Minnesota Timberwolves Offseason: Comparing Additions to Subtractions
The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a very busy offseason, and it has ended in a lot of questionable players being added to the roster.
The Wolves were a playoff-bound team before injuries hit Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio near the end of the season. Now when you look at the additions that the team has made, you'll see a couple of Russian players, an All-Star with the 2nd worst knees in the league (behind Greg Oden) and some consistent role players.
While none of those additions are players that inspire 100% confidence, if you compare them side-by-side to the players that were lost in the offseason, you'll see that the Wolves are really making huge upgrades with each of these players.
J.J. Barea, Malcolm Lee, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Luke Ridnour, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams
This group has the expectations to be even better in 2012-13 before even considering the new additions.
Hopefully Rubio will be able to play a full 82 games this year, and make the leap that most second year players with solid rookie seasons do. If he plays his cards right, he could be making quite a few appearances during All-Star weekend, as a repeat in the Rookie/Sophomore game and possibly as a member of the Skills Challenge or even the All-Star Game.
Derrick Williams will hopefully make a huge climb in his second season, and his offseason developments (losing 15 lbs and reconstructive nose surgery) would indicate that he's trying very hard to become an NBA small forward.
Pekovic only started to emerge midway through the Timberwolves season last year. He missed a considerable number of games due to injuries as well. If he can play a full 82 at the same or an improved level for the Timberwolves, that would be a huge upgrade from the 47 he was able to play during the 2011-12 campaign.
Barea and Ridnour both played as the perfect backups to Ricky Rubio, and hopefully they will continue to do so. Lee had some great games in the preseason, but never seemed to flourish once the regular season hit. If he can show some improved production, he could become a second-round steal.
And as for Love, he's proven himself to be the best power forward in the league last year. If he stays consistent or improves at all, the Timberwolves fans will be more than happy.
Andrei Kirilenko vs. Wesley Johnson
Role: starting small forward/defensive specialist wing
Wes Johnson was a pick with a lot of promise, but not a huge amount of true "potential" in the league when he was the fourth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. His skills were either going to translate to the NBA level, or they weren't.
So far, they haven't.
While he did a semi-successful job at being the guy who guarded the NBA's top players when playing against the Wolves, he was never a consistent scoring threat, and never lived up to the hype of being a Top Five draft pick.
While Kirilenko's numbers are declining, they're declining from All-Star level. To be an upgrade from Wes Johnson, Kirilenko will simply have to play the way he did in his most recent season in Utah. Although, if we've seen anything from his Euroleague performance, or his abilities in the Olympics, it's clear that he's not slowing down all the way quite yet.
Advantage: Andrei Kirilenko
Martell Webster vs. Brandon Roy
Role: starting shooting guard/scoring guard
Look, we all know that the Wolves did not sign the three-time All-Star Brandon Roy. We signed the Brandon Roy with bad knees and reduced numbers. However, when comparing him side-by-side to our best option at shooting guard last season, it's clearly an upgrade.
Brandon Roy's last stint in the NBA resulted in a 12 PPG and less than 3 APG and RPG season. However, compare that to any season that Martell had, and we've clearly got an upgrade on our hands.
Even in his best season, Martell barely put up double digits in scoring, and has never put up more than 1.2 APG. He's also had injury problems that have kept him out of a number of games for the Wolves—just as Roy will.
Advantage: Brandon Roy
Michael Beasley vs. Chase Budinger
Role: reserve forward/sixth-man scoring forward
Michael Beasley was a steal for the Minnesota Timberwolves when we acquired him for two second-round picks after LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat. He put up huge numbers in his first season in Minnesota at nearly 20 PPG.
Then, he got injured, played off the bench and saw his numbers skyrocket the wrong way. He put up only 11.5 PPG and a little more than one rebound less each game.
Still, those numbers have to beat out Chase Budinger's career 9.4 PPG and only 35 career starts in over 200 games. Budinger will clearly be able to score in a role on Adelman's team where he's played before, and it's great to have a guy with a great work ethic and attitude to replace a guy like Michael Beasley.
But still, Beasley was a great talent, and you have to recognize that.
Advantage: Michael Beasley
Darko Milicic vs. Greg Stiemsma
Role: backup defensive center
This one is a tough one to compare.
