Archives For 2013 Offseason

The Timberwolves have had their share of splashy injuries, the kind that lead on Sportscenter and receive their own Twitter hashtags, injuries that date models and endorse Nikes. But the Wolves also boast injuries that are less gaudy and heavy-trending but that were nonetheless essential to last season’s disappointment and frustration. Because for much of the season, while the Wolves were desperate for perimeter players who could a) capably execute the corner offense and b) hit a three more than 30% of the time and c) be taller than 6’1″, they had just such a player sitting behind their bench in a slightly ill-fitting suit.

That player, of course, is the fair Chase Budinger. Like most things involving the Wolves this year, Budinger’s season was disfigured and disjointed. He was felled after six games by torn meniscus in his left knee; and when he finally returned, 59 games later, he looked like he was running with a ten-pound weight on his left ankle. He had no explosiveness, no lateral movement and no rhythm in his jumper.

Still, when he returned to the lineup in March, his effect on the team was palpable. Because the Wolves’ lineup was so depleted during the heart of the season, Rick Adelman radically simplified the offense, abandoning most of his corner sets, putting the ball in the hands of his guards and asking them to make plays. This was out of necessity–the Wolves just didn’t have enough talent to run sets with multiple options–but this distillation of the offense made it one-dimensional and awfully easy to defend. When Budinger rejoined the team, his ability to move without the ball, to hit midrange jumpers off of flare screens and to even marginally threaten the defense from beyond the arc significantly improved the Wolves’ spacing and offensive continuity. After all, if you want to run the pick and roll, its helpful if the defense is forced to do something beyond packing five players into the paint.  It was no magic bullet–certainly nothing that balanced the loss of Kevin Love–but the Wolves’ offense was noticeably better when Budinger was on the floor (about two points per 100 possessions better according to 82games).

What’s more it underscored the importance of skilled, savvy role players to a team’s makeup. When those roles go unfilled, especially a role as essential to success in the contemporary NBA as outside shooting, a team’s offensive idea collapses in on itself. You get what you saw in the Wolves this year: a team forced to improvise and scrape just to keep its head above water.

This summer, the Wolves will be scouring the draft and the free-agent market for shooters. Despite his struggles last season, Budinger is still shoots 36% from distance for his career, will likely once again be able to dunk like this and is still tall. All that, plus he isn’t likely to command much more than $3 million per year. I’d advise them to look into it.

Correction: In an earlier version of this post, I said that Budinger was unlikely to command “much more than the veteran’s minimum.” The 2013/2014 minimum for a five-year vet will be just over $1,027,000. Clearly, in real world dollars, $3 million is quite a bit more than that. Certainly, the difference is enough to buy and sell you or me many times over. Still, my point remains: for a player with the potential to help the Wolves offense so much, in NBA money, $3 million a year is a solid bargain.

82. That’s the number I want you to keep in mind.

Because it’s true that Luke Ridnour is not a starting-caliber point guard. Because he’s 31 and battling chronic back problems. Because his best season likely came three years ago for the Bucks when his PER crept up to 17.7. Because he’s never averaged more than 7.5 assists per game and did that all the way back in 2005–06. Because of his good-but-not-amazing career 43/35/87 shooting percentages.

Because Ridnour should by rights be one of the better backup point guards in the league right now but instead started every one of the Timberwolves 82 games, many of them at shooting guard. Continue Reading…

Zeller

The 98.3% chance of the Wolves not getting the number one pick and the 81.1% chance of the Wolves staying at number nine in the draft came through. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride or something. But now we know where the Wolves will draft, unless they reach a trade.

I think it’s safe to say the Wolves will explore trade options with the pick for a couple of reasons. 1) That’s just standard operating procedure for teams once they get their pick to see if anybody is willing to give up something of value to get it or to give up something of value (or Mike Miller and Randy Foye) to see if you can move up in the draft. 2) If Rick Adelman is indeed going to be back coaching the Wolves, the idea of him wanting to trade the pick to bring in a veteran shouldn’t shock you. The idea of trading it for a veteran can take the fun out of it for a lot fans because people love to think about potential when it comes to rookies.

When you look at the history of the number nine picks over the past two decades, there have been some really good players drafted in that slot. We’ve seen Andre Drummond fall to nine. We’ve seen guys like Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, and DeMar DeRozan taken as intriguing prospects over the past couple years. We’ve seen superstars like Amar’e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tracy McGrady. Incredible role players like Joakim Noah, Andre Iguodala, and Shawn Marion have also gone ninth.

Sounds pretty awesome, right?  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 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.

Glue guy.

