This year things got real.
Much, much more below the fold.
At the end of the 2010/11 season, things weren't looking so hot:
Over the course of the 2010/11 season the Wolves managed to find themselves looking upwards at a team that rattled off the worst losing streak in league history. They won a total of 4 games against teams with a winning record (4-44, .083), with two of them coming against a team they inexplicably match up well against, the Hornets. They were 1-15 in their own division and 7-44 against the Western Conference.
In two-possession games, Minny finished the season with a 4-20 record, good for worst in the league by a wide margin.
Over the course of the Rambis/Kahn reign of error, the Wolves have won a total of 4 division games with only 1 coming against a team not named Utah. Rambis and Kahn are 0-San Antonio, 0-Lakers, 0-OKC, 0-Portland, 1-6 against Dallas, 1-7 against Denver, 1-7 against Memphis, and 2-5 against NOLA. Those are your Western Conference playoff teams.
The Wolves are now 19-89 (.180) with Darko Milicic on the roster.
Kurt Rambis is now only the 3rd coach in NBA history to have consecutive sub-20 win seasons. The other two are Tim Floyd and Ron Rothstein.
Last year's season review was filled with things like "they are a world-class comedic organization" and "David Kahn is a super star of cringe-inducing Office-esque proportions." Their top sins were defined thusly:
1- The inexplicable failure to throw the majority of their resources into creating and maintaining a state-of-the-art draft operation.
2- The obsession with "best possible outcome" > "most likely outcome", especially in regard to physical appearances and post-season performances.
3- Glen Taylor is a terrible owner.
In light of these overwhelming and obvious structural flaws, David Kahn did his best to paint the situation as an organization on the rise with the following claims:
1- This franchise is in better shape now than when I got here/we’re more talented now than we were back then.
2- The roster is mostly complete.
3- The team is improving.
4- Defense is the real problem.
Has the team done anything to address the three main structural issues that plague its existence? Did the POBO's four claims ring true?
Let's take a stroll through how the 2011/12 team came together:
- Derrick Williams, 2nd pick of the 2011 NBA Draft
- Donatas Motiejunas, 20th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft
- Traded Donatas Motiejunas, Jonny Flynn, and a future 2nd round draft pick to the Houston Rockets for Brad Miller, Nikola Mirotic, Chandler Parsons and a future 1st round draft pick (ED NOTE: This may be the best trade David Kahn ever made. Had he stopped here...)
- Traded Nikola Mirotic to the Chicago Bulls for Norris Cole, Malcolm Lee, and cash.
- Traded Norris Cole, cash, and a future 2nd round draft pick to the Miami Heat for Bojan Bogdanovic.
- Traded Bohan Bogdanovic to the New Jersey Nets for cash and a future 2nd round draft pick.
- Traded Chandler Parsons to the Houston Rockets for cash.
The remainder of the off-season:
- Traded a future 2nd round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for Tanguy Ngombo (June 27)
- Exercised team options on Wayne Ellington, Lazar Hayward, and Wes Johnson (June 29)
- Fired Kurt Rambis (July 12)
- Hired Rick Adelman (Sept 28)
- Traded Lazar Hayward to the Thunder for 2 conditional 2nd round picks (Dec 13)
- Signed J.J. Barea (Dec 14)
Significant fine-tuning appears to be an off-season pursuit.
Anywho, these are the moves that got us from the 2010/11 Wolves to the 2011/12 edition. How did they play when they got there?
How did this differ from the last year of Rambis?
The team certainly has found 3 of its starting 5. Beyond that, JJ Barea will be a nice backup point, Martel Webster has shown signs of being a decent backup on the wing, and Luke Ridnour is a nice backup point, as well.
Let's take a look at how each player played, in order of quality of performance.
- Album: Crooked Rain/Crooked Rain, by Pavement- Not as obscenely unique as its debut star-making season but more classically oriented in its overall presentation. Almost accessible to fans who expect something more than a banana sandwich.
- Cloud on the horizon: 60, 73, 55. These are the number of games that Kevin Love has played in his last 3 seasons. Large chunks of missed action is becoming something of a trend.
- Major zeros: Ast (9), Stl (21), Blk (36)
- Biggest improvement: Nearly 6 point increase in USG% combined with him maintaining above average TS and PPS. Hooray 3 pointers and free throws!
- Biggest drop-off: His rebounding% dropped below 20% for the first time in his career.
