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Can Mbah a Moute provide any answers?

The Timberwolves have a couple big problems. They hope Mbah a Moute is a solution.


Alright, first things first. Luc Ricard Mbah a Moute needs a nickname. To save us from typing Luc Ricard Mbah a-Flynnin' Moute every night.

Get to it Hoopusters.

So unlike Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson, the Wolves unloaded Derrick Williams without including extra bribes incentives to convince the other team it was worth their while. So there's that.

And this:

Usage Rate PER Pts/Par WS/48 WP
Williams (12-13) 23.5 14.5 -4.8 0.076 -0.2
Mbah a Moute (10-11) 15.1 11.5 2.2 0.109 0.7

Luc is a hard player to quantify, as he hasn't had a regular role for a few seasons now...and has never played for a stable team. Between knee troubles and the Bucks being more aimless than the Vikings, Luc hasn't played more than 60 games since that 2010-2011 season.

(BTW, what the flying Flynn is wrong with the norsemen? Giving up 200 yards and 16 points to a third string QB (named Flynn) in a single quarter? That's comedy at a Rambangle level)

I think it became stupifyingly clear this season that Williams was not a part of this team's future. Personally, I thought this was obvious by the end of last season. But there was still something to grasp at over the summer with the weight loss and having his option picked up. Or something. Bottom line is, regardless of his contract and off-court situation, Adelman wasn't going to put him on the court. Last season he played Williams because he didn't have a choice, and seemed to decide that was enough of an audition to tell him he wouldn't be part of the rotation when everyone got back. I'm still at a loss as to why the team picked up his option, but that's neither here nor there at this point.

Now, the Wolves are looking at two glaring problems that need solutions::

  1. The bench cannot score points to save their lives
  2. The team cannot sustain good defense

Without Budinger, JJ Barea is pretty much the only guy off the bench with a prayer of creating any offense for the team. And while it does seem like he's been shooting us out of games, the truth is he's basically the same player he's always been...13.1 PER and 0.64 WS/48 compared to 13.7 and 0.66 for his career. His shooting % is not great, but not the lowest (or even second-lowest) of his career. Only his 3pt% has really changed this year compared to last. And in truth, I expect it all to even out for him...or will, at least, if he doesn't have to be the kamikaze pilot and the rescue mission at the same time. He simply needs to not be the only scorer on the floor in his rotation group.

In this regard, Luc is not going to be any help. Mbah a Moute has little-to-no offense. He holds a career average of just 6.8 points per game, and has never even attempted more than 6.5 shots a contest in any one season. Even your stereotypical defensive specialists like Shane Battier and Bruce Bowen would put up more FGA.

A big part of this is Luc's utter lack of anything resembling shooting range. Only once in 5 seasons has he attempted even a single three a game (last season, his worst by far) and even then, his career average from The Great Beyond is just 29%. Yikes. And it doesn't get much better until you get him right underneath the basket.


In 2010-2011, Luc attempted just 68 shots beyond 10 feet from the hoop. And made only 14 of them. Not. Good.

To his credit, Mbah a Moute knows he's limited, and doesn't play outside those limits. Which is huge in its own right...not many guys get know how to do that, or how not doing that hurts the team. Even with the limitations, he's managed to be a wash offensively on offense in the on court/off court column. But when the limit is basically anything beyond point blank range, it's going to take some serious creativity to keep him from being a scoring liability in a motion offense.

So for a team already employing the erratic Corey Brewer on the wings....and playing without Chase Budinger, for the time being at least....adding a non-factor on offense at the small forward spot is not really solving anything on that front. If anything, I worry that it may make things worse in the short term: Adelman starting Mbah a Moute and bringing Corey off the bench as he originally planned.

Corey's been pretty ok so far this year, but as Eric has already spelled out in fine detail, Brewer is the beneficiary of a unique and rather unprecedented usage scheme. He needs to be a starter. He needs to play with a group of gifted scorers and passers who let him pick his spots and aren't hurt when he doesn't pick one at all. He did work as a sixth man in Denver, but that was still playing a lot of minutes with the starters, and alongside the perpetually-underrated Andre Miller. I was a different situation than Adleman's hockey-lineup scheme. Taking Brewer out of the starting lineup is asking for trouble. Relying on him to carry the scoring load off the bench is asking for disaster.

We already have to hope and pray for Good Barea every night. Having to hope and pray for Good Brewer as well will likely send us back to the drinking games.

But, of course, asking a career 6.8 ppg guy to score for the bench isn't much of a plan either.

If the scribes are to be believed (and I think, in this case, they are), the Kings were...surprisingly?...willing to chase Williams. Given Boogie is reportedly their only untouchable (and boy, is that ever a topic asking for debate...) it would seem the Wolves might have been better served seeking a shooter/scorer from them: Marcus Thornton, or maybe Travis Outlaw. Picking a defender over a scorer when the bench is in such desperate need of scoring is...perplexing.

So on this side of the ball, this doesn't answer any questions. If anything, it just creates more of them.

Well. It's Timberwolves.

(BTW. Day of the Doctor. Best Doctor Who anything ever)

As for the second problem...defense...Mbah a Moute promises to be a solution, even if just a partial one.

The Wolves technically hold a top-10 defensive rating, but I kind of think it's fools gold here. For one, a lot of the 'low scoring' stands the Wolves have made have been wins (and even a couple close loses) to teams that struggle to score no matter who they're playing: Boston, Cleveland, New York, Brooklyn. All teams in the bottom 10 in scoring, plus the Kobe-less Lakers and Westbrook-less Thunder.

