FanPost

Improving from within

It's that time of year again.  Everyone has their pet idea for how to turn our horrid franchise around.  Swap this mediocre asset for that mediocre asset, go all in on this overpaid veteran, open up papa Taylor's wallet and spend in free agency, swap the #2 pick for X, rights to Rubio for Y, Beasley and Pekovic for Z...  There are a lot of different moves that we could hypothetically make this offseason, many of which I believe are superior to the status quo.  However, this proposal is different.  This proposal leads to increased wins without bringing in any additional salary commitments, or using any of our limited tradable assets.  This means that it can work together with many of the myriad offseason plans outlined on this blog.  Given that the Timberwolves needs are currently greater than their available cap space and tradable assets can satisfy, this kind of costless improvement is a necessary step towards success.  I think there is a way to bring this team close to 30 wins next season simply by reevaluating the talent already under contract and adjusting how our key players are utilized.

After all of this fanfare, I should probably have a deep and complicated strategy for turning the Timberwolves around, but really my solution is quite simple.  Slide each of Wes, Beasley, and Love down one position on the starting roster.  Play Kevin Love exclusively at center, play Michael Beasley exclusively at power forward, and play Wesley Johnson exclusively at small forward.  At first this seems like too simple of a solution to actually work.  However, after looking over the numbers, this strategy doesn't seem to simple to work, it seems too glaringly obvious to ignore.     

Love at Center:

It has been said over and over that Kevin Love is not a center.  This argument pretty much begins and ends with claims about Love's physical profile.  Namely, his presumed inferior athleticism and 8'10" standing reach.  This argument states that Love cannot score against longer defensive centers, and that Love he allows those same players to score at will on the other end of the court.

Thankfully, we have almost 2000 minutes of Love playing center against NBA players, so we no longer need to rely on subjective impressions of Love's ability to hold the center position.  Instead we have honest to goodness data over a large sample size.  Let's see what that data says.

Kevin Love

yr

Pos

Min

FGA

eFG%

FTA

iFG

Reb

Ast

TO

Blk

PF

Pts

PER

3

PF

1849.92

18.8

0.509

7.5

42%

20.3

3.6

3

0.5

2.6

25.6

24.2

3

C

708.48

19.1

0.521

13.6

48%

20.8

2.8

2.6

0.5

2.9

31.2

29.8

2

PF

1613.76

18

0.489

7.8

47%

18.2

3.8

3.4

0.7

3.6

24.1

23.8

2

C

78.72

19.7

0.286

5.6

54%

23.1

3.9

1.1

0.6

7.9

14.6

13

1

PF

826.56

14.5

0.451

5.4

56%

16.3

3.1

3

1

4.4

17.2

17.6

1

C

1180.8

17.3

0.467

9.6

63%

17.8

1.2

2.6

1.4

5.1

23.8

22.6

car

PF

4290.24

17.67

0.49

6.17

0.47

18.74

3.58

3.15

0.67

3.32

23.42

22.78

car

C

1968.00

18.04

0.48

10.88

0.57

19.09

1.88

2.54

1.04

4.42

26.10

24.81

 

Love's Opponents

3

PF

1849.92

19.7

0.505

5.2

31%

10.2

3.4

2.7

1.4

6.1

23.8

16

3

C

708.48

12.6

0.518

5.3

43%

11.2

1.7

2.6

2.1

8.5

16.9

12.4

2

PF

1613.76

19.1

0.516

4.3

38%

12.4

2.7

2.4

1.7

6

23

18.9

2

C

78.72

15.2

0.667

5.6

59%

15.8

1.7

6.2

5.6

6.8

23.1

20.5

1

PF

826.56

17.5

0.507

5.1

35%

11.2

2.6

1.7

2

5.3

21.7

19.1

1

C

1180.8

14.9

0.554

5.3

47%

11.5

2.7

2.3

3.1

6.7

20

19.5

car

PF

4290.24

19.05

0.51

4.84

0.34

11.22

2.98

2.39

1.63

5.91

23.09

17.69

car

C

1968.00

14.08

0.55

5.31

0.46

11.56

2.30

2.56

2.84

7.35

19.01

16.98

 

Looking at the numbers, Love doesn't just hold his own at center, at least according to PER he is one of the best centers in the league.  His net PER is an astonishing +7.83.  To put that in perspective, Andrew Bogut's net PER last season was +4.8, Brook Lopez's was 2.6, Al Horford's +5.7...  Looking down the list, the only player with a better net PER at center last season was Dwight Howard with his preposterous +16.4.  Can you believe that just over a year ago Rambis was starting Ryan "fucking" Hollins at center instead of Kevin Love?

Not only do Love's numbers show him to be a quality center, they show that he may be an even better 5 than he is a 4.  When playing center Love manages to get more rebounds and score more points than he does at power forward.  In fact, last season over the course of 708.5 minutes at center, Love averaged above a 30-20 per 48 minutes.  These are unheard of numbers.  At the same time he maintains and even improves on his defensive ability as a power forward. 