- In a nutshell: Kevin Love is an evolutionary stretch four who is effectively unguardable within the gaps of an offense by dominating his opponents from the 3, at the line, and on the glass. Next step: one more crazy Wowee Zowee individual performance before mellowing into his team with Brighten the Corners.
- Album: I See a Darkness, Bonnie "Prince" BIlly. So dark. So all consuming. No-light. Destroyer not of earth, but of inner worlds. This type of heaviness does not require stacks of Marshall amps. It simply Is on its own.
- Cloud on the horizon: Big man with a foot injury.
- Major zeros: Fouls (6!!!), TO (8), Dreb (3)
- Biggest improvement/biggest drop off (Pek does things all at once): He went from 7.3 pf36 to 2.8. That's insane and it allowed him and his gigantic TS% to stay on the court. PEK SMASH WITHOUT FOULING!!!
- In a nutshell: Pek learned how to play without fouling and immediately transfered what was good about his game in the EuroLeague to something good in the NBA. He was a dominant force overseas and with his performance this year he left little doubt that he can be a dominant force here in the US. Do. Not. Trade. An absolute gift of a player to a franchise that needed it. Next step: Closer, by Joy Division. If he can take his dark game and expand it...well, cavernous possibilities await. If he can't, he's still got enough top-shelf basics to kill the live show.
- Album: Soft Bulletin, by the Flaming Lips. The type of thing you need headphones to really appreciate at its highest levels. There are little things happening in both channels that you really need to pay attention to in order to know they're there...but they are. They make the masterpiece. They make us stand up and say yeah.
- Cloud on the horizon: A game that was built on surprising speed and agility + a bum knee. Also, the shooting. Oi, the shooting.
- Major zeros: Ricky doesn't believe in zeros.
- Biggest improvement/biggest drop off: TBD/Rookie.
- In a nutshell: Ricky is the straw that stirs the drink. He's not the main ingredient, rather the most important. Think of him like the perfect amount of salt on a 2 inch porterhouse. No one in their right mind would argue that he's the best part of the meal, but you can't do it without him. He's a burr grinder compared to a metal one. He's a tube amp vs a solid state. He does it right while you do it wrong. The ultimate hipster player to be conceived by science with reasons hidden just enough to make him viable for acceptable broader appeal. Next step, battling pink robots.
- Album: Ill Communication, by the Beastie Boys. You want to think, believe, and hope that this album is greater than it really is. You have a vague sense in your head that it was SIMPLY AWESOME at some point in (whenever) and...(putting it back on rotation)...hey, it gets the job done and there are a few nice beats. That's worth something, right?
- Cloud on the horizon: Still the starting 2-guard until further notice.
- Major zeros: TO (7), reb (5), FTA (13)
- Biggest improvement/biggest drop off: Luke really cut down on his turnovers, going from 17.6% to 13.7%.
- In a nutshell: Luke gamed it out through some bumps and bruises before finally going down to a really nasty ankle injury just after Love was concussed out of action. He tailed off here and there and his overall body of work is nothing to write home about, but this year's workman like effort firmly established him in the group of players that JJ wasn't talking about. Luke can continue to contribute to this team going forward (although the second they get a real 2 guard, either he or JJ become a tad expendable). Next step: Avoiding Hello Nasty.
- Album: Prairie Wind, by Neil Young. "This should be kind of good." You close your eyes and think of what Martell should be like. (Pauses) "I paid money to see this guy back in the day and boy could he really shoot it when he got the chance." Confusion sets in. The memories gloss over the bad things as if they never existed. "I'll put this one up on the shelf in the classics section." No, that doesn't work. It's not a greatest hit. It's not even a good approximation of the days when he was with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Portland. Although, it is kind of catchy when you listen to it at the right time and don't expect it to be Harvest Moon...which, it turns out, was actually performed by Kobe Bryant.
- Cloud on the horizon: Next season's hair cut. Also, the contract situation--will he have his team option declined?
- Biggest improvement/biggest drop off: Grooming.
- In a nutshell: Don't look now but Martell ended up providing the team with (gasp) competent wing play for decent stretches of action. He's probably not the guy you want starting at the 2/3 (he share's Wes's Lackofdribbleitis) or to be paying $4+ mil a year to, but he's all the team has at this point and if they do manage to find a good starting 2 or 3, he'd make a nice backup. Well, he'd make a decent overpaid backup. Next step: Becoming M Ward.
