Let's get this out of the way:
Yes, it's frustrating that three consecutive top 6 draft picks failed to last with the Wolves for longer than Derrick Williams' 2+ seasons. Yes it's frustrating that the combined return on those three players, all traded after failing to make a positive impact with the club, is essentially Brad Miller, Luc Mbah a Moute, and a first rounder owed to the Suns.
But the truth is, whatever you think about Flip Saunders, he didn't draft any of those guys, and a player's value doesn't hinge on his draft position once he's been in the league for a while. Everyone around the NBA knows Williams' strengths and weaknesses at this point, and nobody was confusing him with a future franchise center piece or all-star merely because he was the 2nd pick in the 2011 draft.
Meanwhile, Rick Adelman appeared to be entirely out of patience for Williams, as he has had several DNP-CDs in recent weeks, and appears to have been overtaken in the rotation by rookie and 2nd round draft pick Robbie Hummel, who, according to Adelman, possesses the attributes of being a smart player who only does the things he can do. In other words, a low mistake player, which is not something that can be said of Williams.
As a result, getting a return on Williams in the form of a rotation player who has identifiable strengths and actually provides a bit of cost savings (more on that below) must be seen as a positive return at this point.
Luc Mbah a Moute was drafted by the Bucks in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft out of UCLA, where he was a teammate of Kevin Love. Mbah a Moute immediately found a place in the Bucks' rotation, playing all 82 games (and actually playing more minutes then Love as a rookie--yay coaching!). Mbah a Moute immediately established himself as a quality defensive player, especially against strong scoring wing players, and has been a consistent performer throughout his career.
He's essentially a low usage, reasonably efficient guy (with the exception of last season where his rim conversion rate plummeted) who makes his living on the defensive end of the court.
Synergy gives us some interesting information about his game. Defensively, he's very strong guarding the pick and roll ball-handler and in post-up situations. Where he has struggled is in guarding spot-ups; this is a result of his help defense, which is pretty aggressive. Whether that is by design and instruction, or whether he gets caught over helping too frequently is a question, but he's consistently allowed success in situations where his man is a spot-up shooter.
Here is one in a series of videos that Brewhoop did on Mbah a Moute's defense against some of the top scorers in the league, this time Kevin Durant:
A similar story is true of his offense, where he has had some success as a cutter off the ball and an offensive rebounder, but when he's the guy left open on the perimeter and it swings to him as the spot up guy...that's not his game. To his credit, he knows it, and takes very few perimeter shots. Most of what he gets is in the paint.
While it would have been nice to get someone who can score in exchange for Williams, given the problems the 2nd unit has had on offense so far this year, it's clear that teams were not lining up with fantastic offers for Williams. Getting a guy who can actually play is a good thing. It does create a bit of an awkward situation with Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham, and Robbie Hummel appearing to be the main subs along with J.J. Barea. A lot of forwards who don't score a lot of points. Hopefully Chase Budinger will return and help provide some of that missing scoring punch off the bench, but either way, Mbah a Moute is a useful player and an asset to the organization, so I have to say that under the circumstances, Flip Saunders did well with this deal.
However, one must acknowledge that some of the circumstances were of Flip's own making. His decision to pick up Williams' 2014-15 option for $6.3 million prior to the start of the year moved him from expiring contract to expensive investment for that season. While it's impossible to know how that decision affected Williams' value, it's hard to argue it did it any good, given what has transpired. The combination of that option being exercised and Williams' inability to get on the floor for meaningful minutes in the early going was awkward at best. Many of us argued against exercising that option, but it ultimately was not a surprise that Saunders chose to do so.
Luc Mbah a Moute is under contract for $4.3 million next season, meaning the Wolves get $2M of cap relief for next year in the exchange. Presuming that Mbah a Moute is healthy and does the things he's done throughout his career, the move also gives the Wolves some flexibility when it comes to Dante Cunningham, a similarly sized player whose contract expires at the end of the year. Having Mbah a Moute under contract for next season relieves them of either re-signing Dante at a higher price or looking for a replacement. Though their games are not identical, the roles they fill are close enough that if Cunningham's market price goes higher then the Wolves are comfortable with, they can let him go without creating a major hole in their rotation.
So ends the Derrick Williams era in Minnesota.
We wish Derrick Williams the best of luck in Sacramento, and we welcome Luc Mbah a Moute to the Timberwolves. Hopefully it is a fruitful relationship.