Pray for Payne

USA TODAY Sports

The Wolves have a number of directions they can start to plot as firm offers for Kevin Love start to take shape. Some are ok. Some really aren't. And the man in charge isn't helping.

Winter the draft is coming.

No.

Winter the draft is coming. That's actually looking more accurate.

With the draft just a week away, we're starting to get firm details about who's offering what for Love. While pieces are always moving, and nothing's done until it's done, the types of deals that are emerging...and the types that Flip Saunders is gravitating towards....says a lot about not only the team's immediate plans for the next week, but for the next year and about the mindset in general. And well...

The Bulls have decided to focus on Carmelo Anthony, mainly because they won't have to give up Mirotic, Gibson or Jimmy Butler to get him. I guess I can understand that.

There's a debate to be had whether the Wolves should hang on to Love past the draft and see if Chicago strikes out on Melo and circles back. Their offer would be centered on Mirotic and Gibson/Boozer, so they can field arguably the best offer even without this year's picks. Something to think about.

In the meantime:

Celtics

What the deal might be: Kevin Love for Kelly Olynyk, Brandon Bass, Keith Bogans, and the #6 pick

This deal changed a bit from the last time I pitched the Cs, mainly because it's kind of pointless to ask both both Olynyk AND Sullinger (not from a value standpoint, but in terms of salary cap and what would we even do with them) and it was pointed out to me that Bogans' deal is unguaranteed, meaning he can be immediately waived outright at no cost, rather than sitting on the end of the bench for a year.

But other than that, the core remains the same here. I definitely prefer Olynyk to Sullinger given a choice between them: Sully is limited physically and dimensionally, and seems injury prone. Kelly's greater range and versatility gives him a higher ceiling and more flexibility with what kind of lineups he's used in.

And of course, the prize here is that 6th pick, which has to be Aaron Gordon. The more I've thought about it, the more I think there will be a significant gap between him and Vonleh in the end. They already rate out nearly identical (albeit with different focuses) and Gordon just has an exponentially larger set of tools to work with.

This is still my favorite deal. Which of course means it's Flip's least favorite. Because of I'll explain later.

What direction the Wolves could/should take with the Celtics deal:

This is blessedly straightforward. Take the Celtics deal.

If Aaron Gordon is there at #6, take Aaron Gordon, then go for a wing at #13

If Gordon isn't there at #6, either take Vonleh and a wing at #13, or Smart at #6 and then Adreian Payne at #13

But it sounds like with Embiid's injury, Dante Exum is moving up the board, which all but guarantees Gordon will be there at #6. So yeah. Do that.

Nuggets

What the deal might be: Kevin Love for Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, and Aaron Afflalo

Can't blame the Nuggets for wanting in on the bidding, but this deal is all sorts of bad.

Start with not getting the Nuggets' #11 pick (probably because it's going to Orlando to get Afflalo) That means there's no forward motion in this deal: what you see is what you get, and what you get is pretty meh.

Also interesting, the Nuggets offered Chandler instead of Danilo Gallinari. Hard to say if that's good or bad. Gallo's a much better player. But he's also hurt a lot. But can be a dynamic game changer, which Chandler most definitely cannot. But he's a lot more expensive. But...


At his best, Aaron Afflalo was league average and a fringe all star in the east this year, and that's likely his ceiling. Faried is hyper competitive (ironically, he's one of the two guys who consistently gets the best of Love in their matchups) and can be really good in a fast, free system. But he's not tremendously skilled and is never going to carry the scoring load or be a lock down defender, so progressing beyond a great blue-collar workman seems unlikely for him. Chandler is kind of just....there.

I mean, if you really want to go this direction, just stockpile picks. Take Lavine, Hood and Mitch McGary. You'll get pretty much the exact same thing at like, 1/10,000th the cost.

At best, this deal gets us to right where we are right now: battling for a 7th or 8th playoff seed with no way to improve the odds. At worst, Faried and Afflalo are insanely expensive to retain, meaning we battle for an 8th seed for eternity. Or they both just leave, in which case we flat out suck.

The only way to make this deal even halfway likeable is to find a way to get that #11 pick with it. But the fact Flip would even entertain this in any form is what's more ominous.

What direction the Wolves could/should take with the Nuggets deal:

Don't do this deal. The end.

(but if you have to do it, take Payne at #13. The Wolves will utterly lack dynamic star power in this scenario. Payne is the available guy most likely to change that)

Warriors

What the deal might be: Kevin Love for Klay Thompson, David Lee, future first round pick

(possibly could send out Kevin Martin, JJ Barea, #13 pick; acquire Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green)

First of all, anyone who didn't think this was going to happen eventually needs their head examined (that probably includes Flip....) Thompson is heading into restricted free agency in a year and is overrated enough to command a big salary. The Warriors are already paying a fortune to Curry, Iggy, and Bogut. Those three plus Love at a maximum salary would equal $60 mil in contracts. Unless Joe Lacob can afford Mikhail Prokhorov's lifestyle, they literally would have no way to keep Thompson if he was offered more than $4 mil/year. Which is like, what he already makes. One a rookie contract.