- Album: Complete Discography, by Minor Threat. It is what it is, folks. It's not a two-way threat, it's not going to suddenly add a few more chords, and it's going to be fast. Also, small man, big mouth. Annoying, awesome, muddled, huge highs, terrible lows, and will, at times, make you see red.
- Cloud on the horizon: Andrew Bynum is still in the league.
- Biggest improvement/biggest drop off: Number of championship rings.
- In a nutshell: Forced into a role he never should have to play, Barea showed that he's exactly the type of person this team needs 20-25 mpg at the backup point/2 guard. Next step: backing up the starting 2 guard.
- Album: Lifted, or The Story is in the Soil, or Keep Your Ear to the Ground, by Bright Eyes. Did you see him do that one thing that was awesome!? Man, if he could just build on that, he'd be something. Not Dylan or anything...or not even Gram Parsons, but he'd be passable with Emmylou one day, right? He can dribble and defend and he's probably the most athletic guy on the team. This guy could put it together and be something you keep on your iPod.
- Cloud on the horizon: Irrational optimism/exuberance unmet.
- In a nutshell: Probably seems a bit better than he really is because he can do things that the other Wolves wing players cannot: actually defend and dribble the ball. Clearly is the type of player the team desperately needs. Whether or not he can match that POTENTIAL! with actual production is another matter. Next step: Not becoming David Dondero (who he may have ripped off in the first place, but that's another story--the best "borrow").
- Album: Funstyle, by Liz Phair. Not quite the epic awfulness of Liz Phair (the album), but still a product of an out of place artist who has greatness in him but for one reason or the other can't get it out of the cage.
- Cloud on the horizon: Heading down the Funstyle road while ignoring Exile in Guyville. He. Is. Not. A. Small. Forward. What makes him valuable isn't enrolling in the Kevin Love Super Yoga fitness program and trying to dribble better; it's being a stretch 4 who can rebound, get to the line, and hit the 3...you know, like the other guy on the team.
- In a nutshell: This has been a tough thing to watch. Derrick Williams was obviously (and comically) a stretch four last year at Arizona, before the draft, during the draft, after the draft, and throughout the season. The Timberwolves, a team with the best stretch 4 in the league (and possibly in the past 20 years) decided that it would be a good idea not only to draft him, but to keep him. I don't know what else to say about Williams. He has tons of talent and could be a very nice stretch 4 on another team. He's not a 3. His value drops by the second. The Wolves need to move him while they still can. Next step: Being moved for either Brad Beal, Jo-Val, Biyombo, or some other player who can actually see 30 mpg of court time at a position they're good at.
- Album: Ringworm, by Van Morrison.
- Cloud on the horizon: The horizon is a cloud.
- Major zeros: Points (8), Turnovers (27!), FTA (47), FGM (9)
- Biggest improvement/biggest drop off: He got worse. It's amazing, but he got worse. Picking one thing, his TS went from .491 to .473. He's about to turn 25 and is due over $4 mil next year.
- In a nutshell: Wes just doesn't have it, whatever it is.
- Album: "I Can't Believe He Extended Him", by Wolves fans.
- Cloud on the horizon: Extendonimbus Unbelievus
- In a nutshell: David Kahn gave Wayne Ellington a team option. That happened. It could happen again.
- Michael Beasley: Beas, we will miss you. An $8 mil+ qualifying offer is a bit too much to swallow and if you can ever wrap your head around being a high-energy defensive/rebounding backup 3 for a minimimumish salary, you'd be a favorite...on the court. As it stands, you're an off-court favorite who gets a bad wrap for being a drag when you're just a goofball. Viva los goofballs and adios. Hopefully we'll meet again.
- Anthony Randolph: Wes Johnson's missing-something bit + actual Aplus production littered throughout his time on the court. Randolph isn't a hawk-eye butterfly. He has the ability to be an actual raptor. Getting him to do that on a consistent basis is the problem. Imagine him with a unibrow and you basically have the physical profile of Anthony Davis. Sadly for the Wolves, whatever it is, he's missing it.
- Anthony Tolliver: The best Creighton Bluejay in the league had a rough year, struggling to find his outside shot and with making a consistent impact on the rotation. He's a free agent this off-season and could still be a valuable contributor to the team on a short (and cheap) contract.
