The Forest and the Trees

14 07 2008

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a very interesting roster.  My friend, Dave, shot me an e-mail the other day.  He wanted to see if I had anything to say about the Wolves. 

The note served as a call to add some much needed flavor to my broth.  It may surprise some people to know that I have been keeping tabs on other teams, even though I’ve been writing about San Antonio, Brandon Jennings and Derrick Rose ad nauseum.

The Kevin Love-for-OJ Mayo trade shook up the NBA draft.  However, until Love or Mayo blow up, I contend that the centerpiece of this trade is Mike Miller.  He is a very efficient shooter who upgrades Minnesota’s second or third scoring option slot. 

Miller finished last season with averages of 16.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 43.2% from deep and 50.2% from the field. 

The Wolves perimeter player that comes closest to Miller’s efficiency is Rashad McCants who is shooting a respectable 45.3% from the field and 40.7% from three.  But after McCants, the shooting is about as pretty as a Geraldine Ferraro sound clip.

Take a look at the Timberwolves roster and you’ll find a whole lot of guys listed at “forward.”  Randy Foye is the only point guard currently signed by the organization.  So, with this group of ballers, who should Randy Wittman trot out come opening day?

Without the assistance of statistics, I would tell Wittman to send out Foye (1), Miller (2), Corey Brewer (3), Kevin Love (4) and Al Jefferson (5).  It seems like a no-brainer.  Miller can handle the ball, so have him out near the wings to assist Foye with ball-handling and entry-passes.  Brewer seems like a stud, so start him.  Love is a first-rounder; start him.  Jefferson is a beast; his physicality allows him to handle 5-men in the league.

However, I took a look at the Wolves’ 5-man unit statistics on 82games.com and realized the horrible truth.  Starting Corey Brewer doesn’t seem to help his team.  His on-court/off-court statistics don’t treat him well.  When he’s playing, the Wolves are -9.3 net points per 100 possessions.  While he’s in his warm-ups, the Wolves are better at -7.6 net points. 

Brewer’s Hollinger PER rating is an abysmal -9.4 at the small forward position.  My hunch is that he needs some more time to develop.  And although his defense got him into the league, that PER rating is a comparison based on Brewer’s production versus his direct opponents’ so it’s safe to say that his NBA defense isn’t quite up to snuff.

A look at Mike Miller’s PER rating shows that he’s decidedly better in the 3 role.  At shooting guard, Miller had a -0.5 rating and at small forward, he improved to +3.8.  Additionally, the Memphis Grizzlies scored 98.4 points and had a 32% winning percentage when Miller played as a 2.  While Miller was at the 3, the Grizzlies scoring average jumped to 104.2 points with a 49% winning percentage.

So, who takes the shooting guard position?  How about McCants, who was the Wolves’ second-best player last year.  McCant’s PER from shooting guard to small forward is negligible but his on-court/off-court statistic is relevant.  The Wolves are -4.5 net points per 100 possessions while he’s playing and drop to -12.5 net points while he’s sipping Gatorade.  So much for rest for the weary as that’s an +8.0 point differential, the inverse of Brewer’s contribution.

Over at Empty the Bench, Andrew explains why Al Jefferson at center is a crying shame.

“Defensively Big Al struggled for most of the season, but it was most noticeable when he was asked to guard longer and stronger centers. He lacks lateral quickness, length, defensive footwork and the instincts to recover. The numbers back up that anecdotal assessment. While playing at power forward Jefferson’s PER was 29.3 while the opponent’s power forward had a PER of just 19.5. That +9.8 PER ratio is stellar. However, when Jefferson is moved to the middle his advantage quickly falls off. As a center his PER went down to 25.3 while the opposing center’s PER rose to 20.4, amounting to a mere +4.8 advantage. At least statistically, Al Jefferson was less than half as effective when asked to play center.”

He goes on to question Kevin Love’s athleticism while saying that Love shares the same deficiencies as Jefferson.  Although I don’t quite disagree with this assessment, Love’s skill set is much more diverse and can provide a great complement to Jefferson’s hard-hat, physical-style. 

My concern is if Jefferson can “play up” to longer and more agile defenders.  When, you have a bunch of lower-tier bangers that are accustomed to guarding NBA centers, why not use them.  The Wolves have Jason Collins, Michael Doleac, Mark Madsen, Brian Cardinal and Craig Smith on the payroll.  Does Wittman really want to roll the dice with Jefferson at the 5?  If it’s a matter of giving Jefferson space to operate, Doleac and Cardinal have shown a willingness and ability to hit some mid-range shots.  Smith is athletic and can effectively hide Jefferson’s defensive deficiencies.  Would a combination of those players become an effective Timberwolves center?