The real hidden gem in Love's "defensive" numbers is the number of personal fouls he forces on his opponents.  Love's opponents average 7.35 fouls per 48 minutes when he plays center.  To put that into perspective, he makes the average center nearly as foul prone as Hasheem Thabeet.  Even if you are still concerned about bigger all-star centers taking advantage of Love's size (in spite of the fact that they don't based on his opponents' scoring rates), you should be reassured by the fact that they can only dominate him as long as they stay on the court.  Nobody can compete with Dwight Howard, but if there is a way to beat him it is making him sit on the bench.  Love has that ability like few others do.

It shouldn't be that surprising that Love performs better on both ends of the court at center.  Offensively, playing center keeps Love near the basket where he can focus on his two greatest assets, collecting rebounds and free-throws.  In spite of constant concerns that Love can't defend bigger centers down low, synergy sports and most fans' casual observations agree that Love is much better defending big guys in the post than he is chasing stretch 4s all over the court.  The same skills that help him fight for position on rebounds help him hold his position as a post defender.  Nobody should be surprised by these numbers.  We need to get over our collective infatuation with prototypical body-types and look harder at relevant skill-sets and position specific production.  Kevin Love is a power-forward, but he is also a center.  Judging by the numbers, he may even be a center first, and a power-forward second.

While I hate to jerk around our best player, moving Love to center next season makes a ton of sense.  In part because that is where he performs the best, but even more importantly because of what it allows us to do with the rest of the roster.

 

Beasley at Power Forward:

There was a lot of debate whether Beasley is a 3 or a 4 when he joined the Wolves before last season.  Some people were convinced Beasley is a 4, while others argued that he needed to slide over to the 3 in order to reach his true potential.  Last year I was in the latter camp.  I saw the data showing that Beasley didn't perform well at the 3 in Miami, but was unimpressed with the numbers due to the measly 315 minutes sample size.  Now that we have over 1600 minutes of Beasley playing at the small forward, I think I can safely say that I was dead wrong.

Beasley

yr

Pos

Min

FGA

eFG%

FTA

iFG

Reb

Ast

TO

Blk

PF

Pts

PER

3

SF

1298.88

23.6

0.461

5.9

19%

7.4

3.1

4.1

1

4.5

26.4

13.1

3

PF

944.64

28

0.488

5.8

21%

9.7

3.3

3.8

1.2

4.6

31.4

18.4

2

SF

314.88

21.5

0.403

6.1

25%

10

2.8

2.7

0.7

3.7

22.2

14.9

2

PF

1968

21.5

0.473

4.8

30%

10.3

1.9

2.7

1.1

4.7

24.1

18.9

1

PF

1928.64

23

0.491

5.7

30%

10.4

2

3

0.9

4.3

26.9

19.2

car

SF

1613.76

23.19

0.45

5.94

0.20

7.91

3.04

3.83

0.94

4.34

25.58

13.45

car

PF

4841.28

23.37

0.48

5.35

0.28

10.22

2.21

3.03

1.04

4.52

26.64

18.92

 

Beasley's Opponents

3

SF

1298.88

19.7

0.534

5.4

24%

7.2

4.6

1.5

0.9

3.1

25.5

19.3

3

PF

944.64

18.2

0.52

6.2

35%

9.6

2.4

2.5

1.5

3.9

23.8

17.7

2

SF

314.88

17.9

0.504

7

21%

7.6

2.2

1.8

0.7

4.5

23.9

18.8

2

PF

1968

16

0.476

4.6

43%

10.8

3

2.7

1.2

3.8

18.5

17.3

1

PF

1928.64

16.8

0.501

6.8

41%

11.9

2.6

2.2

1.3

5

21.9

19.6

car

SF

1613.76

19.35

0.53

5.71

0.23

7.28

4.13

1.56

0.86

3.37

25.19

19.20

car

PF

4841.28

16.75

0.49

5.79

0.41

11.00

2.72

2.46

1.30

4.30

20.89

18.29

 

With a net PER of -5.75, Beasley is a terrible small forward.   His 45% eFG is abysmal and doesn't stop him from incessantly chucking outside shots (80% of attempts).  He adds to this problem by handing out nearly 4 TOs per 48 minutes and only producing mediocre rebound and assist numbers.  Meanwhile, opposing small forwards do whatever they want when Beasley "defends" them.  To help you appreciate how bad Beasley's opponent PER is, Beasley's average opponent produces like Paul Pierce or Lamar Odom.  Beasley has proven over 1,614 minutes of play that he does more harm than good when he plays small forward. 

On the other hand, Beasley actually records a net positive PER when playing at power forward.  When playing in the front-court, Beasley takes 8% more shots inside, resulting in better (though still unimpressive) efficiency.  He gets more rebounds, turns the ball over less, and slightly increases his scoring rate.  He still isn't great on defense, but he performs well enough to make him worth keeping on the court for the sake of his offensive production.

Michael Beasley is a power forward.  Every game that we continue to force him into the small forward position hurts the future of both the Wolves and Beasley himself.  This experiment is done.  Move Beasley back to his true position and keep him there.

