NBA: The Minnesota Timberwolves, the Khan Era and the State of the Franchise
This is a comprehensive analysis of the Twolves written from a true fan's perspective. I live in Minnesota, and I'm a huge Wolves fan. If you feel bad for me, well, you should. It's painful. Either way, I love Wolves basketball, and I have a responsibility to write about them. Get ready to learn more about Timberwolves basketball than you ever wanted to know.
I'll start by focusing on the major decisions made by David Kahn in his tenure with what ifs, then move to player analysis and future possibilities.
First, let's start with David Kahn and the job he's done in his two NBA drafts. In 2009, he had two top-six picks at his disposal, and he essentially wasted them both as far as we know.
First of all, Jonny Flynn is an absolutely terrible point guard all around. He doesn't really do anything well. Anyone who has ever watched him play just knows that he doesn't do anything well on the floor. He takes too many long two's and jumps when he passes far too often. He doesn't understand how to run an offense, and he is really bad defensively.
He is a horrible fit in coach Kurt Rambis' offense, and honestly, I think he's gone this offseason, and I'm not really sad to see him go at all. He is an absolutely terrible point guard and a disastrous pick. With Stephen Curry, DeMarr DeRozan and Brandon Jennings all taken close to Flynn, I can't help but kick myself thinking about that pick.
With the fifth pick, they took Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio whom we are still waiting for in Minnesota. It is probably premature to judge this pick, but it certainly isn't looking good. Rubio has been back-and-forth in deciding whether he'll ultimately be a Timberwolf next season, and at this point, fans just don't know what to think. Rubio will be discussed in depth later on.
With the Wolves third first rounder, they actually made an excellent pick. They selected Ty Lawson out of North Carolina with the 18th pick. He is a decent scorer with great speed and floor vision. He would be great in Minnesota's up tempo offense. It really is too bad we traded his rights to Denver on draft night.
With their last first-round pick, the Wolves selected supposed sharpshooter Wayne Ellington with the 28th pick. The problem with Wayne Ellington just doesn't really do anything on the court. He isn't all that productive. I wouldn't consider him a solid rotation player at this point, and I don't think he ever will be.Ellington shoots a solid 40 percent from behind the arc, but he shoots 40 percent from the field as well.
If you adjust his production to 38 minutes a game, (more than an average starter), he would average about 13 points, three rebounds and two assists a game. His numbers are a disaster and watching him play doesn't help his case. You tend to forget he's on the court. A classic Wayne Ellington game, March 30th at home against the Bulls: 32 minutes, nine points, two assists and a rebound. But he's a decent three-point shooter so it's fine right? Sometimes, I wonder aloud why he still plays at all.
I won't bash their two second-round picks, stashing former Florida standout Nick Calathes and Henk Norel overseas. In the second round, it's not like those picks can make or break your team. They're fine as long as it's not too much of a reach.
Now for the 2010 draft. For more analysis on why the Wolves' 2010 drafting job was the worst of all time, click here.
They had a bunch of picks, but they didn't really end up with much. Wes Johnson was supposed to be the star of the class, but he is already almost 24 years old, and he probably isn't a guy with huge potential. The fact that the Wolves took Johnson when future superstar DeMarcus Cousins was still available pains me even further. Yes, Cousins has attitude problems, but at least, he has the possibility to be a great player. He is significantly younger than Johnson and has more time to develop.
The Timberwolves then selected Luke Babbitt with the 16th pick. I mention this because Babbitt was projected to go potentially a lot higher than this because of his potential as a scorer.
I didn't think he would fall to the Wolves, but when he did, I got excited. He isn't necessarily the perfect player for the Wolves, but he's talented, and he can score. We then decided to ship him to Portland for Martell Webster. Webster is pretty much a pure offensive player. He can shoot, but he hasn't really progressed very much over his five-year career, and to be honest, I don't like his upside at all. Babbitt may end up as a bust, but Webster is just an injury-prone pure scorer with no other tangible contributions.
