OK, I want each and every one of you to close your eyes and think back to last season. The Wolves are playing the Atlanta Hawks and Mike Bibby is bringing the ball up the floor. As he crosses the mid-court line he begins to angle to the left just as Al Horford pushes off from the low block and moves towards the right wing. At this point it becomes obvious to everyone in the entire building that the Hawks are going to run a screen-and-roll with Bibby and Horford. One would think that Horford's guardian, Big Al Jefferson, would be preparing himself to hedge on the screen or to pass off coverage in a switch or to even jump the whole damn thing in a trap with a relatively slow point guard like Bibby initiating the action. One would be thinking incorrectly.
Instead of any of these three options, we Wolves fans are all too aware of what happens next: Big Al meanders out in the general direction of the screen and flaps his arms in the direction of Horford as the big fella makes a dramatic cut to the basket the second he sees Big Al lollygagging out towards what would have been the point of attack.
Repeat this sort of ineptitude a couple hundred times throughout the season. Rinse. Repeat again.
Folks, there are no two ways about it: last season, the Wolves' front court displayed some of the most atrocious pick-and-roll defense I have ever witnessed. Between general indifference (Jefferson), rookie inexperience (Kevin Love), and role-playing levels of non-excellence (Mark Madsen + Brian Cardinal) the Wolves 100%, absolutely, completely, and terminally lacked a big man who could properly switch, hedge, or jump a pick-and-roll...which, funny, just happens to be the single most important play that makes the NBA go 'round.
Enter Mr. Ryan Hollins.
Do not get me wrong. Hollins is not the be-all/end-all of defensive pick-and-roll prowess. What he is is the only player on the Wolves' roster who a) has size and b) can move well enough to be an effective defensive big on the pick-and-roll. I think Love is a smart and savvy enough player to eventually master this sort of thing but Hollins gives the Wolves a 7-footer who can provide...ummm...what's the word (we Wolves fans haven't seen this sort of thing in quite a while)...defensive flexibility, albeit in short stretches and with something of a negative pull on the offensive end of the court.
Hollins is a remarkably agile big man. He can handle switches, hedges, and jumping the point of attack for a trap with enough athletic juice to recover to his proper spot in the lane. Again, I'll remind our readers that we're talking about a backup big who will be the 3rd or 4th front court player on the roster, but this is a skill that is foreign to the current roster. Hollins may not be the best athletic defensive big; he may foul a ton and rely on overly-aggressive plays on the ball, but the simple fact remains that he is the only forward or center on the current roster who can show on a screen and make his way back into position strictly on the basis of his physical gifts. This is a big thing. KG was the last player who was able to perform this sort of task with a Minnesota across his chest, and no, I'm not comparing the two players; rather, I'm simply saying that Hollins is athletic enough to do something no other big on the roster can do and that, by itself, means something.
Beyond physicality, there are some things that stand out about Hollins' defensive game:
(via the always-excellent Basketball Prospectus)
First of all, let us clearly state that we are dealing with Small Sample Size Theater (Brian Cardinal factored in about 290 more possessions than the Wolves' newest big). Secondly, the thing that most stands out about Hollins (in his very limited court time) is that he holds his opponents to production well below what they normally put up (dMULT). The kicker is that he plays against competition that is significantly less than NBA average (dQUAL). Let's take a quick look at his on/off numbers (via the wonderful 82Games.com)
Many stats are shown on a 'per 48 minute' basis
Here are his numbers from Charlotte:
Many stats are shown on a 'per 48 minute' basis
Please keep in mind that Hollins is a 10 mpg backup (and that we're talking about less than 500 minutes of floor time), but what we can see here is that he is a better performer on defense than he is on offense. This general sentiment is also played out in his adj +/-. As always, the kicker with +/- and on/off stats for guys like Hollins is that they often log minutes without all of the team's best players surrounding them. Does that mean something for the Wolves? We'll have to wait and see.
The bottom line with Hollins the defender is that he is an incredibly athletic and agile big who has the potential to defend the pick-and-roll, get back into position, trap, and provide some weak-side shot blocking help. He brings a skill set to the Wolves that simply did not exist on the roster before his acquisition. Love and Big Al are not athletic dynamos and they will never be able to do the things that Hollins is naturally capable of. That being said, we're still talking about a guy who will likely play under 20 mpg (my guess is 13-17 mpg) and who will put up most of his numbers against non-starting 5-man rotations. If Hollins can maintain his dMULT numbers, and if he can perform at or slightly above replacement-level, the Wolves will have made a fairly savvy move.
While this is cliche on several levels, at the end of the day, Hollins' performance will be measured by how much he hustles. There is no pressure on this guy to not foul. There is no pressure on this guy to make big shots. All he has to do is go out there and go 150 mph. I really don't know if this is his type of personality (it could be judging by what we saw in the playoffs) but he is going to be placed in a position where an up-tempo athletic game such as his should be rewarded on both ends of the court. If he can use his athleticism to be an effective defender on the p-n-r with Love or Big Al, he will immediately have found a good home, as both of these guys need the things that Hollins brings to the table.
All in all I'm pretty happy with this signing. While Hollins seems to be a fairly awful 1/2 court offensive player he does have some interesting potential when it comes to transition play and defense. In terms of improvement, he looks like he could bulk up a bit, hit the boards with more aggressiveness, and avoid as many jump shots as possible. Running, dunking, defending, and crashing the boards should be this guy's MO from day one. As for his contractual worth, frequent poster McCleak put it nicely in a recent comment thread with this little ditty:
Hollins had a Win Score last year of 1.0. If you look at centers with a WS between 0.5-1.5 (DeSagana Diop, Theo Ratliff, Aaron Gray, DeAndre Jordan, Kosta Koufos, Jamaal Magloire, Robin Lopez, Hollins, Spencer Hawes, Robert Swift, and Olekisy Pecherov)*, you see that they earned $19,420,831 last season, for an average of $1,618,402.58 per player. So it’s more than the average contract for a center of his caliber last season. However, if you limit it to people who have signed second contracts (Diop, Ratliff, Magloire), than you see a contract total of $7,180,162 or $2,393,387.33 per player. And that’s almost exactly what Hollins received.
The guy is being paid at (or very near to) market value and he has some potential within the style of ball the Wolves hope to play as well as the roster they are shaping up to have. For me, the biggest thing about this deal is that Hollins represents a player that a) cost the Wolves' front office a considerable amount of scouting and research and b) is about as far away from a McHale-type signing as could be imagined. This is a guy you take a swing on only after a significant amount of research and you do so to have him play in a fairly specific role. That has to be worth something by itself, right? It sure as hell beats Mark Blount. Would Kevin McHale have even known about Hollins? Did UCLA play an NCAA game at the Dome during Hollins' time in Westwood?
What say you ?