So make no mistake: the Warriors were always going to include Klay eventually, and Team Thompson was always going to accept that because it's the only way Klay can cash in.

So now that it's happened, we can really discuss Klay Thompson as a player. I have a feeling some of you are going to be remarkably disappointed.

For starters, Klay is not improving as a player.

PER TS% eFG% FTr Reb% Assist% Steals% WS/48
2011 - 2012 14.9 .545 .520 .127 5.7 14.2 1.6 .050
2012 - 2013 12.7 .533 .509 .130 5.7 10.1 1.5 .070
2013 - 2014 14.3 .555 .533 .147 4.7 10.2 1.3 .112

Thompson is basically the same player now that he was his rookie year. In fact, his base shooting percentages (44%, 41% from three) for his first year and last year are exactly identical Klay_medium
.At 23 years old and with 3 years of NBA play behind him, it's extremely unlikely Klay will become a markedly better player at this point. He is who he is. He shoots, and that's it. He does not rebound. He barely facilitates. He almost never gets to the free throw line. Even if he were to dramatically improve on that, it would only get him to a somewhat average level.

PER TS% eFG% FT rate Reb% Assist% Steals% WS/48
Jamal Crawford 17.3 .556 .496 .318 4.2 17.4 1.4 .122
JR Smith 14.0 .527 .514 .145 7.2 15.1 1.4 .073
Mike Dunleavy 12.6 .549 .510 .212 7.6 12.3 1.3 .121
Klay Thompson 14.3 .555 .533 .147 4.7 10.2 1.3 .112
Randy Foye 13.3 .558 .521 .211 5.0 17.7 1.3 .089
Courtney Lee 13.8 .574 .539 .182 5.6 9.3 1.7 .114
Nick Young 16.0 .564 .511 .321 4.9 9.0 1.2 .067
Josh McRoberts 13.8 .548 .529 .150 8.9 21.9 1.3 .132

Let's start with the fact Klay's assist rate is dramatically lower than Jamal Crawford and JR Smith. If that's not setting off red flags, I don't know what will. Add in his terrible rebounding rate...I mean frick, 6'3" Randy Foye grabs more boards than Klay.

But what really kills Thompson is his below-basement free throw rate. Even among pure shooters, a .147 mark is terrible. Kyle Korver, Chase Budinger, Anthony Morrow all get to the line more consistently. Derek Fisher posted a higher free throw rate (RED FLAG #2)

Now, let's compare Klay to the player people seem to think he is:

PER TS% eFG% FTr Reb% Assists% Steals% WS/48
Reggie Miller 18.4 .614 .544 .402 5.1 14.4 1.6 .176
Ray Allen 18.6 .580 .530 .260 6.8 16.5 1.7 .150
Peja Stojakovic 17.1 .577 .532 .233 7.8 8.6 1.4 .147
Danny Green 13.9 .580 .562 .144 7.8 8.9 2.0 .122
Kyle Korver 13.5 .653 .626 .154 6.8 13.3 1.5 .118
Klay Thompson 14.3 .555 .533 .147 4.7 10.2 1.3 .112

Klay can't even get to Green or Korver's level, much less get anywhere close to Peja, Miller Time, or Jesus Shuttlesworth.

I mean, that's what's really being advocated here. Trading Kevin Love..a top 10 NBA player who rates out in between Durant and Griffin....for a guy who's somewhere in the range of Korver, McBoberts and Swaggy P.

Really. REALLY? REALLY????

This is why this deal is awful. The Warriors don't have a lottery pick to offer, so they're trying to sell Thompson as a lottery level player when he grades out below a guy who was called up from the DLeague. David Lee is a short term salary burden and a long term goner, and the possibility of adding Harrison Barnes is awful because Harrison Barnes is awful. Which means of all the possibilities that could come out of a Warriors deal, the best player the Wolves might actually get is former second round pick Draymond Green.

But, since this could very well be a reality....

What direction the Wolves could/should take with a Warriors deal:

First of all, DO NOT TRADE THE #13 PICK.

The Wolves are in desperate need of productive wing players at minimal cost. The draft is by far the best place to grab them. The #13 pick not only gets you a shot at a superior prospect...Gary Harris, Dario Saric....but also a guy who can probably be Klay Thompson at 1/5th what Klay will ultimately cost. I mean, if you want a guy who shoots while not rebounding, facilitating, or getting to the free throw line, then oh boy, Rodney Hood is the draft pick for you.