Through a series of events, we ended up with Lazar Hayward, Paulo Prestes and Nemanja Bjelica. Look at the link above for analysis of these picks (terrible).
All aspects of the last two drafts have been absolutely terrible. There really isn't a good angle to take. Rubio's value is still salvigable, but other than that, there really isn't much to get worked up about.
On a more positive note, let's examine some of the positives we have seen in the recent past. Namely, a few trades that have been executed over the last year.
We all know about how Beasley was traded to the Wolves. But looking back, it worked out better than we ever could have expected. It was obvious Beasley couldn't stay in Miami long term, but no team really wanted to take a chance on him due to his history of off the court issues and drug use.
The Wolves ended up grabbing Beasley for 25 cents on the dollar trading a couple of future second rounders for him. No one would have thought he would develop the way he did. He really established himself as a small forward with range this year. He is the heart of the Wolves offense and they really got a steal picking him up.
The second trade that worked out in the Wolves favor is the deal that sent away Corey Brewer and Kosta Koufos in exchange for Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry who was immediately released. Randolph played very well in the absence of Kevin Love at the end of the season. He was always thought of as a great talent, but he is very raw. Watching him play can be extremely painful at times, but he has great potential. Overall, the Wolves didn't really give up much, and Randolph has a chance to be good.
It seems as if Kahn was ridiculed for the trade of Al Jefferson to the Utah Jazz. They dealt him for Kosta Koufos and a pair of first-round picks. This deal was criticized, but ultimately, I like it.
It was clear from the beginning that Kevin Love and Jefferson simply weren't going to be able to play together on the floor. They are both power forwards, and neither of them are good defensively. It just wasn't going to work. The Wolves are not a good team, and paying Jefferson as much as he was to lose anyway wasn't worth it.
It also has to be acknowledged that Jefferson's style just wasn't compatible with the Wolves' offense. Jefferson walks down the floor and sets up under the basket. The Twolves wanted to run an up tempo style when Rambis came in making his skill set obsolete within the offense. It may not have been the ideal compensation package, but few other teams had a trade exception or the cap room to trade for Big Al without giving back much and that's what we wanted. We need roster flexibility, and Jefferson just didn't fit in. This deal may be seen in a negative light, but in the end, it was good for the Wolves.
Next, we have to break down the Wolves' current roster position by position and see what kind of talent they have and what to do with it.
Point guard: Luke Ridnour is a solid option at point guard. He is a good shooter and the veteran fits well into the Wolves offense. He just signed a four-year deal this summer. There isn't much to say about Ridnour, I can only say I hope he's back next year.
The backup PG is the always atrocious Jonny Flynn. I am what some would call a Flynn hater of sorts. Described above, I think Jonny Flynn is just a bad point guard. In his Syracuse days, he could get by on athleticism alone, but it's different in the NBA.
His decision making skills are lagging far behind the rest of the league. I have a feeling he will never be a good rotation player in the NBA. The thing is, other GMs haven't necessarily realized this yet. Shockingly enough, some people are still under the impression that he can help a team. For now, I'll just say that I hope he's not wearing a Wolves uniform next year.
Shooting guard: Wes Johnson has been railed enough for now, but really, I just want to reiterate the fact that he was a terrible pick. He suffers from the same problem as Wayne Ellington. He's just not productive. It's to a lesser extent, but Wes Johnson really isn't very good.
He can jump and shoot a little bit, but he's not a dependable player. He is also decent defensively, but he can't really rebound or pass. At this point, he isn't really scoring much either. Next year will be a crucial year for Johnson. If he shows good development, he could solidify his spot in the starting lineup, if he doesn't he could be headed for a career on the bench. Personally, I fell like the latter of the two is more likely but we can hope.
To sum up the other shooting guard, he's Wayne Ellington.
Small Forward: Michael Beasley was the Wolves' most prolific scorer during the regular season. He can drive a little bit, but the best part of his game is his sweet mid-range jumper. My problem with Beasley is that he is a black hole of sorts on offense. Once he gets the ball, it's generally going to be either a turnover or a shot. That's just how it goes. I don't blame him for not trusting his teammates, but he just forces it too much.
