Minnesota Timberwolves Smart to Take 1-Year Gamble on Mo Williams

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2014

USA Today

Mo Williams isn't a lot of things.

He isn't a fortune-changing superstar. He isn't the quintessential point guard. And, in signing with the Minnesota Timberwolves, as first reported by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, he is not a precursor to Kevin Love having a change of heart.

What Williams can actually be to the Timberwolves is a savvy free-agent pickup who comes bearing minimal risk and the talent they need regardless of what happens with Love.


Clear Upgrade

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 12: J.J. Barea #11 of the Minnesota Timberwolves celebrates with teammates Alexey Shved #1 and Ricky Rubio #9 during a game against the San Antonio Spurs on March 12, 2013 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: U
David Sherman/Getty Images

Finding a capable backup for Ricky Rubio has been a long, fruitless search in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves had two options before inking Williams, both of whom were underwhelming. There was J.J. Barea, who was productive for all of one season (2012-13), and Alexey Shved, the combo guard who rivals Rubio's jump shot but not his playmaking. 

Williams is an instant upgrade over both in that he's someone who can thrive on or off the ball and has actual range. He drilled 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts last season and shot a blistering 45.8 percent on catch-and-shoot bombs, per Synergy Sports (subscription required)—numbers that obliterate the inconsequential contributions of Barea and Shved.

Mo vs. Shved vs. Barea
FG%3P%Catch-and-Shoot FG%Catch-and-Shoot 3P%
Basketball-Reference.com and Synergy Sports.

Off-ball scoring is a requisite attribute for all Minnesota's guards. Rubio is most effective with the rock in his hands, using his incisive dribble-drives to create scoring opportunities on the perimeter and within the paint. The other guard—be it another 1 or 2—needs to be somewhat efficient from the outside.

Rubio's offensive efficiency plummeted by 8.1 points per 100 possessions with Barea on the floor, according to NBA.com. They just didn't mesh as two ball-dominant floor generals who cannot shoot. That Minnesota's bench—which Barea was often tasked with manning—ranked 24th in efficiency last season, per HoopStats.com, doesn't help his case.

Things weren't any better with Shved, who regressed spectacularly last season. They were actually worse. Rubio's offensive efficiency declined by 9.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. 

Unlike those two, Williams has a fighting chance of coexisting with Rubio, whether it's as his backcourt running mate in dual-point-guard lineups or as the chief of Minnesota's second unit, which, with young talents like Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng, will need a strong veteran presence.

Where Shved and Barea have failed, Williams has a better chance of succeeding.


Preemptively Filling a Hole?

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Obvious on-court value aside, there's Love's future to consider. 

Or rather, the impact his future will have on other Timberwolves players.

Trade talks have reached an all-time high since late June. Said Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders then, per The Associated Press (h/t The Oregonian):

We're fielding stuff every day. When I came down here just now I had three calls about our players. There is not going to be a cooling down period. It's like catfish, when you feed 'em. It becomes a feeding frenzy the closer, when they can see those (food) pellets.

The three-time All-Star appears about as likely to remain with the Timberwolves as Jason Kidd is to leave the Milwaukee Bucks, come out of retirement and play point guard for the Brooklyn Nets. Most signs point to Love's days being numbered. 

And when Saunders finally pulls the trigger on a deal, he'll want to make sure Love's next club assumes some of his team's excess baggage in the process, per Wojnarowski:

No, Williams' signing doesn't portend Love's imminent departure or accurately predict his next destination.

But it might mean Barea is as good as gone, as Zach Harper of A Wolf Among Wolves explains:

We’re kind of talking here like Barea is gone, even though he’s very much under contract this season. I think it’s safe to say he is gone though. The Wolves have a very crowded backcourt right now. You have Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin as the current starters (you know, until Love is traded and then who knows what happens?). Then you have Zach LaVine, Maurice Williams, Alexey Shved, and JJ Barea. It seems likely the Wolves will try to move Martin and Barea in deals. There was talk earlier in the month of Shved trying out more of a lead guard role, but with Williams and LaVine on the roster, this could likely mean he’s on his way out too. It’ll be tougher to deal Martin with three years left on his deal, but Barea and Shved are in the final years of their respective contracts. Should be much easier to deal.

Even without Williams, the Timberwolves' backcourt is incredibly crowded. Yet if the dump Barea and/or Shved—as part of a Love trade or otherwise—what little playmaking depth they have would be decimated.

Love and Barea ranked second and third on the team in assists per game last season. If they're both on their way out, who are the Timberwolves left with besides Rubio? Shved? Nobody? 

Now they're left with Williams, who fills a void the Timberwolves already had while safeguarding them against the bigger one they could soon create.


Just Plain Smart

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Never mind the potential ulterior motives: Signing Williams is a smart business decision.

The Timberwolves are a better and deeper basketball team with him. It's that simple.

If for some reason the Timberwolves elect to roll the dice, keep Love for a while longer and try to compete next season, Williams gives them a better chance at remaining relevant.

At the very least, he's an offensive boon for a team that ranked in the top 10 of offensive efficiency last year. And he fills a need. And he's on a cap-friendly one-year deal.

And he makes sense.

There are plenty of risks the Timberwolves must take in the coming months, chief among them offering a definitive conclusion to the Love saga. 

Signing Williams isn't one. It is exactly what it's supposed to be: just plain smart.


*Stats via Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise cited.


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