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Luke Ridnour vs. J.J. Barea: Who Should the Timberwolves Keep?

Let's have an old-fashioned smackdown between two diminutive Wolves to decide who gets to stay on Taylor Island.

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A few days ago, Madison Dan wrote an excellent article arguing that a healthy core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic is good enough to compete in the upper echelons of the Western Conference, but only with better management of the rest of the roster. He pointed out that the best teams in the conference got much better production than the Wolves from roster spots 4-15, and that this would have to be addressed before the Wolves could seriously compete.

So let's look at those roster spots a little closer and see what we have. We'll begin with the smalls:

It's become an accepted truth among the fan base that the Timberwolves will have to trade at least one of their small guards this summer, for both salary cap and roster balancing reasons. With a healthy Ricky Rubio, it makes no sense to have both Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea on the roster at a combined $9 million next season.

I thought it was time we took a look at these two players side by side and decide which we would prefer to move. Both players were the subjects of fan ire throughout the season, the game threads were littered with complaints about Luke's defense and the appearance of bad J.J. But which was worse? Let's start with some numbers:

First, this season:

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Now, for their careers:

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By win shares, Luke was better both this year and over the course of their careers. Wins Produced tells a similar story, consistently preferring Ridnour over Barea. As difficult as it sometimes is to watch Luke Ridnour try to defend shooting guards, the numbers suggest that Barea's defense is just as bad. Ridnour's relative efficiency and care for the ball trump Barea's more aggressive, higher usage game.

While Luke is older, he has been slightly more durable recently, playing all 82 games this season and 206 out of a possible 230 games over the past three years, whereas Barea has played in 196 games over the same span. Luke is also easier on the salary cap, with one year left on his deal at $4.3 million, while Barea has two years left at $4.7 million and $4.5 million.

The argument for Barea is that he is more likely to move the needle (in either direction). He's capable of winning you a game. When good JJ shows up, things like this happen:

Though to be fair, let's take a look at Luke:

To an extent, it's true. J.J. does more. More usage, more points, more assists. When the team is stagnant, or Rubio is on the bench, Barea can and does take over, something Luke doesn't do. Along with more points and assists, though, you also get more turnovers and less efficiency. He does take over, but many times it just makes things worse.

Another way to look at this is using game scores. Despite playing in fewer games, J.J. had more games (28-20) with a game score below five. In nearly 40% of Barea's games this year he was actively hurting the cause with game scores that low. It was under 25% of the time for Ridnour.

Surprisingly (to me) he didn't have a correspondingly higher number of big game scores. However, J.J.s reputation for game to game volatility does show up in game scores in this way:

Std. Deviation GameScore: Ridnour 5.05, Barea 5.35

But overall, like winshares and wins produced, game scores also preferred Luke this season:

Mean Game Score: Ridnour 8.44, Barea 7.22

Overall, despite the fact that J.J. sometimes tastes like a banana sandwich, I think I would prefer to keep Luke. I'll trust the numbers that he's just a better player, and that if he is able to occupy an appropriate role as backup point guard, he'll do more to help over the course of a season than J.J. However, it isn't enough of a difference that it would stop me from trading Ridnour should he generate a significantly better offer. I have little sense of their relative value around the league.

I also wouldn't be averse to moving both of them. Neither of them rest easily on the payroll, and given how tight things are going to be this off-season, it might make sense to jettison both of those salaries. The hope would be that between Rubio, Alexey Shved, and perhaps a rookie guard (McCollum?) if they draft that way, they could cover the minutes at the point, and if there was a need for a veteran backup, someone usable would be available for the minimum.

What do you think?