He never had eight assists in a game this season and got to seven just three times. He recorded five or more assists just four times and had eight games in which he did not record a single assist.
He played more selfishly that ever this season averaging just two assists and almost three turnovers a game. He has a sweet stroke, but exactly how well do Beasley's style and winning games fit together? He's got the raw skills to be a great player, there's no doubt about that, but whether or not he can really be a team player will define his career. It will also determine how long he stays in Minnesota.
The primary backup at small forward is Martell Webster. Webster is a guy that can actually be a decent rotation guy in the NBA. You know what you're going to get. Scoring is really his only strength, but to be fair, he is pretty good at it. He shot 42 percent from behind the arc and averaged 10 points a game off the bench. I don't really have much to complain about here. We know his game.
Power Forward: Obviously, this is where our best talent lies. Kevin Love made his first All-Star team and easily coasted to the NBA's rebounding title. He also has a nice jumper. There are two areas where he really needs to improve.
First, he needs some low-post moves. He doesn't really have great moves, and he isn't great from the field. He is unreliable on offense, and he forces it too much on occasion. I would really like to see him develop a good set of moves. The other thing he needs to do is improve on defense and become a bigger threat to opposing slashers as his blocks numbers are absolutely pathetic. Kevin Love did win Most Improved Player, but he still has his work cut out for him this offseason.
The other power forward we have is the ultra lanky Anthony Randolph. He has had trouble getting points everywhere he's been, but he got opportunities with the Wolves this season. He put up huge numbers while Kevin Love was hurt, and he really flashed his potential. I am definitely excited about Randolph going forward. In a perfect world, the Wolves could put their two most talented post players on the floor together—Love and Randolph—but I don't think it's going to happen. Randolph is going to have to sit behind Love and play backup for three positions. It's unfortunate he can't start, but hey, he's better than Brewer.
Center: Darko Milicic was given way too much money this offseason to stay in Minnesota, but in his defense, he's not that bad. He's still only 25, and he has some value. He certainly isn't a starter, but he plays solid defense. He was fifth in the NBA in blocks per game even though he only played 24 minutes a game. He's not a guy you leave out there for long stretches, but he can be a solid eighth man in spurts.
The Rest: Nikola Pekovic is getting paid too much to suck this bad, Tolliver is decent enough to put on the floor sometimes, Lazar Hayward is just a bad, decent defender, but overall bad.
Now that we understand the severity of their short-term roster problems, let's look at what they can do going forward.
First, it's important to mention the Wolves own the rights to a couple solid international players, most notably Ricky Rubio but also Henk Norel, Nemanja Bjelica and Paulo Prestes. Norel could be a role player, Bjelica is intriguing, but probably won't be worth much and Prestes is at least five years away from being a rotation player.
In my opinion, getting rid of Jonny Flynn has to be the Wolves' first priority. Like I said, some teams feel like he could be decent, so why not just cut our losses now and get out. I think a guy like OJ Mayo would be a perfect guy to try and grab in a deal for Flynn. Memphis needs another point guard, and they might think they could make something out of Flynn. The problem with trading Flynn is that his value is going to vary greatly from team to team.
NBA teams that have figured out he is horrible won't even throw in a 2014 second-round pick, while some teams could feel he is worth a mid to late first rounder. If the Grizzlies would bite on a deal including Flynn and Memphis' first rounder (that the Wolves coincidentally own) for Mayo, I think they should take a chance on that. Mayo has had some off-the-court issues this season, but to me, that means his value will never be lower.
Even people who aren't even Mayo fans will admit he could be a good pickup due to his current market value. We aren't sure if that Mayo to Pacers thing is still going to happen after the season, but if it doesn't, the Wolves should take this risk. Mayo may come with baggage, but he can score. Johnson is decent, but Mayo is a way better option; that's just the way it is.