That’s a term we use in sports, right? As I understand it, it’s the guy that is willing to do whatever is needed for his team as a way to keep things together. When things are going poorly, he’s diving on the floor, flying in for rebounds, getting deflections, darting toward the basket, picking his teammates up, and showing all of the intangibles in tangible form. The adhesive of their impact on the game is supposed to keep a team from spiraling out of control.

That doesn’t always work out though.  Continue Reading…

Yes, he's wearing a Mavs uniform, but come on: the thumbs up.

Yes, he’s wearing a Mavs uniform, but come on: the thumbs up.

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.” Continue Reading…

Mickael Gelabale defending the pick-and-ro–I mean sitting on a couch.

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.

One of the more puzzling strands of the Wolves’ season was Rick Adelman’s routine postgame praising of Mickael Gelabale. ‘Geli’ (or ‘Jelly‘?) often received kind words for his defensive energy or his corner three shooting or even, it seemed, his mere presence. I say ‘puzzling’ because to the naked eye Gelabale seemed to be only a moderately interested bystander on the court. With the exception of the Great Ten Day Contract Miracle of January 19th, in which he and Chris Johnson combined to score 23 of the victorious Wolves’ 29 fourth-quarter points, he never had much of an impact on the game’s outcome. He has a sleepy, uninflected face and a loping stride, both of which express less “playoff intensity” than “mildly hungover Sunday afternoon softball game.” Rather than providing “good energy” or whatever, he seemed instead to be a kind of null presence, just a blurry outline of a not-quite replacement level NBA player.

Continue Reading…

Stiem Engine

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.

Embarrassment.

That’s what you are asking shot blockers to accept. They have to be able to accept being embarrassed. If they can’t accept it, they’ll be timid and unable to do their jobs. Their jobs are to protect the rim and risk becoming a YouTube sensation in a less than ideal manner. Get dunked on and you’re immortalized forever. Block the dunk and you’ll be pretty cool for probably a night. There isn’t much reward outside of being somebody who deters people from even driving into the lane. People don’t try to dunk on Dwight Howard anymore. In a couple years, people won’t try to dunk on Larry Sanders anymore.

The appeal of the attempt to dunk on the great shot blockers doesn’t outweigh the consistent threat of rejection. For role players who aren’t going to be earning eight-figure per season contracts because of their ability to put up a velvet rope at the rim and tell you that you’re not on the list, there isn’t much glory in their jobs. People rarely remember their blocks and often only remember the time they got dunked on. And that’s what we seem to have with Greg Stiemsma as the backup center for the Wolves. There isn’t any glory with what he does; there’s only looking past him as you scan the room to see if there is anybody else you should be talking to. Continue Reading…

Wile_E__Coyote3

There are a lot of rookie clichés that can be deployed about Alexey Shved: the rookie wall, a tale of two halves, he needs to add strength, needs to get comfortable, has to look for his shot, etc. If you talk to him—which almost no one ever got to as the season wore on because he would duck out immediately following games—you would hear a lot of clichés as well, but maybe that was down to Shved trying to get a grip on a language that’s still elusive.

The same thing happens with Rubio. I lamented to Zach one night that it’s too bad we can’t have a crack Spanish translator there so we could ask very specific questions that could garner specific, hopefully insightful answers from the Catalonian wunderkind. (And yes I know that’s mixing Spain and Germany—multiculturalism!) But instead all we get are bromides about competing, playing hard, playing as a team, and then crazy people in the skyway yelling at Zach that they don’t need a translator. (True story.) Continue Reading…

RoyLove

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.

The Brandon Roy experiment.

It failed, right? Of course, it failed. He played five out of the 82 games and in those five games he struggled mightily. The only part of his game that was still there was his passing game. In fact, he showed the best passing rates of his career with 6.8 assists per 36 minutes and an assist percentage of 28.8% in the short amount of time he spent on the court.

I’ve tried to look at his time with the Wolves and glean as many positives as I can from it. It’s an overused cliché but he was a warrior of sorts out there. It doesn’t make him the same as a gladiator from long ago or any soldier that has ever fought in a battle or war. We’re using warrior in a much different sense here. Brandon Roy was a warrior because he fought. He fought against his body. He fought against what was expected of him, which was next to nothing. He fought against what modern science was trying to whisper into his psyche.  Continue Reading…

JOHNSON

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.

Folk hero. Fan favorite. Stopgap. Stringbean.

Chris Johnson was all these things and more for the Timberwolves this season. He was, in some ways, a supremely concentrated basketball experience, delivering block after block or dunk after dunk every time he saw the floor and yet not really seeing the floor all that much. Just take, for example, this litany of throwdowns he generated against the Houston Rockets in his season debut on January 19: Continue Reading…