Archives For Roster Review

If standing next to Zach Galifianakis is the Michael Jordan of this picture, the Mickey Mouse shirt is the Scottie Pippen

If standing next to Zach Galifianakis is the Michael Jordan of this picture, the Mickey Mouse shirt is the Scottie Pippen

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.

Here’s something I didn’t expect to see when I pulled up Nikola Pekovic’s page on Basketball Reference: in 2013-14, he improved his points-per-36-minutes, his PER, his true shooting percentage and his field goal percentage, and held just about every other category steady. Somehow I thought he had been a little worse this year than last. Maybe it only seems weird because of the price tag that comes along with those numbers. In 2012-13 he did it all for $4.8 million; in 2013-14 he made $12.1 million. 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.

 

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.

Pekovic

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.

Tradition in a storm of revolution.

That’s what Nikola Pekovic is for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s tradition. He’s brute strength and post skill. He’s rebounding prowess and paint protection. He doesn’t block shots but he cuts off paths to the hoop for every player in the league that thinks they can bang with him. Amazingly, it happens more often than you’d assume it does. Nikola Pekovic is kind of a traditional center. He can run the pick-and-roll or put opponents in the meat grinder on the low block. He’s great at battling for the boards on both sides of the floor. And he doesn’t kill you from the free throw line.

The weird thing though is that you’re trying to fit this traditional center into the concept of today’s basketball. And I’d imagine that’s what gives people a lot of pause when trying to decide just how much Pek is worth to this team. As of July 1st, you don’t get to measure that value in terms of points or rebounds or win-loss record or PER or win shares or win shares per 48 minutes or skulls collected. When June 30, 2013 dies, so do all of the measurements of Pek’s skills too. At that moment, Pek becomes a monetary value to the Wolves’ organization and that’s the number we’ll judge him by.

Before we get to that point on July 1, I’d like to go over the value of Pek that exists/existed before he became a monetary value.  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.

I spent my 28th year in disarray. I turned 27 less than a month after my girlfriend—following weeks of tense negotiations and mixed messages—decided not to pick up the team option on my expiring 5-year contract. Instead of staying on the East Coast in the hopes of getting picked up by a new team, I moved to Minnesota and spent the next year honing my skillset, by which I mean drinking too much, staying out all night, living in a one room double in a dorm with a slovenly 19-year-old art school student, and playing out a string of 10-day contracts with different women while trying to believe they were going to pick me up for good. These were—as someone once called a time like this—the wonderful nights, the wonderful days.

You’d be hard pressed to call the 2012-13 season wonderful for Kevin Love. To be more blunt, Kevin Love fucked up a lot this season. Some of those things were out of his control, and some of them weren’t. I’m not here to tell you which were which. I’m here to say I look at Kevin Love and see a man in his 25th year who—at least at least outwardly—is in disarray. Continue Reading…

DDubLion

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.

There is a very old bit of Greek literature called Agamemnon by Aeschylus. You know the whole spiel about Helen of Troy and how she was “abducted” by Orlando Bloom? Well, Agamemnon was the guy that told the Greek army to get going on the Trojan War. If you don’t feel like reading literature from over 2,500 years ago (and really, who has the time for that?) then you can just watch the movie “Troy” to get the gist of what happened with that whole love story. Brian Cox plays Agamemnon in the movie.

The reason I bring this up is in Agamemnon there is a parable of a lion cub. The baby lion is taken in by a family. They nurture the cub. They feed it, protect it, and treat it as a child of their own. It was too weak to survive on its own, so they went the SPCA route of adopting it and giving it a chance to grow, be cared for and be healthy. However, caring for such a beast isn’t enough to subvert the instincts of the lion cub permanently. At some point, nature takes over within the heart and brain of the lion.

But waxing time and growth betrays
The blood-thirst of the lion-race,
And, for the house’s fostering care,
Unbidden all, it revels there,
And bloody recompense repays-
Rent flesh of kine, its talons tare:
A mighty beast, that slays, and slays,
And mars with blood the household fair,
A God-sent pest invincible,
A minister of fate and hell.

The lion kills the family that made it part of their home. He tears them apart, rips their flesh, and feasts on them, as if they had never met and just happened across each other’s paths in the wild. The parable is meant to be about Helen’s time in the city of Troy. But really, I can’t help but think about the tale of the lion cub and the family whenever I look back on the season Derrick Williams had with the Timberwolves.  Continue Reading…

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…

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…