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Q&A with Kevin Pelton

If Daryl Morey is, as Bill Simmons calls him, Dork Elvis, Kevin Pelton is Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley.  From his statistical analysis primer to APBRMetrics Central to the APBR forum to his current work at Basketball Prospectus Kevin is responsible for a fairly large chunk of what has inspired a great deal of content on this site.

After reading some of his work with fellow SB Nation sites Blazer's Edge and Third Quarter Collapse, I thought I'd contact Kevin to see if he could give us any insight on the current state of the Wolves and he was kind enough to provide the following responses:

1- David Kahn has repeatedly cited the defensive potential of Jonny Flynn as being a primary reason for selecting him over Stephen Curry with the 6th pick in the draft.  Unfortunately, Flynn doesn't seem to have a college record that would suggest him becoming a terrific on-the-ball defender in the NBA.  Is there anything on his stat sheet that would indicate development into the type of defensive player that Kahn is talking about?  Are there any historical precedents for a player in a 2-3 zone putting up similar numbers in college before becoming a solid NBA defender?

I glanced at the numbers for a handful of Syracuse players to come into the NBA the last few years, and I don't see a lot of evidence that playing in a zone held back their numbers. Hakim Warrick ended up a better shot-blocker than you would have predicted based on his college statistics, but he and Carmelo Anthony both underachieved a bit in terms of their steal percentage. As far as guys playing at the top of the zone, the best comparison would be Jason Hart, who was a terrific thief in college (averaging better than three steals per game as a junior) and kept that up in the NBA.

These being defensive stats, a lack of them isn't necessarily damning. Amongst guys with similar college defensive numbers, you find a pretty good defender in Delonte West and a stopper in Kirk Hinrich (who did block more shots in college). What those guys had that Flynn doesn't is height and strong defensive reputations in college. It's hard to find much evidence backing up Kahn's optimism about Flynn's potential at the defensive end.

2- The Wolves currently have a massively unbalanced roster with 9 bigs, 4 points, Corey Brewer and Wayne Ellington.  While they appear to be serviceable at the 1 and the 4/5, they are headed towards disaster at the 2/3.  What undrafted free agents or cost-conscious veteran free agents would provide value to the Wolves at the 2/3?

The Timberwolves are already ahead of the game with Paul Harris on their summer-league roster as one of the better wings who went undrafted. As you guys have mentioned, Lee Cummard is another undrafted player who would make sense, and I'd add the Marquette duo of Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews. As for as veteran free agents, there's not a whole lot out there on the wings. It seems like the best Minnesota can hope for is a reclamation project along the lines of Kirk Snyder and Rodney Carney the last couple of years. Unfortunately, that group includes Carney, Rashad McCants and Gerald Green, guys the Timberwolves have already given a shot. Besides them, you're looking at Morris Almond and Luther Head. The chances of finding a real contributor are low, but then so is the cost.

3- Setting aside any opinion on whether David Kahn is serious or not with his desire to play Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn side-by-side, do you think that this is a duo that could work together at the NBA level?

Yeah, I think it could work. With the modern NBA emphasizing speed over size, I think it's possible to get away with a smaller duo like Flynn and Rubio. The bigger question is whether you're maximizing talent, and that's where a Flynn-Rubio duo would fall short. Ultimately, you're keeping one or both of them from exploiting their ability to create with the ball in their hands if you play them together. That's why people have rightfully criticized the Wolves.

4- One of the biggest arguments against the selection of Jonny Flynn with the 6th pick is that the Wolves left each and every single non-Harden/Evans shooting guard/wing on the board while taking a second point guard.  The team then picked up Wayne Ellington at 28 instead of taking players like Jermaine Taylor, Marcus Thornton or Jodie Meeks.  Did the Wolves get good value at 28 with Ellington?  Was there any shooting guard/wing worth taking at 6 instead of Flynn?

Given the Timberwolves' need for a shooter, I think Ellington was about as good of a value as they could have gotten at 28. I'm not a huge fan of any of the other shooting guards who went early in the second round, and the available small forwards other than maybe Chase Budinger were more 3/4 types, not guys who would space the floor.

I didn't love the wings on the board at pick six either, unless you count Stephen Curry in that group (and even Curry I felt was somewhat overrated). Neither Demar DeRozan nor Gerald Henderson put up strong numbers at the NCAA level, and anyone else would have been a reach. If the Minnesota front office didn't want to take a chance on DeRozan making good on his potential, I don't think you can blame them for that.


Thanks again to Kevin Pelton for taking the time to answer a few questions.  We encourage our readers to make Basketball Prospectus (especially the Unfiltered blog) a daily stop.