Archives For 2013-14 Roster Review

MbahaMoute

For two-plus years, we talked about the expectations of Derrick Williams. The NUMBER TWO PICK IN THE DRAFT had to be a star because that’s what you are when you’re picked so highly in a draft. It doesn’t matter if the draft is good or the draft is bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re supposed to be a project or you’re supposed to contribute right away. It doesn’t matter if the team has a spot in the rotation for you now or if it is going to make you wait a short while to get in there and prove you belong.

We like that number of where he was picked because it’s part of the NBA lottery. And throw the word lottery into something and we’ll start expecting to get rich quick. That’s just the culture, especially in sports.

What are the expectations when you’re traded for that NUMBER TWO PICK IN THE DRAFT though?  Continue Reading…

Kevin Martin2

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 2012-13 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

Kevin Martin came to the Timberwolves via a July 11th sign-and-trade deal, inking a 4 year, $27.75 million contract, and immediately became the best shooting guard in Minnesota history. For a team that ranked dead last in the NBA in perimeter shooting in 2013-14 and in the bottom half of the league in free throw percentage, K-Mart was a sight for sore eyes. Employing unconventional (though effective) shot mechanics, the tenth-year man from Western Carolina brought a 38.5% career mark from outside the arc to Minneapolis. Between Martin, a healthy Kevin Love and a healthy Chase Budinger, the Timberwolves had every reason to hope their offensive woes would be solved, at least partially, by the sheer force of success from three-point land. Observers also wondered if his ability to get to the foul line (where he converts 86.9% of the time, 24th-best in NBA history) would return after a year of being utilized primarily as a spot-up shooter in Oklahoma City.

The results were somewhat mixed. Statistically, Martin turned in a season on par with his per-36 minute career averages. He scored 21.5 points, grabbed 3.4 rebounds and dished out 2.0 assists on 43/39/89 shooting splits. Over his decade in the league, those numbers are 20.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 44/39/87 splits. On the surface, he seemed like the same guy he’s always been, but once you look a little closer, you begin to see that wasn’t exactly the case.

Continue Reading…

Let’s get some things out of the way. We all know that the Wolves’ bench was terrible this season. There are a number of reasons for this: J.J. Barea running the show; injuries to Chase Budinger, Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf; the lack of second-unit wing scorers and three-point shooters. And while all of these things forced him into a more prominent offensive role than one might deem advisable, none of these things are specifically Dante Cunningham’s fault. He is an undersized four with incredible hops, a great motor and an occasionally accurate midrange jumper. It’s unwise to expect much more than that.

But still, in the season’s first three months, when the Wolves lost all of those close games and their bench was particularly awful and they could have really used some production from anybody at all, Dante Cunningham was terrible. In the first 31 games of the season, he hit just 42.9% of his 177 field goals, the great majority of them wide open jumpers and none of them threes. In that time he attempted just 10 free throws. That’s low efficiency offense right there.

Even his vaunted defensive energy was inconsistent this season. When Pekovic and Turiaf were hurt and before Gorgui Dieng discovered himself, the Wolves really needed Cunningham in defensive freakout mode. Much of the time, it didn’t happen.

And all of this before Cunningham allegedly did some terrible things:

The woman, who is not named in the complaint, told police he kicked down a locked bedroom door, grabbed her around the neck and slammed her against the wall, choking her for 15 to 20 seconds during which she could not breathe.

“Victim’s eyes were watering and she felt like she was being strangled to death,” the complaint alleges.

Nice. Just a few days after being released from jail, Cunningham violated his restraining order by allegedly texting “terroristic threats” (that is to say, a threat to “directly or indirectly, to commit any crime of violence with the purpose to terrorize another”) to that same woman. I say “allegedly” there, but police actually confiscated his phone and reviewed the offending messages. There’s not a whole lot of reason to doubt the charge. It’s also worth noting that Cunningham has made no effort to deny any of it.

At the very least, Cunningham is guilty of some egregiously poor decision-making–not to mention being a massive, aggro jerk–of a kind that makes discussing his value to the Wolves’ bench seem crass and irrelevant. I’m sorry I had to do that. The reality is likely much, much worse. Given the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the Wolves had no option but to play Cunningham his usual minutes over the final games of the season, blithe and gross though it may have seemed. But now Cunningham is a free agent; the Wolves have the luxury of letting him fade away without a sound.

