With the likelihood of a swap with Love-for-Wiggins at its core looking more likely, a lot of fans have apparently shifted their focus for the time being onto what else will come along with this trade exchanging proven superstar for potential superstar. The big problem with moving Love for a swingman is the enormous hole left at the power forward position, especially given Dante Cunningham’s expiring deal (and whether or not the team exercises its option for him, he isn’t a viable starter). Sure, there’s the potential for Gorgui Dieng to get some minutes at the four as a supersized PF next to Pekovic, which could surely create some excellent and interesting high-low action given the passing skills that Dieng showed off in college, but Dieng is also not an every-game starter at power forward.
So the question becomes who the Wolves can get back in the trade to man the four spot, and it seems like people are waffling over the still-raw-but-possibly-better-than-we-thought-last-year Anthony Bennett or the largely unsung and in some cases unknown Thaddeus Young, who could be routed from Philadelphia should they be brought into the deal.
Now if you know me, you know I like Thad Young. I wrote about him for the New York Times and HoopChalk prior to last season, essentially lauding his evolution into a true smallball power forward and noting that if he could add the 3-pointer back into his game — he shot ~35% in his second and third seasons — he could become even better. (Also worth noting that he was most successful from 3-point range on the left wing — Love’s favorite spot.)
This past season he did re-introduce the 3-pointer, but it didn’t go super well. He only shot 31% from 3-point range, but I think it’s worth remembering that he more or less hadn’t taken a 3-point shot in a game for three years (34 3PA in those three years combined) and that he was on an atrocious Sixers team where the offense wasn’t designed to get him 3-point looks. With seven years of experience but still just 26 years old, I still think Thaddeus Young can be a tremendous player in the league, if not a marquee star.
That veteran experience is what I’m more interested in talking about than his specific game, though. It’s true that Bennett looked much better in Summer League than he did at any point last year, and it’s true that he was dealing with a host of physical issues from rehabilitating an injury to his shoulder to sleep apnea (for which he’s since had surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids). There’s every reasonable expectation that, given the right environment, he can evolve into a very good basketball player.
But that’s the sticking point: environment. There’s a natural tendency to look at a player’s skillset and potential and believe it will blossom one way or another, but it’s more complicated than that. Simply put, if the Wolves are already going to be giving heavy minutes to Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, it’s going to be very difficult to also give heavy minutes to Bennett. Three years down the line, a starting lineup with LaVine, Wiggins and Bennett could be great, but I just don’t think they get there if they’re all having to start this season, or even just play heavy minutes.
First and second year players simply need to be surrounded by veterans to reach their full potential. If this trade goes down and if it involves Kevin Martin and if the Wolves feel they need to start Wiggins over Brewer, that means the longest tenured starter would be Pekovic, with four years of NBA experience. Rubio has three, and just barely given that he’s played 180 games in those three years. Young more than doubles Rubio’s experience and nearly doubles Pekovic’s.
Now obviously the kind of veteran leader he can be matters, but so far he’s shown himself to be quiet and steady, plus he hasn’t needed the team to be designed around getting him looks for him still to be the best player on the floor for the Sixers the last two years.
You need balance on a team, not just to be successful, but to grow. Young versus Bennett probably won’t change the win total of next year’s Wolves very much — and I don’t expect them to be good in the sense of making the playoffs either way — but a team on which Wiggins, LaVine and Bennett are all getting heavy minutes would not only be not very good next year, but it would stunt all of their development. It’s better for LaVine and Wiggins to be finding their feet next to a veteran like Young, even if he leaves after next season by not picking up his player option. If he does leave, that’s nearly $10 million in cap space.
The bottom line here is that playing a bunch of potentially great rookies might work in NBA 2K15, but doing so in the real world not only hurts the team’s present prospects but also their future ones. The Baby Bulls of the early 2000s are instructive here. They were not only a 21-win team in 2002 when they had Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry as rookies plus Jamal Crawford and Marcus Fizer as sophomores, but they stayed bad for years.
No matter a player’s potential, growth curves are not inevitable. Developing one rookie is ideal. Two simultaneously is a challenge but possibly worth the payoff if it works. Giving three young players big minutes is likely to compromise all of their development and hamstring the team for years.