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 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


The Lopez Twins Make the Jump

1 04 2008

Brook and Robin Lopez have announced that they will hire agents and forgo the rest of their college eligibility. How will they fare on the next level?

Brook established himself as a force in the college game. The elder Lopez twin averaged 19.3 points, 8.2 boards and 2.1 blocks. He compiled a healthy 9 double-doubles until Stanford was eliminated by the Texas Longhorns in the NCAA tournament.

Like a good number of other people, I think Brook is a bit overrated. If he establishes deep position, you can pretty much give him the two points. His footwork is quite good for a young big. Brook likes to drop-step while keeping the ball high and he will then try to hit a hook shot over his left shoulder. He will have trouble when facing people his size that are dramatically more athletic and crafty.

If these kids weren’t 7-foot twins, there is no chance Robin Lopez leaves Stanford early. 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks doesn’t exactly make pro scouts drool. Robin didn’t exactly dominate while his brother was academically ineligible during the first nine games of the season. Robin was only marginally better as the focal point during those early games. 11.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks — still not quite Bill Walton numbers.


Now don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not saying these kids are useless. I’m just convinced that their hype is a product of the lack of big men in college basketball. Are they really NBA-caliber players? There is obviously a case for that; they are making the jump after only two seasons at Stanford.

But what else can you say about them? They seem to have physically-matured. I don’t see them gaining another few inches or bulking up considerably. No one has ever accused them of being extraordinarily athletic so any further improvement will have to be mentally through their floor games.

The Lopez twins don’t strike me as particularly savvy, at least offensively. Robin has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.35 while Brook is slightly better with a 0.65 ratio. For comparisons sake, let me throw a few more numbers out. Kevin Love and Roy Hibbert — both savvy bigs in similarly-constructed defense-heavy teams — own 0.97 and 1.11 assist-to-turnover ratios respectively.

If the Lopez twins aren’t a step or a move removed from their preferred shots, they punt the ball away. Brook and Robin will have to dramatically improve in this area because they will be facing physically-menacing, defensively-aware 7-footers whom are much more athletic than the likes they have ever faced.

The future shouldn’t be all bad. The Lopez brothers should prove to be a bit better than another set of low-post twins from Stanford, the Collins twins. Jason and Jarron Collins were another set of twin towers for the Cardinal. Like Brook, Jason Collins was considered to be better than his brother. While Jarron was written off as the “defensive-minded” brother — or in other words, the brother with size but without a clear competitive advantage.

Brook and Robin will be better than the Collins twins but definitely not as good as the Grant twins. Horace Grant was a cog in a Chicago Bulls three-peat. His brother, Harvey, enjoyed a peak of 18 and 6 for about three seasons in the early 1990’s.

Brook should be a solid role-player at the very least. Robin won’t see anywhere near the same success. And although he’s being billed as a Joakim Noah to his brother’s Al Horford, Robin really doesn’t have game. He doesn’t have the defensive mentality of Joakim Noah and he certainly doesn’t hustle like Noah. However, they both have big hair and both talk as much shit as Bill O’Reilly. I could block 2 shots a game in the helter-skelter Pac-10 if I were a foot taller.

The Lopez twins will be living the Suite Life of Zack and Cody in NBA uniforms next season but don’t expect them to make much noise while there.