If the Wolves get Mayo, one of two things have to happen. The best option is the Wolves draft a true floor general at point guard which really isn't likely because there really aren't any. The other possibility at point guard, believe it or not, could be Ricky Rubio. Rubio could come over this summer if the lockout problem is resolved. If that happens, he could be just what the Wolves need. If you have three scorers, you need a true distributor at point guard. Rubio isn't really a scorer, and his jumper needs a lot of work. This is perfect because he can simply focus on running the offense instead of trying to score.
Is adding Mayo a good idea for the Wolves
Their second option is definitely going to be the less popular one, but it's the one that I think has to happen eventually. This option is to trade Michael Beasley. I know, I know everyone loves Beasley in Minnesota and he is the best scorer on the team but he takes too many long two's, and like I said before, he's too selfish. He doesn't understand that he needs to share the ball and create for other players on the team. He is now at the skill level where he is going to be the No. 1 or 2 option, but I don't think a team can win when he is shooting that much.
Beasley is not capable of carrying a team, but he is going to be counted on to do a large portion of the scoring. This is just not going to work. He's a good player, but I don't think he's really a guy you want on your team. He doesn't do many things well, including defense. He's as responsible as anyone for the Wolves defensive woes this year. The Wolves can turn the two second-round picks they gave up to get him into something much, much better if they take advantage. I'm just not sure about Beasley, and I don't think it's smart to build around him. Many disagree, but I say the Wolves cash in now. I don't know what he will be dealt for, it's hard to tell, but the Wolves could definitely get something good.
Now, it's time to focus on the draft. The Wolves will have the most lottery tickets this season which gives them a 25 percent chance of obtaining the first pick. For some reason, the Wolves just suck at the lottery, so I'm assuming they will be drafting third. Maybe second. If they get the first pick, I think it has to be Irving just because he's so much better than everyone else, but after that, it completely depends.
If the Wolves trade Beasley, Williams is for sure the pick. I don't think they will trade Beasley, and if they don't, they simply don't have room for Williams. He plays two positions, but they are the Wolves' two best. I doubt Williams ends up a Timberwolf. My pick has to be either Enes Kanter or Bismack Biyombo. Kanter seems more NBA ready at this point, but Biyombo has the bigger upside. He's also a significantly bigger risk.
When it comes to Biyombo, we only know a few things. First, he claims he's 18, second we don't know if he is telling the truth, third he has a wingspan so large it makes Tayshaun Prince's arms look short, fourth, he can jump into the 10th row from the floor and last he is drawing Ben Wallace comparisons. In other words, we don't know a whole lot. He is intriguing to say the least, but he is raw and will have to be developed and refined. Something I don't really trust the Wolves with for obvious reasons. Ultimately, I think Kanter should probably be the pick.
With their second pick in the first round the Wolves should look for Reggie Jackson of BC, Darius Morris of Michigan or Chris Singleton of Florida State. They need a guard, but Singleton fits perfectly. Timberwolves FC Joseph Fafinski wrote a brilliant column as to why the Wolves need Chris Singleton which you can find here. It becomes even more perfect if they trade Beasley. At this point, it's impossible to predict who the Wolves will take with that second first rounder because we aren't sure who will be there.
The last thing we are yet to address is this year's free agency. We will have to wait on this one. We don't know who is going to be available, but we know that the Wolves will have cash burning a hole in their pocket that David Kahn will be dying to spend on some overrated player.
Is Bismack Biyombo a legitimate top-5 prospect?
The Wolves have a couple big needs to address this offseason.
First, they need a long-term point guard. Ridnour is good for now, but we really should get a long-term plan at the position. Next, they need a servicable center that can complement Kevin Love. Hopefully, they get that in the draft. And last, they need someone that can produce at shooting guard while Wes Johnson and Wayne Ellington pull Wayne Ellington's. Whether or not these needs will be addressed remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure. If you are still with me, you know more about the Twolves than you ever wanted to. Thanks for reading.
Max is a lifetime Twolves fan who lives in Minnesota and has been in constant pain for the past five years. He loves all things basketball and NBA. Follow him on his new twitter account @MaxMinsker
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