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Don't cut Jeff Adrien

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As the Wolves look for help from the outside, they need to be aware of the help they already have

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

A few days ago, it appeared it was imminent the Timberwolves would be signing Miroslav Raduljica. And maybe they still will in the end, and that wouldn't be all that bad of a move.

Raduljica had a respectably efficient and productive year last season in Milwaukee, and excels at limiting points in the paint. This year the Wolves are giving up a pathetic 67% FG% in the restricted area, which is dead last in the NBA. Last year, Raduljica held opposing teams to 39% shooting in the restricted area. Even considering his limited minutes and matchups against mainly bench players, that's help the Wolves would gladly welcome.

However, the Wolves are already at the roster limit of 15 players. With the trade of Ronny Turiaf, the team no longer qualifies for a medical exception, which means the 15th spot is occupied by Jeff Adrien. And since his contract does not become guaranteed for another 8 days, it would stand to reason that in order to make room for Raduljica, the Wolves would be waiving Jeff Adrien. Which would be a huge mistake.

Let's start by taking a closer look at the ending of the Jazz game.

A look at the play-by-play gives us a simple, blatant explanation for this. In the first 6-1/2 minutes of the quarter when Adrien was on the floor, the Wolves outscored the Jazz 16-11 and tied them in rebounds at 4 apiece. After Adrien went to the bench, the Jazz outscored the Wolves 17-6, primarily by outrebounding the Pups 12-3. Utah grabbed seven offensive rebounds in that span, resulting in seven points for the Jazz.

This has been a disturbing trend for the Wolves this season, particularly after Pekovic went down. The Wolves rank 23rd in rebounds per game as a team, and after the last three games, are now 28th in defensive rebounding and defensive rebounding percentage.

So first things first: by percentage, Jeff Adrien is the Wolves' best rebounder, and it's not close.

Player Jeff Adrien Nikola Pekovic Gorgui Dieng
Total Reb% 20.3 17.3 16.4

Adrien dominates the glass. Per 36 minutes, he grabs 12.8 rebounds, over 2 rebounds/36 more than Pekovic or Dieng. In fact, as a per 36 figure, 12.8 is better than even what Kevin Love posted last season.

This is meted out in Adrien's on court/off court numbers:

On Court Off Court Net
Offensive Rebounding 30.6% 27.2% +3.4%
Defensive Rebounding 74.8% 71.8% +3.2%
Total Rebounding 52.9% 47.9% +5.0%

Adrien's total rebounding difference is a team high. Pekovic's is +4.3, and Dieng's...thanks to being rotated opposite of Adrien and Pek....is actually currently a net negative (-1.8%) Adrien's defensive and total rebounding percentages are top 30 in the NBA right now, and have always been around those figures when he gets playing time. He's elite on the glass.

The other area Adrien has been extremely solid in is defense. He's second on the team in Defensive RPM and second (proportionally estimated) in Defensive Win Shares.

When news about Raduljica first broke, Wolfson made an off-hand comment in response to Tarik Black...recently released by the Rockets...that made it seem as though he believed Flip sees Adrien's height as a liability.

But what Adrien lacks in size, he makes up for with a 7'3" wingspan and excellent positioning on the court. Remember, we always talk about this at draft time: wingspan matters more than height. Height only goes one direction. Wingspan is 360. And very rarely does anyone try to take the ball straight over another player.

Adrien is also nuclear strong, in a Ben Wallace/Dennis Rodman sort of way; when he sets his feet, he's basically impossible to move. It factors into his rebounding when he establishes position, and it factors into his defense when he can't be backed down or thrown off balance on sweeps.

The combination of man and help defense Adrien has provided has resulted in a tremendous total impact. The Wolves are 9.3 points/100 possessions better on defense when Adrien plays. Discounting Rubio, no one else on the roster comes anywhere close to that mark. The next best is Thad Young, at less than half that figure.

(pts against/100) Ricky Rubio Jeff Adrien Thad Young Robbie Hummel Mo Williams
On Court 101.7 104.1 110.4 109.8 110.7
Off Court 113.5 113.4 114.6 112.9 113.4
Net 11.8 9.3 4.2 3.1 2.7

Using a combination of play-by-play, shot charts and popcorn gameflows, I've estimated Adrien is holding opposing players in his area to just 41% shooting. Like Raduljica, there's the qualifier that it's mainly against bench players, but that is still an outstanding number. Again, the Wolves give up nearly 70% shooting in the restricted area. Adrien is cutting that figure down something fierce.

And for what it's worth, Adrien is basically a wash on the offensive end. I actually had to spend some serious time figuring this out, but the net numbers don't lie: the Wolves are less than 1 point/100 possessions worse (-0.7) when Adrien plays.

What I've arrived at is a combination of a few key facets. One, Adrien has a good assist rate for his role.

Player Mo Williams Zach LaVine Thad Young Gorgui Dieng Jeff Adrien
Assist% 40.7 24.2 12.9 11.3 10.9

First off, Ricky Rubio annihilates every other Wolf in this category with an assist rate over 55%. So that's exhibit A of why we lose without him. Second, ignore the fact that neither of our current starting wings are on the list (or even in double-digit percentages) Third, Adrien was actually third on this list until the Jazz game.

The point is, Adrien keeps the ball moving. He's already a master at the high-post cutter feed, and will kick the ball out when he sees the opportunity.

Another factor is his stupifying free throw rate: 1.063. Yes, Jeff Adrien attempts more free throws than field goals. This means a couple things:

  1. He's hyper-efficient
  2. He knows his limits

It's not unheard of for defensive specialists to still be net positives on offense. Bruce Bowen was one of those guys. Shane Battier was another. Nick Collison's +/- lines are legendary. Looking at his past seasons and now this year, Adrien appears to be one of those guys.

When you aren't a shooter, the best thing you can do is not shoot. Misses hurt your team: they break rhythm and waste possessions. Adrien knows he's not a scorer, so he contents himself with setting screens and moving the ball, and limiting his shot attempts mainly to offensive boards and foul situations. It's a high basketball-IQ thing. Adrien is the anti-Josh Smith. He helps his team by excelling at what he can do an not attempting what he can't.

So in total, among the Wolves' rotation regulars, Adrien's on court/off court +/- is the second best on the team, trailing only Ricky Rubio's absurd net rating.

Player Ricky Rubio Jeff Adrien Robbie Hummel Kevin Martin Thad Young
Net Rating 24.6 8.6 7.2 4.4 2.8

But again, Jeff's real value is on the glass and on defense. Even as a walk-on, 10-day contract guy playing irregular, limited minutes, he's now leading the Wolves in both of those categories. Yes, his unguaranteed deal makes him a very flexible, movable asset, but the Wolves also need to consider the asset he is on the court as a player.

No, he's not Tim Duncan or Tyson Chandler or anything like that. He's not the dream starting power forward or center. On a good team he's probably the 4th big off the bench; your 9th or 10th man. But for the role he's here to play, particularly relative to what he's being paid, he's quite honestly exceptional, and probably could be doing even more if given the chance.

For a team that monumentally struggles to rebound and defend, just throwing away a great rebounder and defender...especially one who doesn't hurt the team on offense...is counterproductive at best, and damning at worst. Teams that know what they're doing know what they have when they have it.

(Also, he's Robocop)