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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 2012-13 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

“When J.J. Barea gets that steely glint in his eye, the possession is only ending one of two ways, and neither are not shooting. You saw that glint most often this past season somewhere around the mid-third quarter, at the point where the Wolves had let the lead slip enough that it was in jeopardy, or else had fought back enough that it was within striking distance. As Barea received the ball on the inbounds pass, someone on our row of the media section would likely mutter, “It’s going up.” Or maybe as Barea brought the ball across the half-court and held one hand up in a fist, someone would joke, “That’s the number of passes that are going to happen on this play.””

Recognize that? It was Steve McPherson’s roster review of J.J. Barea in May of 2013. Tempted as I was to make the backup point guard’s review nothing but the above quote, plus several pictures of him arguing with officials and links to unflattering videos such as this one, I ultimately decided any evaluation of Barea’s season ought to be more nuanced than that. Continue Reading…

Businger

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 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

Who is Chase Budinger? And is it more troubling if we don’t know the answer to that question, or if we do? We are talking, after all, about a player who was brought over from Houston as a key piece of the puzzle to fix the Wolves’ offensive woes, a guy who was supposed to be a seasoned vet of former head coach Rick Adelman’s system. And yet in two seasons on the Wolves, Budinger has played in only 64 games and for just 1,259 minutes. By contrast, Terrence Jones — who was selected by Houston with the 18th pick acquired from Minnesota for Budinger — has played 2,354 minutes in that same stretch. J.J. Barea played 1,471 minutes this season alone. So have we seen enough to know? Or is the fact that we’ve seen so little the more telling thing? Continue Reading…

Last week, in reviewing Othyus Jeffers’ brief tenure with the Wolves, I made mention of the thin line separating NBA rotation players from D-Leaguers. The same could be said of the margin between making an NBA roster out of training camp and finding yourself on the outside looking in. In this most recent Timberwolves’ preseason, four players were competing for the team’s final two roster spots. AJ Price and second-round pick Lorenzo Brown were vying to be the team’s third point guard. And Robbie Hummel and Jeffers were competing for the team’s final wing spot.

Hummel, a not-terribly-athletic 24-year-old rookie with two surgically reconstructed knees may have seemed like the longshot of the two. But he had two things going for him that Jeffers did not: First, Hummel had a reputation as a three-point shooter. And the Wolves, still in morning-after mode after the worst outside shooting season basically ever, were desperate for three-point shooters. Second, Hummel’s size (he’s not the 6’8″ he’s listed at, but he’s still a big guard) allows him to guard multiple positions. Jeffers can’t say the same. Hummel made the team.

Let’s take the last part first. Hummel is indeed a versatile defender who can guard twos, threes and the occasional four. He doesn’t lock anyone down or create holy chaos like Corey Brewer, and you certainly wouldn’t want to stick him on your opponent’s most dynamic scorer, but his court awareness, body positioning and great effort generally mitigate his lack of footspeed. He grabs some rebounds he probably shouldn’t be able to grab; he contests some shots you wouldn’t think he could contest. The Wolves were able to plug him into various spots in the lineup throughout the year without being punished too severely for it.

All of these are useful things. If Hummel had turned out to be a great or even above-average three-point shooter, they would feel like nice corollary benefits. (As in: “Wow, what a shooter–and how nice that he plays hard and can passably guard three positions!”) But Hummel was not an above-average three-point shooter; he was an exactly average three-point shooter, (I mean exactly: both the league as a whole and Hummel himself hit 36% of their threes). And hitting wide-open, spot-up threes is by far the best thing Hummel does. Once he moves inside the arc, things get dicey. 27.3% of Hummel’s field goal attempts came in the dreaded “long-two” zone–and he hit just 29.2% of those shots. He isn’t quick or skilled enough to create space for himself off the dribble and he isn’t athletic enough to hit contested shots.

And so, despite his average three-point shooting, despite his skill at spotting up in open space on the floor, Hummel’s True Shooting rate was a deeply below-average 49.2%. In other words, he wasn’t really helping the team much offensively. Indeed, Hummel’s mediocrity was a contributing factor to the Wolves’ difficulties off the bench this season and their general lack of outside shooting by players not named Kevin. I would be surprised if Hummel finds himself in a Wolves uniform again next season.

 

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It was all downhill from here.

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 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

In one of the season’s final games, a loss at home to the Chicago Bulls, FSN North color analyst Jim Petersen issued a plea for Timberwolves fans to keep hope alive for Alexey Shved. It was a long, frustrating season for the second-year man from Belgorod, Russia, and Petersen, being the positive force that he is, attempted to highlight his strengths – size and athleticism. “Don’t give up on him,” said Jim Pete. “He can still find a way to put it together.”