Beyond that, the Wolves will need two things in this situation: reliable bench players and a replacement power forward. For that, I recommend the Michigan State duo -- Gary Harris and Adreian Payne.

Several teams have already stated they will not be keeping all of their picks, so moving a mid-level contract (Brewer, Chase, etc) for a pick in the 18-24 range to grab Payne shouldn't be hard. Should Harris go before 13, then take Payne with that pick, and grab a second one to select a Jordan Adams or Kyle Anderson or gamble on Zach Lavine. But you get the general idea: Payne + a solid wing.

Now, I've dropped Adreian Payne's name a lot in this bit. Time to explain.

Last time we looked at draft prospects, we looked at wings only because we believed the team was keeping Love. That no longer appears to be the case, so we now have some extra ground to cover at the power forward spot. Unfortunately most of the 4s in the draft...Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle....will almost certainly be off the board by 13. That leaves basically Payne or Clint Capella as your options for a power forward in the later half of the first round.

Unfortunately Montrezl Harrell's decision to return to Louisville will suck for the Wolves after all. Harrell turned himself into a great prospect this year, scoring extremely well (61% shooting) while rebounding, moving the ball, and getting after it on defense. His age makes him less appealing then a Gordon or Vonleh, but his game is right there with them. Had he declared, he'd be the easy pick here.

Without him though, Payne becomes the prize. Capella's got a great mix of size, quickness and defensive potential, but to me, Payne's combination of skill, versatility, range and sheer athleticism trumps it.

Payne's skillset is weird/awesome. Like, to the extent that Love's is weird/awesome. He grabbed 225 rebounds and made 44 threes last year. For perspective, Vonleh...who's the one getting all the attention for being a shooting big...grabbed 270 rebounds but only attempted...not made, just attempted....33 three. If you were to crudely translate Payne's totals into an NBA season, that's 600 rebounds and 116 made threes...less than Love's peak, but very close to Dirk's career per-season averages.

Payne also adds in a strong low post game, and a few tricks even Loves doesn't have: shot blocking, the ability to face up and create off the dribble, and hops that could win a dunk contest.

Now I'm not saying Payne is Kevin Love, or that he'll ever be as good as Kevin Love. But you have to really consider the possibilities with him. The guy is a 6'9" 250 lbs behemoth with a 7'4" wingspan and the quickness and handles of a wing. He can post like Boozer and shoot out to Steve Novak range, while at the same time bullying to the rim like MettArtest World Peace Violence and finishing like Amare when he gets there...that's crazy intriguing, and the profile of a guy who would absolutely annihilate teams in a Ricky Rubio pick-and-roll set. We all saw what the pick-and-Rubio could accomplish with Ronny Turiaf. Now think of that with Ronny shooting threes like Love.

Payne_medium

Also, Payne is just a lot of fun. Which is a very unscientific reason to pick someone (smiles, oh noez!) but you know what? After going from Kevin Garnett to Kevin Love, I am genuinely ready to watch someone who roars up a storm on the court. One of the saddest moments this year was Ronny Turiaf punching one in over Roy Hibbert to dead silence from the crowd. They were just so unengaged, even when we were beating the best team in the east without Love playing. Get me a guy who will get the Target Center screaming again.

Now, for those of you who are curious, the reason Payne isn't being talked about as a top 10 pick like the other 4s this year is because he's a 5 year senior. He's 23 years old, versus say, Aaron Gordon being 18. But in Payne's case, I'm not sure that matter much. For him, I think the age is less of a cap on his potential (like a Tyler Hansbrough) and more of statement that he's NBA ready (like Corgi Dieng) Every year, Payne steadily improved as a player, getting more minutes, more touches, and adding new dimensions to his game...turning himself from a bad player into a good one:

Minutes/game Points/game FGM - FGA 3ptM - 3ptA FTM - FTA Rebounds Assists
2010 - 2011 9.0 2.5 1.0 - 2.1 (47%) 0.0 - 0.0 (0%) 0.5 - 1.0 (50%) 2.4 0.1
2011 - 2012 17.9 7.0 2.6 - 4.7 (56%) 0.0 - 0.1 (0%) 1.7 - 2.4 (70%) 4.3 0.3
2012 - 2013 25.6 10.5 3.8 - 7.0 (55%) 0.4 - 1.2 (38%) 2.5 - 2.9 (85%) 7.6 0.8
2013 - 2014 28.1 16.4 5.7 - 11.4 (51%) 1.4 - 3.4 (42%) 3.5 - 4.5 (79%) 7.3 1.3

The Hansbrough profile is one of a player who was capped out by his second year in college and just spun his statistical wheels after that. That's usually how 4 year players works, and why age is deemed such a critical factor in the draft process. Psycho T was a 20-8 player his sophomore year....and never progressed past that. With his limited stature and athleticism and no dynamic talent to bank on, you already knew he was destined for good role player status in the NBA. He plateaued 2 years before he was drafted.

