Archives For 2010 NBA draft

Pity Party

Benjamin Polk —  June 25, 2010 — 5 Comments


The Timberwolves’ draft party seems like it would be kind of fun. Hang out with a bunch of people, watch some huge TV’s, drink some beers, get pumped up for your team’s future. All of those things were there, but the proceedings were, from the start, inflected by the Wolves’ star-crossed history. Within two minutes of walking in, I spotted both a Rashad McCants jersey and a Michael Olowokandi jersey. It was hard to tell whether rocking two of the more spectacular flops in NBA draft history to a draft party were signs of ridiculous naivete or just plain cynicism. Knowing the jaundiced state of Wolves’ fandom, I’m guessing the latter.

And instead of the festive atmosphere that one might expect from fans of a team with five draft picks, the mood was more one of muted acceptance. We’ve just been subjected to too many false starts and reboots to be genuinely excited at the prospect of another; we’ve seen this movie way too many times. When the little fellow called Wesley Johnson’s name and performed his trademarked blindlingly awkward handshake (don’t you sometimes feel that the entire racial history of our country is played out before our eyes in those awful encounters?) the noise that emanated from the Wolves’ faithful (and remember, these are fans intense and committed enough to attend a Minnesota Timberwolves draft party) was something like “eeehhhhmm?”. Not shocked, not elated, not disappointed, just accepting.

So lets us talk about Wesley Johnson. It’s my feeling that, despite the hope and optimism generated by the lottery (at least by teams other than the Wolves and sad Clips), despite the dim possibility of magically picking up a transcendent, franchise-saving player, the only mandate is this: if you draft in the top ten, you must land a quality starter. You can get lucky and land a superstar, but you can also draft Randy Foye. GM’s get yourselves a starter. Wes Johnson has long, muscular arms; he’s got a lovely, economical jumper; he very much wants to play defense; he can jump over the backboard. To me, he is a solid NBA starter and one who does things–move fast, shoot threes, play defense–that the Wolves desperately need.

The only problem is that one of the two guys in the draft who seem to have a chance to be genuinely great, was sitting right there waiting to be chosen. Kahn had a ready explanation for passing on Demarcus Cousins: “We spent most of the last season talking about the lack of length and athleticism and speed on our front line and I didn’t feel that he would improve those areas.” If this, and not Cousins’s (possibly undeserved) rep as an immature hothead is really the reason, it strikes me as a little thin. Consider other players of Cousins’s great size, wingspan and footwork–I’m thinking folks like Pau Gasol and Joel Pryzbilla right now. They are able to use their skill and length to cover ground and challenge shots in the paint; the lack of great athleticism isn’t a huge hindrance. And although Cousins could certainly be in better condition and although the speed and duration of the college game pales in comparison to the NBA, he was able to play well in transition at Kentucky. Wouldn’t you imagine that he as at least a good a chance of being able to withstand the rigors of an up-tempo NBA game as, say, Darko Milicic for instance?

Moving right along, dudes. There’s evidently a great deal of frustration over the Martell Webster deal. It seems to fall along two fronts: first, that its irresponsible to trade a first-round pick for a player who has been, essentially a role player in the NBA. Second: that his skills and position overlap with those of Johnson and Corey Brewer (not to mention possible free agent pickup Rudy Gay). Here’s how I would respond (and I’m very much open to the possibility of being totally wrong about this): does anyone actually believe that Luke Babbitt, or anyone drafted beneath him, will be a better NBA player than Martell Webster? Webster is, like Johnson, 23 years-old and ridiculously athletic. He is an above average three-point shooter. He is a bright, thoughtful guy who loves to play defense. I’m actually on board with Kahn’s explanation, passive voice notwithstanding: “It was felt…that if we could add a young veteran, somebody who has been in the league for a number of years but still was on the young side, and that player could help us as much as a college player could and in some cases more, then that might be the route to go.”

As for the issue of redundancy with Wes Johnson. I’m of the belief that in the NBA right now, a team can never have too many long, athletic shooters who play defense. For way too long, the Wolves have been routinely torched for their deficiencies on the wing. Wes Johnson is a three. Martell Webster is a two. I’m not seeing the problem.

It does make a person wonder a few things, though: is Corey Brewer now going to be consigned to coming off the bench, or are his days, like Ryan Gomes’ now numbered? And now that Rudy Gay seems no longer to be an option, just what will the Wolves do with all of that cap room? Oh, and what about Mr. Jefferson? And I almost forgot the most curious thing of all: why did the Timberwolves trade down to select Lazar Hayward with the 30th pick, a player that could have been had with at 45, free of that guaranteed first-round contract? The Wolves shored up some serious shortcomings on Thursday, but they raised even more questions than they answered. And, ultimately, they failed to address their central concern, the lack of a truly elite player, a player who can give meaning and shape to the rest of this young roster. Seems to me, these loose ends are conspiring to tell us that this off-season is far from over.