When Shved arrived, I was excited at the prospect of a combo guard with passing acumen, leaping ability and a solid jump shot – which is the bill of goods we were sold in July of 2012. The first two months of his career were solid enough to warrant cautious optimism… but then everything fell apart. He was in the rotation through the middle of January, but never produced nearly enough to stay there, and his minutes waned as the season drew to a closeHis slight build puts him at a disadvantage on the defensive end to begin with, and the rigors of the long NBA season, plus the nightly chore of running through and around large, screening bigs, wore him out. Offensively, he did a few good things in his rookie season, but nothing went right in 2013-14. Running the pick and roll at the NBA level is a riddle he’s never solved; his inconsistent shot mechanics leave him prone to long stretches of futility.

To put it bluntly, and to politely disobey the inestimable Jim Petersen: I’m giving up on Alexey Shved. Continue Reading…

NBA: Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves

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 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

Men who are 6-foot-10 and 249 pounds are not often called a small thing, but Ronny Turiaf was definitely one of the small things that the Timberwolves could have used more of. Even sidelined for a big chunk of the first half of the season with a radial head fracture to his right elbow suffered in the second game of the year and then troubled by a knee injury that limited him in the second half, Turiaf was a vocal leader of the team. And when he actually played, the Wolves were 16-14, good for a winning percentage of .533 — better than their .488 season. And although Gorgui Dieng blossomed late and showed flashes of being the kind of defensive presence on the interior the Wolves sorely need, it was actually Turiaf who led the team in both blocks per game (1.6) and blocks per 36 minutes (3.0). Continue Reading…

ShabazzMatazz

As I’ve written here probably too many times, first round picks — especially lottery picks — come with certain expectations because of where they were drafted. Some of that makes sense. A team is a failure/bad and their “reward” for being such is an opportunity to improve by selecting from the best young players coming into the league. The hope is these players will improve things right away, when often that’s not the case at all. The biggest improvements come from veterans on the team, not rookies coming through and setting the league on fire.  Continue Reading…

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 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

Othyus Jeffers is incredibly good at basketball. He is so good, in fact, that he has been named the Co-MVP of (arguably) the second-best professional league in the world, which means he is among the best 500 basketball players alive today. He is 6’5″, which is very tall by almost any standard you could imagine. He is probably stronger and quicker and more skilled and more athletically explosive than anyone you will ever know personally. Also, his name sounds like the name of a fictional space gladiator. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could say any of these things about yourself?

But Othyus Jeffers has a weird life because in professional basketball being the 300th best player in the world is wildly different from being the 500th best. The 300th-best player might be a rotation player on an NBA playoff team. He has a decent chance of keeping his job for an entire season and then coming back the next year. He has a good chance of a salary in the millions. But the 500th-best player’s life is not like that. This player scrapes by on a wage slightly lower than that of a first-year public-school teacher in New Mexico (which is to say: very low). He might play basketball in many different leagues in many different countries in the same year. He might get a fleeting chance to play in the league of his dreams, catch 34 minutes of burn over seven days and then get waived. He might currently be playing for a team called…The Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters of the Philippine Basketball Association.

(That is a real basketball team! Say ‘text’ again!) As anyone who watched the Wolves’ Summer League squad, or who make a point of following the NBDL’s Iowa Energy, Othyus Jeffers does a lot of things really well. He attacks the basket with passion. He runs the floor. He rebounds and defends like he has murder in his heart. But the margins between that 300th-best player and that 500th-best player are very fine. If you are an off-guard who can’t shoot the three and aren’t quite long enough to guard the league’s bigger perimeter players, it doesn’t quite matter how hard you fight for boards or how lustily you throw yourself at the basket. Your road to the NBA will be a hard one.

I have very warm feelings for Othyus Jeffers. My sense of moral justice wants to believe there’s a place in the league for someone with such great desire and resolve.  But the NBA is a cold place. You can approach a 1:30 pm Summer League game–mostly a venue for 22-year-olds in weird practice jerseys to hoist 10 threes in eight minutes of court time–like it’s game 7 of the apocalypse; you, an undersized off-guard, can average 9.9 boards a game in the D-League (really!); you can throw a tomahawk on every Filipino who gets between you and the rim…you can do all that and still barely get the faintest look in the show.