Against everyone else, the outlook is not so good. Starting with the first loss to the Clippers, the Wolves have surrendered 101 ppg while allowing opponents to shoot 47% from the field. If that were the whole season to date, it'd rank 5th worst in the NBA. And that includes the blowout wins over Boston and Brooklyn. Take those out and it's 105 ppg on 50%(!!!!!!) shooting. Dead last by a mile.

On top of that, the Wolves have also surrendered 40% to opposing teams from three during that span.  And again, take out Boston and Brooklyn, that number goes up to 43%. Dead last by pilgrimage.

Last season, the Wolves kinda-sorta kept their heads above water by doing three things: controlling the defensive glass, generating turnovers, and not fouling. Well, bad news kids: the Wolves are doing all three this year, and it's not working.

Our pups sit 11th in defensive rebounds per at 32.6, first in team steals (9.9 per) and second in fewest free throws allowed per (17.9) We are, if I saw the numbers right, one of only two teams in the top half of the NBA in all three of those categories (the other being the 76ers, who aren't exactly winning either)

The problem? I believe that third number holds the clue.

Suspicions that the Wolves' low foul rate is at least partially due to simply giving up a lot of free layups/dunks seem pretty well founded. The Wolves are 21st in opponent's FG% (and again, that would be a lot worse minus the Boston and Brooklyn games) as well as 21st in points surrendered in the paint. Also tying into this: the Wolves are second-to-last in blocks. Out leading shotblocker among the regulars is Dante Cunningham. At 0.9 per game.

Clearly we are not a team that's scaring opponents out of the paint. And if that Grantland "Dwight Howard Effect" study proves anything, it's that scaring teams out of the paint is by far the most effective form of defense in the NBA. This is why I'm not sold on the Love/Pekovic combo, and why I've pushed so much to see Dieng get burn.

Now, Mbah a Moute comes with a well-deserved reputation as a defensive ace. On that side of the ball, he's everything we lost in Kirilenko and maybe more.

Luc is razor sharp, and one of the best basketball defenders we'll probably ever see play for this team. He gets defense like Chris Paul gets offense: fundamentally, strategically, instinctively. His scouting report bit he did for ESPN a couple years ago is an absolute gem of not just correctness, but clarity. As a design artist, I always refer to the Steve Jobs mantra he lifted from Einstein: If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it yourself. Luc takes one of the most impossible things in professional athletics...guarding LeBron James....and makes it sound simple.

Our sister blog BrewHoop did one of the best comprehensive pieces in SBN history when they studied, in detail, Mbah a Moute's defense against the best of the best of the NBA's wings. Luc versus LeBron. Luc versus Melo. Luc versus Durant.

Read it. It's magnificent.

The cliff notes version goes like this: Luc is really really really good at figuring out what opposing wings do well, then taking that away from them.



Interestingly, his strategy is the same both times, but focused on different goals. With LeBron, he crowds to take away the drive and the time he has to see plays develop. With Durant, he crowds to take away the jump shot, actually forcing him closer to the basket. It's about taking guys away from what they're comfortable with. In both cases, he lets each guy go above average at the thing he prefers not to do to drop him below average at the thing he does.

That, my friends, is a study in a guy who Flynnin' knows what he's doing on defense.

All that said....

As a physical, man-to-man closeout defender, Mbah a Moute can lock down any one player on any given night, and can probably do quite a bit to help with the three point defense. And certainly having another good perimeter stopper on a team relying on Kevin Martin can only be a good thing. Something as simple as throwing Luc at a Ryan Anderson or Aaron Afflalo for 20 minutes or so can have an impact.

But I'm not sure how much good this will do in a team sense. A really good perimeter defender usually doesn't move the needle much for the team as a whole. Perimeter defense is a component of team defense, and almost always a compliment to a defensive anchor in the paint, because perimeter offense is usually some subset of a pick-and-roll. Which involves more than one defender. Luc can force LeBron into bad jumpers all night. That won't stop Dwyane Wade. That won't stop Russell Westbrook. That won't stop Tony Parker.

The scuttlebutt is the Wolves wanted a pick-and-roll defender. And Mbah a Moute has proven to be effective at this. But pick-and-roll defense is as much on the help as it is the guy. If Luc gets screened off and the ball goes to the roll man, the play is out of his hands. Love and Pekovic aren't getting their minutes taken by anyone, so the burden is on them in a lot of cases. I don't think this is a problem you can solve with a part-time perimeter player any more than with just rebounds and steals.

Unfortunately it appears there's simply no substitute for holding down an opponent's FG%. Winning teams?

Team Opp FG%
OKC Thunder .431
GS Warriors .424 (Iggy)
SA Spurs .424 (what's new, right?)
Houston Rockets .418 (the Dwight Howard effect)
Indiana Pacers .392 (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

This is something that the Wolves simply don't have the personnel to do. We have no shot-blocking presence, a few abject non-defenders playing big minutes at key positions, and we lack a strong defensive system. You can't be Paul George without Roy Hibbert. You can't be Kawhi Leonard without Coach Pops. Mbah a Moute is a premium part of a defensive puzzle, but it's questionable how much he can do without the other pieces.

Long term, this probably works out fine. Possibly even great. Short term...well, the Wolves have two really big problems. And as good as Mbah a Moute is and what he does, this doesn't seem to solve either of them. The West is absurdly competitive this year...the Wolves can't afford to just tread water and still hope to be afloat when the health boat returns. At this rate, a .500 record could put us as low as 12th in the standings.

But player to player, and simply in terms of who Adelman is willing to play in the first place...Luc trumps Williams. He's cheaper. He has a better understanding of what he can and can't do. He's a great shift 3-4 to have for those nights a Miami or OKC goes small with their lineups. He can help us recruit Russell Westbrook. (Right? RIGHT???)

So he may not solve everything, but he does make the team better. So there's that.