The difference with Payne is, here's a guy who's profile suggests he's just started to scratch the surface. Massive, dramatic improvement year to year that's left open ended, making it not unlikely there's still more mountain for him to climb. It's not unthinkable to believe he's just as good as a Gordon or Vonleh, it just took a little more time for him to get there. I'm cool with that.

If you're going to be on a career trajectory, then that's the kind of trajectory you want. In fact, Payne's college arc is not unlike Love's professional arc, starting off with limited minutes, limited output, and limited dimensions. Then he starts taking shots. Then he starts taking threes. Then he starts making threes. Then he starts taking a lot of threes. And suddenly he's got tremendous output and a crazy amount of dimension to his game.


I still wouldn't pick him over Aaron Gordon, and probably not over Vonleh either. But I'd strongly debate taking him instead of the two dimensional Julius Randle, and might take him with the #13 pick, even if it's our only pick, as well. Unless we're taking the Celtics deal and grabbing Gordon with the #6 pick, we're going to need a new power forward, and at 13 or below I don't think there's any debate who that should be.

Now, in a more general sense, I think what this all shows us is two important aspects of Coachident Saunders:

  1. He wants to win now, to the point that he'll forego planning for the future to make it happen
  2. He has no idea what analytics are

Golden State and Denver: two deals....reportedly favored by Saunders...that do not have draft picks coming back this year. None. In a historically deep draft. Somehow Flip has decided he'd rather roll with the mediocrity of Klay Thompson and Aaron Afflalo than the star potential of Aaron Gordon or Marcus Smart.

Also, his strange bent tips his hand on his lack of analytical evaluation, in all aspects. He clearly doesn't realize how bad Klay really is. He'll hold out for Harrison Barnes but not for Draymond Green. He'll actively entertain Faried + Afflalo, but claim Aaron Gordon + Kelly Olynyk isn't enough.

Add to that the weird vibe from the draft rumors: Andrew Wiggins? James Young? Julius Randle? Rodney Hood?

EWP HUM Statistical Comp
Joel Embiid 14.8 16.1 Patrick Ewing
Jabari Parker 11 12.5 Terrence Jones
Andrew Wiggins 8 12.6 Julius Hodge
Aaron Gordon 11.4 10.3 Terry Cummings
Noah Vonleh 11.1 10.9 Clarence Weatherspoon
Julius Randle 7.6 9.9 Leon Powe
Kyle Anderson 14.2 9.3 Luke Walton
Gary Harris 7.4 8.1 Voshon Leonard
Rodney Hood 1.8 2.0 Desmon Farmer

It'd be a Flippantly Timberwolvesian thing to have a choice of Gordon, Vonleh and Randle and choose Randle. Embiid, Parker and Wiggins and choose Wiggins. Harris, Anderson and Hood and choose Hood.  Embiid draws statistical comparisons to Ewing, Hakeem and Barkley, but you're going to choose Marvin Williams instead. Just like Atlanta picked the actual Marvin Williams instead of Chris Paul. Ok then.

Flip_medium

The Wolves are in this mess because David Kahn couldn't evaluate players. He picked Jonny Flynn instead of Steph Curry, and that alone set this franchise back 10 years. Curry spent an extra year at Davidson, doubling his assist rate while lowering his turnovers, but clearly he wasn't cut out to be a point guard. Except for now when he's debated among Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Tony Parker.

If Flip is going to follow his eyes and a narrative instead of measurements and data, then we risk another round of Flynn's and Wes Johnson's, and that's terrifying. Especially when you consider he's also the coach. He's looking at something other than numbers when he's evaluating talent, which means a statistically productive player will have to also fit a much narrower, non-statistical gap to get his attention.

This is where Adreian Payne becomes the unicorn. A four year college athlete with an NBA ready frame and game, and dynamic physical ability. He has the forward potential you need to get in a sans-Love society, but is established enough to still appeal to Flip's "win now" quest. He screwed up picking Muhammad, even if Bazz manages to be useful. He struck gold with Dieng, but it wasn't because of any analytics. NBA ready, NCAA champion, etc etc.

I also think Flip sees a lot of Garnett's caginess and fire in Payne, which he's going to like. Payne's already worked out here, and by all account things went extremely well. He's on the radar. Considering what angle Saunders is coming at this from, Adreian Payne might be the only hope for the Love saga to end well.

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