the floor for the team? Is he an inconsistent threat who can’t be a Steve Novak or James Jones, who play sporadically but always come into the game hot? And as this roster continues to grow and develop, will Hummel’s presence as the guy who works his ass off in practice be necessary to push players for time on the floor in real games?
I always look back to my first season covering an NBA team as a credentialed media for these types of examples. It was in Sacramento and I was covering Kings’ home games. This was the 2009-10 season when Tyreke Evans took the rookie class by storm and went on to a historic Rookie of the Year as the fourth rookie in NBA history to average 20-5-5. There was another rookie on that roster — Omri Casspi.
Fans wanted Casspi to start and get big minutes right away because you had to get him experience on the floor. The problem was he couldn’t seem to get consistent playing time in the early or late parts of his rookie campaign. Paul Westphal was playing guys like Desmond Mason, Andres Nocioni, and Francisco Garcia over him throughout the season, and it frustrated some fans. The cry was for Casspi to get that valuable time and there were moments when it looked like a great idea (until he hit the rookie wall).
The larger point was if Casspi can’t prove that he should get playing time over Mason, Nocioni, or Garcia, then maybe he shouldn’t be getting the playing time handed to him? We’ve gone through this with both Adelman and Flip the last two seasons, and Hummel ends up being one of those gut-check guys for the other younger players on the Wolves. Then again, maybe following the rotation moves of a coach like Adelman who lost his fastball, a guy constantly questioned like Flip, and now assistant Nets’ coach Westphal isn’t ideal, even if the spirit of the discussion is valid.
It’s a good thing for him to be that barometer of sorts and a benchmark of you have to outwork this guy in order to get playing time over him. And Hummel ends up being a potentially valuable role player in the process because you can trust him to be in position defensively (for the most part) and you know he’ll be a jump shooter (whether it from midrange or 3-point range).
The idea of wanting to keep and develop someone like Glenn Robinson III comes up when you look at Hummel having a roster spot over him. At the same time, Hummel is absolutely a better player than GRIII right now and probably will be for quite some time, if always. Does he get in the way of that potential people see in GRIII and is the potential higher than Hummel’s or does that just get us into the awkward racial components of how we stereotype players?
(Maybe that’s a question for another time.)
However, at a certain point, do you lose the chance of developing even more players by having Hummel on the roster? Is there a drop-off in reward for having a guy like him if he doesn’t truly fit in the long-term vision of the team? Or does he actually fit into the long-term vision of the team as a testing ground for the young players looking to get playing time?
Robbie Hummel is a solid rebounder and a fairly reliable shooter (depending on the system, I guess). But when is it time to wonder if he belongs on the roster? It’s something I don’t really have an answer to, but you have to hope that Flip does.