- Darko Milicic: Mana from Heaven has now devolved into Twinkies from Serbia. There is nothing more that can really be said about the incredible crapitude of his current game. He's done, cooked, whatever. If there ever was any interest or modest defensive proficiency, it's gone. It was last seen in the 1st half against Blake Griffin in the Kevin Love shot game and it never returned. Amnesty needs to be used. He's a roster anchor at this point in his career.
The Wins Produced formula is based on point differential. Basically, if we look at the number of points a team gets on offense versus the number of points a team allows on defense we can estimate how many wins they earn. When we put box score statistics in terms of points (roughly one possession is worth a point) we can get a good estimate of how many points a given player earns their team. If this sounds like old news…well it is.Arturo gave us this formula last year! We debated a little bit on the name to use but settled on Points over Par (PoP). An average or "par player" would earn us exactly 0.0 points per 48 minutes played. If the NBA allowed ties and counted them as half a win, we can can see a team of "par players" would earn 41 wins in a season. Players above par gain their team points, and players below par lose points.
- Kevin Love had the most games with the highest PoP/48 (19). He was followed by Pek (10), Rubio (6), Luke (6), D-Will (6), Martell (4), JJ (4), Wayne (3), Randolph (2), Wes (2), and AT, Beas, and Brad Miller with 1 apiece. Darko never led the team. This pretty much matches the importance of players on the team and it certainly passes the smell test.
- Michael Beasley and Luke led the team with the most games with the lowest PoP/48 (10). They were followed by D-Will (8), Wes (7), Rubio (6), Love (5), JJ (5), Darko (5), Wayne (3), AT (2), AR (2), and Martell and Pek (1 each).
Top 10 PoP/game efforts with more than 20 mpg:
- Kevin Love, game #50 (18.5)
- Kevin Love, game #4 (16.5)
- Luke Ridnour, game #13 (13.7)
- Derrick Williams, game #35 (12.1)
- Nikola Pekovic, game #28 (11.7)
- Kevin Love, game #38 (11.1)
- Michael Beasley, game #21 (10.9)
- Wes Johnson, game #40 (10.7)
- Luke Ridnour, game #52 (10.7)
- Kevin Love, game #39 (10.3)
Bottom 10 PoP/G performances with more than 20 mpg:
- Kevin Love, game #16 (-18.1)
- Derrick Williams, game #52 (-11.8)
- Wes Johnson, game #21 (-10)
- Kevin Love, game #37 (-9.9)
- Luke Ridnour, game #48 (-9.9)
- Derrick Williams, game #48 (-9.9)
- Wayne Ellington, game #17 (-9.3)
- Derrick Williams, game #60 (-9.3)
- JJ Barea, game #29 (-9.2)
- Derrick Williams, game #53 (-8.9)
- Pek's .237 WP48 is the 9th best single season in Wolves history since 2000 (Love, KG, KG, KG, Hoiberg, KG, Love, Hoiberg)
- Love's .228 is the 11th best since 2000
- Kevin Love's 32 p48 is the highest since 2000, beating Al Jefferson's 30.2 in 2008/09.
- Love's 16.4 reb48 is the 7th highest total since 2000
- Rubio's 11.5 ast48 is the 2nd highest total since 2000, behind Terrell Brandon (13.2) and ahead of JJ Barea's 10.9. Rod Strickland is a surprise #4 with 10.8 in 2002/03.
- Wayne Ellington's 1.3 to48 is the lowest for a player with over 500 minutes since Fred Hoiberg's 0.8 turn in 2004.
- Anthony Randolph's 3.3 blk48 is the 7th highest rate since 2000. This isn't a particularily distinguished list of players. Ndudi Ebi, Eddie Griffin, Theo Ratliff, Darko Milicic, and the Kandi Man. Blocks apparently aren't a Timberwolvesy thing.
- Rubio's 3.1 stl48 rate is the highest since 2000, tying Corey Brewer's 10/11 effort. (NOTE: Brewer is probably exactly the type of player Kahn will look for this off season.)
- The Wolves stopped fouling this year. Darko's 6 pf48 is the highest rate, coming in as the 56th highest rate since 2000.
- Luke Ridnour's 3.9 reb48 number is the 15th lowest reb48 rate since 2000.
- JJ Barea's 4.7 to48 number is the 7th highest since 2000. Rubio is the 11th with 4.5.
- Pek's 60.6 TS% is the 3rd highest number since 2000, behind two 65+ Hoiberg efforts.