My starting five is Foye (1), McCants (2), Miller (3), Jefferson (4) and Collins (5).  What’s yours?

Photo credit: The Sports Hernia

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8 responses

15 07 2008
Patrick

It’s gotta be Foye, McCants, Miller, Love and Jefferson. Those stats about Jefferson sucking as a center are way off, because the truth is last season he was a full-time Center. He was only at Power Forward a statistically insignificant portion of the time, something like five percent, which is why there’s such a large drop-off. If he played the full season at forward, we’d complain that he’s too slow to guard opposing fours and his numbers would look the same as this year’s center numbers.

The key is that last year, he was almost always our only big on the floor. Having Love out there with him will help him immeasurably. That’s not because Love will be a huge improvement on our previous big man, but rather, we’ll have a second big man. Last year it was Jefferson and Craig Smith, with the height of a shooting guard, and Gomes, a slow small forward. It was practically Jefferson and four guards. That’s a big part of why he was often made to look bad on the defensive end. So he can’t guard Dwight Howard one on one. No one else can either! Now at least Love can come over on the double.

I hope Brewer improves, because right now he is kind of a disaster and should definitely not be starting or even playing sixth-man minutes.

Other possible starting five: Foye, Miller, Gomes, Love, Jefferson.

15 07 2008
Travis

They should start Kevin Love at powerfoward immediately not let Collins play and move Jefferson to Center. Or they can always switch and move Kevin Love at Center and Jefferson at powerfoward. They need to play and start Kevin Love right away. If Corey Brewer does develop his game this year the t-wolves might be good. But I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs anytime soon.

15 07 2008
FeetinthePaint

Patrick:

Your observation about what would be perceived as Jefferson’s deficiencies at the four is valid. It seems like the ideal offensive system for Big Al is a slow, methodical half-court game. I agree that playing with another big — be it Collins or Love — will alleviate some of the problems.

Also, I like Gomes. Even if it’s only because he puts up some solid statistics.

Travis:

I think Love’s arc of improvement will depend on his personality. Some players just aren’t ready to play from Day One. Since I haven’t personally met Love nor have I seen him in a full-out game with true NBA teams, I don’t know if they need to start him right away. Play him right away, sure, but start?

I had the same “start him immediately” attitude towards Corey Brewer last year and that hasn’t worked out too well. Some caution can be advisable, no?

18 07 2008
Dave from the article

Very good analysis K-lo. I agree about Gomes except he is flat-footed. But I had him on my fantasy roster last season so I do believe in him (he can shoot!) And I concur about Love’s worth to the club, and also about Mike Miller being the centerpiece of the deal and about the Wolves as a whole. He is going to open up the half-court set so much for us and let Big Al get creative inside like he couldn’t do last year with no real 3pt land support.

Big Al and Love together will sure be fun to watch and will bring ppl to the Target Center. At least a few people, like me. But then again I went and watched them play the Clippers last year and I counted more people in my row of friends and acquaintances drinking from flasks than the rest of the arena.

Love is passing like a fiend so far in Summer League, and having speedy guys like Brewer (who was a superb college player but won’t ever be good in the NBA unless he beefs up and works on his J. Extreme caution is advisable!!! At least he’s working on his shot this off-season and during Summer ball) and McCants, who never gets enough respect or PT, ever! I saw him score 16 on 80% shooting in 15 minutes of clock, and Rodney Carney (who is about to have a career year!) will produce some good transition offense.

But anyways, I care about the Wolves too much. Go Bulls–and let us unburden you and take Hinrich off your hands, we could use a PG pretty badly so Foye can play the 2.

19 07 2008
Anton Trees

Picking up Miller will really, really, really help the Wolves, especially in prohibiting defenses from collapsing on Jefferson and Love.

The problem is that by the time the Wolves are ready for the playoffs — you’d have to guess it’d be two or three years, maybe longer — Miller will be loooong gone.

20 07 2008
FeetinthePaint

Haha, for sure, Anton. Kinda funny how that works, huh?

30 07 2008
Julien

Talkin’ about the Wolves, I’ve been following them closely since last season. Mainly because of Sebastian Telfair. I’ve been following his career since high school. He was so hyped at the time. He struggled in the NBA so far, but somehow I keep thinking he can have a decent career in the L, even if it’s obvious he’ll never live up to the hype. His behavior off the court seems okay now. He needs some stability, and it’s a good thing for him to stay with the Wolves next year.

30 07 2008
FeetinthePaint

He was hyped and I loved him too. I especially loved “Through the Fire.”

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