The Gauntlet Thrown: Telfair the Worst?

Note: Just so everyone knows, I have no beef with Ziller. We've been chatting behind the scenes about this one and it's no more than a friendly fan disagreement. Plus, he's a great blogger and leader for the NBA blogging community. If you really want to take it to him, find ways to make Beno look bad. But please, for the love of God, leave Kevin Martin alone. We won't win that one.

In all the brouhaha over Shaun Livingston having workouts in Chicago visited by the Wolves, Heat and Blazers, Tom Ziller said something over at FanHouse that he retracted rather quickly (but not before I, and a couple other commenters disagreed with varying voracity):

Minny seems to be putting on the press, though, which is no brainer for a team rolling with Sebastian Telfair (one of the worst players in the league last season) and Randy Foye (as two-guard as they come) at the point.

The retraction came in this form:

In a recent post about Shaun Livingston, I tossed out a casual line which called Sebastian Telfair "one of the worst players in the league last season." This claim was made without research and is completely, 100% wrong. There were much worst players in the NBA last season. Ask Clippers fans. Ask Heat fans. Ask Knicks fans.

There you go, bygones are bygones; no more trouble. Right? Wrong.

There are only 31 starting point guards in the league any given moment. An elite class, if you will. The same goes for NBA starters: it's a limited group of the best ballers in the world. And it is my opinion that last season, Bassy Telfair was the worst.

So, we can all agree that Bassy was not one of the worst players in the league last season. But, it's now time for us Timberwolves faithful to prove him to not be the worst regular starter of last season. Despite the fact that changing the assertion from worst in the league to worst of the starters is a huge jump, let's see what we can do.

Ben Wallace, Tim Thomas and Jamaal Tinsley have all been offered up as competition for Bassy at the bottom of the barrel. But, while looking at that list of four, do you get a "one of these things is not like the other" feeling? You should, because Wallace, Thomas and Tinsley are all aging, broken down vets who are either currently or have been ridiculously overpaid. If this discussion is based solely on ability, feel free to throw this aspect out. But I have a hard time believing people would completely separate that from their evaluations.

We'll set the bar for a "regular starter" somewhat high at 41+ games started and 24+ mpg averaged last regular season. That's starting at least half of the games and playing half of the minutes per game, on average.

Here are the players who started more than 41 games and averaged more than 24 mpg last year, with a PER worse than Telfair (who started 51 games and averaged 32.2 minutes):

  • Quentin Richardson
  • Jeff Green
  • Bruce Bowen

So, by these measurements, Telfair is indeed pretty far down there. That much, I can admit. And yes, last year he continued to have a tough time shooting and finishing.

The good news is, Telfair is not likely to be our starter this year. The Wolves have one of the most up-in-the-air rotations in the league with their mix of youth and injuries, but I think it's pretty safe to say that Randy Foye, for better or worse, will be starting. Moreover, Mike Miller and Kevin Love are likely to get their share of facilitating the offense (which should consist mostly of getting the ball to Al Jefferson).

But there are still a few reasons why I'm very happy Telfair was re-signed this offseason:

  • Telfair's 3.2 assist-to-turnover ratio was 10th best in the league amongst qualified players.
  • This past year in Minnesota was the 3rd offense Telfair's been asked to run in the last three years. If you don't think that will negatively affect the growth of a young point guard, you're incorrect.
  • Not only was it a new system for Telfair, but there were only 4 players on the team he'd played with before.
  • He's dropped his TO/36min every year of his career and last year his AST/36min was a career-high.

So, is Telfair one of the worst players in the league? Of course not. Of the 135 players who started more than half the season and averaged more than half the minutes each game (of which 28 were point guards), Telfair does indeed rank in the bottom 5 in PER. But that list is packed with All-Stars, borderline All-Stars and players with far better teammates than Telfair had last year.

Worst of the best ballers in the world for our backup point-guard? I'll take it.

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