- Love's 10.3 FTA48 is the highest number since 2000.
- Wes Johnson's 1.1 FTA48 is tied for the 4th lowest since 2000, behind Dean Garrett, Anthony Goldwire, and Michael Doleac.
- Brad Miller is the team's only 40%+ 3 point shooter.
- Anthony Tolliver's 2p% (57.5) was the highest mark since 2000. Pek is #4 with 56.1%.
- TS%: Pek (.606)/Wes (.473)
- Oreb%: Pek (15.8)/Ridnour (1.2)
- Ast%: JJ (39.3)/Tolliver (3.7)
- Stl%: Ricky (3.3)/Beasley (0.9)
- Blk%: Randolph (4.9)/Barea (0)
- Usg%: Love (28.8)/Tolliver (12.2)
- Tov%: Ellington (7.8)/Rubio (22.2)
Q: Is this franchise better than it was when Kahn got a hold of it?A: Yes. An injured Big Al + Kevin Love and a bunch of filler is in no way, shape, or form as good as the current core of Pek, Love, and Rubio. However, the caveat here is that the assets Kahn inherited could have easily been turned into a better team than the one we're currently looking at. And when I mean "easily" I am talking about a team of monkeys with typewriters or a bowl full of goldfish. Perhaps even an avocado. Love and Pek are a given in either Wolves universe. Love, Pek, and Big Al exist in the alternate status quo galaxy. It's pretty hard to think that Rubio's production couldn't have been approximated in the 2009 Draft or that the current supporting crew could not be equaled by Hoistackcock. At the very least, the current Wolves took 2 years to spin the wheels of the pre-Kahn collection.Q: Is this roster mostly complete?A: Not according to Rick Adelman. Once again, a Kahn-led team is facing additional significant turnover. Once again people will pretend to believe that a) he has a plan and b) that he knows what he's doing.Q: Is the team improving?A: Yes. They have a better coach, an engaged superstar who works on his game in the off-season, and a certain Montenegrin center who looks to have solidified another starting position. They added an impact rookie this year thanks to some high draft picks but it remains to see if the team will improve with him already on the roster in year 2.Q: Is defense the real problem?A: Yes in the sense that the team's Drtg fell off a cliff without Rubio. No in the sense that they fell off a cliff when 4 of their best players started missing time. It's an easy thing to say defense is the problem but I think not actually having a lot of good players is the elephant in the room.
- The inexplicable failure to throw the majority of their resources into creating and maintaining a state-of-the-art draft operation. VERDICT: Not solved.
- The obsession with "best possible outcome" > "most likely outcome", especially in regard to physical appearances and post-season performances. VERDICT: Not solved.
- Glen Taylor is a terrible owner. VERDICT: Not solved.
Rick Adelman took all of about 24 hours at the start of the year to label #2 pick Derrick Williams what he (obviously) was: a power forward. How many more power forwards can David Kahn surround Kevin Love with after deciding that Kevin Love couldn't play with fellow power forward Al Jefferson? How did Kahn make that pick without a deal in place? I'll never get how this happened.
Summing things up
The Minnesota Timberwolves have an exciting and very productive young core of players in Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, and Ricky Rubio. These are the three people of Wolvesdom. Everything else is paste.
Despite all of the blown picks and the $4 for 4 kahntracts, and despite a clownish mishandling of their best player, and despite hiring the worst coach in franchise history and employing him for 2 years, and despite hamster wheel spinning series of moves after hamster wheel spinning series of moves, Our Beloved Puppies can still make this work. They are close and their flaws are obvious and fixable.
The kicker is that their margin for error has been shrunk to a size that is not typically associated with a sub .400 club. After flubbing 2 top 6 picks they now need to hit on a 16. After signing bench players in free agency they now need to land an impact starter.
In short, they need to cut bait with David Kahn and hire a professional GM to bring this thing on home. No more play time. No more GMs who need media training to be able to do the most basic part of their job. Hand things over to Team Adelman and maybe tap the best basketball mind in the building (Cheryl Reeve) to provide additional consulting help.
There are enough smart minds and talented players at 600 First Avenue to make this work. The key is getting rid of the fluff to make sure no more mistakes are made before the ETO time bomb goes off.
This can be done. This is still close.
UPDATE: Plays and quotes as they come in:
Adelman: "Tonight should open people's eyes. ... We've got to change the culture. We've made strides, but not enough yet."