On the one hand, Darko Milicic put up more PPG, RPG, APG with more starts that Greg Stiemsma, and was able to play for more minutes each game.
However, especially in a backup role, you have to dig a little deeper, and find that Stiemsma has a better field goal percentage, free throw percentage, commits fewer turnovers and fouls less than Darko, which are all important in a backup center. His PER rating was also four points higher than Darko (13.62 vs. 9.02).
Plus, there's the obvious. One guy is Darko Milicic—a guy who started the year in a starting role and was reduced to a player who was asked not to dress for games by the end of the season. Stiemsma did the exact opposite in Boston.
Advantage: Greg Stiemsma
Wayne Ellington vs. Alexey Shved
Role: backup shooting/point guard
Here are two guys that the Wolves acquired on the pretense that if they could be special, the Wolves would look like they got a steal. If they turned out to be average NBA players, well, it still wouldn't be costing them very much.
In this case, we have to give this one to Alexey Shved.
While he's never played an NBA minute, he's proven that he can be a star on a team facing high caliber players. If we've learned anything from Ricky Rubio, it's that a great Olympic performance can lead to a great NBA career.
And, Shved has had a great Olympic performance thus far, as he and Kirilenko (whom he has great chemistry with) have lead Russia into the semifinals.
Ellington has become a player who puts in around 6 PPG in his three years in the NBA, and has drastically reduced his ability to get assists to less than one per game in 2011-12. He's seen a decline in most of his numbers from his rookie season to now, and it's safe to say that his potential is far from being tapped into.
Advantage: Alexey Shved
Anthony Randolph vs. Dante Cunningham
Role: backup small/power forward
Dante Cunningham was a solid pickup for the Wolves this offseason. His presence on the defensive end will be a warm welcome to a team that was one of six teams in 2011-12 to allow over 100 PPG for their opponents.
However, his production can't be matched to the untapped potential of Anthony Randolph. While the Wolves may prefer consistency to potential at this point, at the height of his play Anthony Randolph was something special. While he played in half of the games last year, he still found a way to be third on the team in PER at 17.60, higher than that of Beasley, Williams, and Rubio.
Since the Wolves used Randolph and will use Cunningham as a player they can use when everyone else is just playing poorly, it helps to have a player who can turn it on and put up some big points. Cunningham's career high in points is 21. Randolph's is 31.
Advantage: Anthony Randolph
Brad Miller & Anthony Tolliver vs. TBA?
Right now the Timberwolves have two more roster spots. Anthony Tolliver is still a free agent, and Brad Miller has announced his retirement. One slot would have been filled with Robbie Hummel, but he has just announced his intent to play overseas next season.
So, the Wolves need to find guys to fill the final roster spots.
Based on the two seasons he's spent in Minnesota, I really hope that one of those spots is filled with Anthony Tolliver. He's played some great games for the Timberwolves in the past, and is a great role player and locker room presence. With a clear void at backup power forward, it would be great to see Tolliver continue to play the role that he's been very productive in for the past two years in Minnesota.
With the final spot, hopefully they can also find someone that resembles Miller. With so many question marks on the Timberwolves—Roy's knees, Kirilenko's decline, Shved's transitions, Williams' second year, Rubio and Pek's health—it'd be nice to fill the bench with a guy who can simply be a great presence for a group of young players who are looking to make their first postseason appearance since the KG era.
If we can find a way to sign someone like Derek Fisher or Brian Scalabrine, it could be a huge advantage come playoff time.
So, did the Wolves really improve in the offseason? Well, the short answer is yes. The important thing to consider is that the Wolves haven't lost any of their key players yet, and have added pieces that could one day be considered key pieces.
Are the Wolves going to miss the productive, albeit inconsistent, play of Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, and Anthony Randolph? A little. However, the losses of Darko Milicic, Wayne Ellington, and Brad Miller are nothing to cry over.
The additions of Chase Budinger, and Greg Stiemsma should add a bit of consistency on offense and defense. Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, and Alexey Shved could also prove to be huge payoffs for the Timberwolves if they can make successful transitions to the NBA.
If Rubio and Pekovic can stay healthy, and Williams can flourish in his second NBA season, then the Wolves could really be something special. And, while many analysts argue that the Wolves' moves only added players labeled as "questionable," keep in mind that the players that the Timberwolves lost have that exact same label.