Gold Dust

Benjamin Polk —  June 23, 2010 — 2 Comments

Who’s up for some rumo(u)rs? The internet is simply abuzz. Firsties, Andy Katz at Truehoop reports on the chatter that the Nets have been getting sweet on Wes Johnson. What’s more, says Katz, they’ve been trying to pry Al Jefferson away from good olde MN:

“Johnson told ESPN that he could see himself fit well with New Jersey. According to a source close to Rob Pelinka, Johnson’s agent, the Nets have said Johnson’s professionalism and ability to contribute immediately are major reasons why he has moved ahead of Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors on Jersey’s board. New Nets coach Avery Johnson, according to sources, wants a player who is low maintenance and can have an impact. Johnson answers that on all fronts.”

Seconds, Chad Ford, also a Truehoopist, says that if Johnson is gone, the Wolves would settle for Favors, and that this would be just fine indeed:

“Sources in Minnesota are saying that they’ll take Derrick Favors at No. 4 if Evan Turner and Johnson are off the board. The Wolves may be bummed by this development, but I think it’s a great deal. The team lucked into Rubio at No. 5 last year and get a steal with Favors at No. 4 this year. Those two together could be awesome down the road.”

Ford’s not done either. He goes on to drop this heavy piece of speculative, anonymously sourced knowledge:

“However, the latest thing I’m hearing out of Minnesota may have the most legs. Sources have told me that the Wolves and Grizzlies have been discussing a swap that would send Jefferson to the Grizzlies for Zach Randolph. The deal would allow the Wolves to save a lot of money over time. Randolph has one year, $17.6 million left on his contract. Jefferson has three years, $42 million left.”

Whoa, dudes. Update: Apparently, this thing is dead. Probably for the best.

Meanwhile, Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal tells us about a possible deal involving three later first round picks (thanks again to Ms. SG at Canis Hoopus), which discussions David Kahn has himself acknowledged:

“The Grizzlies have discussed trading their late first-round draft picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves in an attempt to move up in Thursday’s NBA draft.

A potential deal that would have the Griz exchanging their picks at 25 and 28 for the Timberwolves’ 16th selection has not been agreed upon but is one of several possibilities being seriously considered.”

Lastly, President Obama has relieved Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his duties as Afghanistan field commander. Does this mean that McChrystal could fall to the Wolves at 16? Sources say that Minnesota likes his length and athleticism but that he’s a bit on the old side for what the Wolves are trying to do (he turns 56 in August).

War and Rumors of War

Benjamin Polk —  June 22, 2010 — 2 Comments

Photo by Washuugenius

We here at A Wolf Among Wolves are not terribly into the rumors and the speculation. After all, by Friday morning we’ll all know who the Wolves drafted, who they traded and just maybe what it all means. At that point all of the pre-draft innuendo won’t much matter. Nonetheless, its obvious that the big red phone at Target Center has seen a lot of action lately. Our own Zach Harper recently spoke with Rahat Huq of Red 94, about Detroit’s and Houston’s interest in the fourth pick, Indiana’s inquiries about Jonny Flynn, and what it might all mean for the Pups. You really should read the whole thing. Here’s some fine insight:

“My first thought for every move the Wolves are rumored to be considering or proposing to other teams is always trying to figure out how this impacts getting Ricky Rubio to the Twin Cities. With the idea of trading Jonny Flynn for anything, you have to think it’s motivation for clearing depth at a position Rubio plays. To get him over here and in a Wolves uniform, you have to convince him that the job is his and it’s a lucrative and likely-to-succeed situation for him”

On that note, Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press reports that Wolves’ GM David Kahn had this to say about the possibility of moving the fourth pick: “Highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely.” That does not sound likely to me.

Walters continues:

“As for the possibility of trading rights to Spanish guard Ricky Rubio, who was the Wolves’ top draft pick (No. 5 overall) a year ago, Kahn reiterated, ‘I don’t anticipate trading him. I feel very strongly that Ricky Rubio should start his career with us here in a Minnesota Timberwolves uniform, and I look forward to that day a year from now.'”

Oh but here’s a fly in the ointment. This from Jonathan Givony of Draft Express, writing at SI.com (via our friend SG at Canis Hoopus, so many links!):

“Rubio will not be inclined to terminate his contract with Barcelona next summer if there’s no new collective bargaining agreement by then. Also, if Rubio waits until 2012 — three years removed from his draft year — he’ll no longer be bound by the rules of the NBA rookie scale, which, under the current CBA, would pay him an average of about $3.6 million his first two years, a sum that will likely be below market value. Freed from the rookie scale, Rubio could negotiate like a free agent with the team that holds his rights, receiving anything from the mid-level exception ($5.85 million this season) to a maximum contract if a team has the requisite room under the salary cap.”

Those are two really excellent points and also total bummers. So much is going to happen. Let’s be paying attention.

Favors on My Mind

Benjamin Polk —  June 17, 2010 — Leave a comment

We learned some things at Derrick Favors’s workout for the Timberwolves on Thursday. First: he’s not in good shape right now. That’s too bad.