 

Wesley Johnson at the small forward:

I wasn't that happy with the Wolves drafting Johnson, but more due to my infatuation with DeMarcus Cousins than any disdain for what Wes showed he could do in college.  Johnson was an efficient scorer at Syracuse, and was highly productive in three areas: passing, rebounding, and shot-blocking, that translate extremely well from the NCAA to the NBA (r^2=0.88, 0.0.83 and 0.93 respectively [2]).  The only real knock on Johnson was his age.  Johnson's "advanced age" is something that depreciates his long-term value, but is not a reason to expect such a poor translation of his collegiate skill-set into the NBA.

Much of Johnson's poor production last season can be explained by how he was used by the Wolves.  At Syracuse, 55% of Johnson's shot attempts were jumpers, while 45% of his attempts came inside.  With the Wolves, 89% of Johnson's shots were jumpers, while only 11%of his attempts came inside.  Johnson went from an inside-outside scoring threat in college to a one-dimensional spot-up shooter int he NBA.  For a guy with superior athleticism, that is simply unacceptable.  Due to this role transformation, Johnson's FTA rate fell from 0.35 in college to 0.14 in the NBA (one of the 10 lowest rates in the league), and his scoring efficiency went from an impressive 60 TS% to a sub-par 49 TS%.

This change in play-style appears to be a combination of Rambis' game-planning and Wes's struggles creating at the 2.  According to Synergy sports (via DX [3]) Johnson went from seeing 16.1% of his possessions on off-ball cuts (highest in NCAA among SFs) to only 4.4% with the Wolves.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Johnson simply does not have the handles to create in isolation against shooting guards.  While Johnson will likely continue to struggle creating in isolation situations against small forwards, he should at least find some match-ups he can take advantage of at the 3.

In addition to hurting his offensive production, having Wesley Johnson camp out at the 3-point line on offense and chase around 2-guards on defense has also taken a heavy toll on his ability to contribute off-ball, something he excelled at in college.  Going into the season I was counting on Wes's impressive rebounding to be his saving grace as an NBA player.  Unfortunately, Rambis's decision to keep Johnson out of the fray on offense has dropped his collegiate offensive rebounding rate of 2.3 per 40 down to only 1 offensive rebound every 40 minutes.  Additionally, defending shooting guards forces Wes out to the perimeter on the other end of the court, limiting his 7.3 defensive rebounds per 40 in college to only 3.7 per 40 in the NBA, and his equally impressive 2.1 collegiate blocks per 40 to only 1 block per 40 with the Wolves. 

Blocking and rebounding are skills that players don't simply lose.  These were the skills that made Johnson a productive college player, and we need to put him in a position to use them in the NBA.

Since Johnson only played  433 minutes at SF last season, we don't have the data needed to objectively estimate the effect moving him from the 2 to the 3 will have on his production.  This makes Wes the most speculative of these three positional adjustments.  However, I am hopeful that a move to the 3, in addition to rethinking his role in the offense, will revitalize Wes' rebounding and blocking abilities and increase his offensive efficiency and production.  We may find after moving Wes that he simply isn't a good player, but we may also find that he needed to change positions more than anyone else on the roster.

Go to the draft express article for a more thorough breakdown of just how different NBA Johnson is from NCAA Johnson.  

 

Conclusion:

Simply moving Wes, Beasley, and Love one spot upcourt allows for a number of beneficial changes to the Timberwolves short and long-term outlook. 

This move will almost certainly improve the production we get out of Michael Beasley, and may even allow Beasley to realize the potential dominance he displayed at Kansas State.  The move may also have a positive effect on the development of Wesley Johnson, and at the very least won't hurt him.  Finally, based on the data we have, this adjustment will only further improve the production we get from our star player Kevin Love. 

In addition to increasing the production we get out of our top players, this move will also help stabilize the roster.  We no longer need to throw big-money at a free agent center.  Instead we can use that money to complete our starting rotation with a productive veteran 2-guard (Iggy anyone?).  Additionally, sliding these three players allows us to plug Anthony Randolph into the game at one of the forward spots if and when Beasley or Wes begin to falter.  Randolph is our most productive and highest upside bench player, but getting him minutes at forward has been difficult with Kevin Love in his way.  In the likely event that Beasley does not warrant the contract he demands in the future, Randolph may make the ideal pairing with Love as the long-term 4/5 duo.

This is a simple cost-less move, that I have little doubt will have a positive effect on next year's record.  It probably will not happen with Rambis on-board given his obsession with emulating the Lakers in form but not in function.  Thankfully, Rambis may not be an issue.  Kahn may be a tough sell as well, but he will likely cave to the wisdom of a quality coach.  I can guarantee Adelman would make this adjustment week 1.  This strategy will not save the team in and of itself, but it is an excellent place to start, and any offseason plan that doesn't start with this adjustment is unlikely to optimize its use of cap space and tradable assets.            

 

1.  82 games (www.82games.com)

2.  Basketball-statistics (http://basketball-statistics.com/howdoncaastatisticstranslatetothenba.html)

3.  Draft Express  (http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Wesley-Johnson-1215/)

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Canis Hoopus

You must be a member of Canis Hoopus to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Canis Hoopus. You should read them.

Join Canis Hoopus

You must be a member of Canis Hoopus to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Canis Hoopus. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9347_tracker