Calling All Athletes: Timberwolves Too Slow at Small Forward

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Calling All Athletes: Timberwolves Too Slow at Small Forward
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This is the third post in a five-part series looking at the past season, and the off-season ahead, as it pertains to each of the five positions for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Part 2, a look at the shooting guards, is here:


The Timberwolves learned the hard way last season what happens to NBA teams who rotate players who are below average in speed, leaping ability, and lateral quickness out on the wings.

They go 15-67.

 

Ryan Gomes and Damien Wilkins are both solid professionals and smart, veteran players. They both can offer solid contributions to a team, both tangible and intangible. But if they're your two small forwards, today's NBA is literally going to run past you (and jump over you).

Gomes is a well-rounded, steady player, but he's too limited for this current team. There isn't really anything he truly sucks at. He's an NBA-quality shooter from both mid-range and three-point distance, a decent rebounder, and his good size and strength prevent him from being too great a liability as a defender (although he is caught firmly between positions -- often not quick enough to guard small forwards, but too small to guard power forwards).

But, unfortunately for Gomes, his contract is non-guaranteed, and the Wolves can get four million in cap savings by waiving him. Gomes could very likely sign on with a contender during the summer and fill the hybrid 3/4 niche nicely next year.

But for a team that likely needs to add new starters at four or possibly even five positions, it would be lunacy to sink four million dollars in cap room into a guy who probably isn't good enough to start for a contender. Your destiny is as a seventh or eight-man in the playoffs, Ryan. Good luck.

Damien Wilkins provided a veteran influence, but his play didn't justify serious NBA minutes. Wilkins helped mainly in the sense that he was one of few players who seemed to grasp Kurt Rambis' offensive philosophy pretty well. Rambis tried (with some pretty unfortunate results) to institute an offense based on quick decisions, and movement both of the ball and of players without the ball. That offense tended to run more smoothly with Damien on the court.

But other than understanding the concept of passing and cutting, Wilkins didn't do a lot for the Wolves. For a veteran player who doesn't play a featured role, he turns the ball over a ton (14.1% Turnover rate). He's not a good shooter, he doesn't get to the free throw line, and he isn't a good enough athlete to guard small forwards. 

If Wilkins returns to the Wolves next season, expect it to be in a minimum-contract, pseudo-assistant-coach role.

Potential Future Wolves?

Free Agency: 

Rudy Gay: A rumored off-season target for some time now, Gay is a freak athlete at 6'8" with a long wingspan. Memphis does have the right to match any offer, but I'll believe that when I see it.

Gay's explosion and knack for effortless scoring make him a good fit, but in order to convince him to come to Minnesota, Kahn would probably have to give him a max contract or close to it, and his past production doesn't justify that.

He can be, for lack of a better term, a ball-hog. And he has an undeserved reputation as a good three-point shooter (He shot 32.7% last season). Of course, he has the talent to become an All-Star. But there is Turkoglu potential there, in that he could become a Bad Contract weeks into his first season. Still, I wouldn't complain if Kahn were to go after him.

Travis Outlaw: Something of a poor man's Rudy Gay, only worse at creating his own shot but better at shooting threes. He gives athleticism and three-point shooting, two things the Wolves so desperately need, and probably at a bargain price. If Kahn decides Gay is too rich for his blood, Outlaw could be a nice, cheaper alternative.

Draft:

Wesley Johnson: I'm horrified of the thought of drafting him fourth overall. He's a good player, but he's already 23, and the sample size of his one good season at Syracuse is too small to be reliable, particularly when placed against multiple unimpressive seasons at Iowa State.

Add all those things to a general rule of thumb that wing players who can't get their own shot off the dribble shouldn't go in the top five, and you've got a pick that I'm crossing my fingers -- hard -- against seeing on draft night.

Paul George: A long, athletic guy with deep three-point range, George has just as much upside as Johnson, and he could be available at the 16th pick. I think if he's there, we take him. If we can manage to move up and get Turner, George would be a nice complement to him.

Trades: 

Danny Granger: David Kahn reportedly offered Al Jefferson for Granger straight up during the season and was rejected (rightfully so). But I would love it if the talks struck back up over the summer. We would clearly have to add more value to the package. I would probably give up Al and the 16th pick, or Al, Flynn, and the 23rd pick to make it happen.

Granger is just a lights-out scorer from everywhere on the floor, and his all-around offensive game and lethal three-point range would be an amazing fit for the Wolves. This may be a pipe dream, but it's probably my favorite semi-realistic possibility for the summer.

Andre Iguodala: When Philadelphia struck gold (or screwed the Wolves over. Either way) and landed the second pick, they got the opportunity to draft Evan Turner, who is a versatile ball-handler who can create for others, get to the rim, and play great defense, but not shoot from the outside. 

Change the word "Evan" to "Andre" and the word "Turner" to "Iguodala," and you've got a good description of Andre Iguodala. Philly will probably decide to try to play them together, only to decide in two years that it doesn't work (We've played that game -- more in the upcoming Power Forwards post). But in case they decide to create room for Turner now, Minnesota should eagerly help them do so. 



 

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