Second: the young kid (just 18! Its really weird, I looked just like this guy when I was 18) has a long way to go before he can be an NBA starter. By his own admission, Favors is “just playing on natural ability right now.” And David Kahn pointed out that, although he’s extremely gifted, “he just needs to learn how to play.” Thats all.

Indeed, if you check out these highlights, you do see a lot of jumping and dunking. Don’t see so much ballhandling, footwork or shooting skill (FYI, I recommend you mute this thing):

Third and maybe most importantly, when Kahn was asked whether Favors could play alongside Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, Kahn replied, “if he’s there, it sort of hastens something else that has to occur.” This rather passive voice-y remark confirms what many of us have already thought: that if the Wolves take Favors (or, one has to assume Demarcus Cousins, another big fella) in the draft, then Big Al is probably on his way out.

Worldwide Wes

Benjamin Polk —  June 16, 2010 — Leave a comment

Photo by .M

Did I say that Hassan Whiteside looks like an NBA player? Well Wes Johnson really, really looks like an NBA player. How do these dudes possibly get arms this long? On Tuesday evening, Johnson showed off all of the skills that Zach so ably enumerated: the classic mid-range jumper; the three-point range; the startling quickness and leaping ability; the energy and tenacity (and all of that while struggling with a sore toe, which is much more painful and hindering than it sounds). I’ll tell you, I never get used to the strangeness of seeing such large, long-limbed people move so economically and effortlessly.

On top of all that, he’s a sweet, smile-y kid who seems to really enjoy playing basketball. (And the fact that he idolizes Scottie Pippen over Michael Jordan is somehow extremely encouraging.) He might not ever be an offensive superstar,  but I am totally untroubled by the idea of Wes Johnson as a Timberwolf.  Here’s his Jonah Ballow interview with a few clips from the workout thrown in at the end:

And here’s David Kahn’s interview. I’m only including this because, at the very end of the clip, Kahn confesses that he misjudged Steph Curry’s ability to play point guard in the NBA and that this was an important factor in passing him over in favor of Jonny Flynn. This is fair; many people had doubts about Curry’s ability to play the point. But I wonder: what made him think that Flynn would be any better?

My Hungriness

Benjamin Polk —  June 14, 2010 — 3 Comments

Photo by qthrul

Hassan Whiteside looks just exactly like a professional basketball player. He is tall and lanky, with smooth, sinewy muscles and impossibly long arms. His elastic strides cover huge swaths of the court; when he leaps, his hands stretch high above the rim; this dude will block your shot. But if his body and movements suggest a familiar, highly developed athletic manhood, his round, boyish face, thick Carolina accent and tentative speech give him away as the near-teenager that he is.

At Sunday morning’s workout for the Timberwolves in Minneapolis, Whiteside looked every bit the slightly lost, not quite confident kid (I love the fact that he just wants teams to know “that I’m a nice guy”). In fact, although he was easily the most highly touted player in the five-man group, Whiteside was overshadowed by the massive Texan Dexter Pittman. Pittman has a soft voice and a charming, agreeable demeanor. When asked about the trait he would most like to impress upon potential coaches and GM’s he offered, “my hungriness,” which sounds really, really hungry. On the grueling whirlwind of cross-country workouts–Miami on Saturday, Minneapolis on Sunday, Oklahoma City on Monday–he quipped that he was on “a nationwide tour like Michael Jackson”.  And, oddly, he seemed genuinely excited to play for the Wolves, citing his relationship with the Babcock family, the surprising beauty of the city, plus, and probably most importantly, an affinity for the team’s logo which he approvingly described as “a beast.”

On the court, though, that soft voice turned into a bellow as he battered and bruised his fellow pro hopefuls. Like Whiteside, Pittman didn’t seem particularly comfortable more than ten feet from the basket, but when he got any closer than that he had a pretty easy time bullying his way to the rim, smiling and yelling all the way.

There’s a limit to a person can learn at one of these workouts. As David Kahn explained, you can learn something about a player’s conditioning and “willingness to compete”, about their ability to interact with coaches and perform in certain NBA-specific situations (such as defending the pick-and-roll). You can learn that Pittman has lost nearly 100 pounds in the last three years. And that he has alarmingly large, supple hands, and can one-handedly pick a basketball off the floor and ladle it into the hoop like it was an apple. But these aren’t truly game situations;  as a predictive tool for how someone will fare in an 82-game NBA season is notoriously unreliable.

And you don’t learn a whole lot about the fatigue and loneliness that must inevitably set in while these guys cross the country. They are already becoming practiced at the pro athlete’s brash lingua franca, a kind of rote optimism that denies vulnerability and intentionally forgets the past. Pittman’s charm and bravado, for instance, gave no indication that his brother was murdered just over a month ago.  And so, as far as insight into the strange, itinerant life of an aspiring draftee, his slightly cryptic, but obliquely revealing one-liners will have to do.  How does he handle the fatigue? “It’s just a mental thing,” Pittman replied. Totally.