For Brandon Rush, calling 2016 a “crazy year” would be a Pek-sized understatement. The Kansas City, Missouri product spent the first half of the year helping to defend the Golden State Warriors’ 2014-2015 title, resulting in a historic 73-9 regular season and an oh-so-close playoff run that came up one Kyrie Irving step-back three short of achieving the rare “Drake diss track” championship, otherwise known to my elderly father as “back-to-back.”
After falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers in game 7 of the NBA Finals, Rush, like many of his Warrior bench buddies, entered the 2016 free agent frenzy anxiously awaiting the inevitable “Durcision.” 48 hours after Durant fled to GSW, Brandon Rush signed a 1-year, $3.5 million contract to join the Wolves, the second free agent acquisition of the Thibs/Layden era. After saying “I Do” to the Wolves, Rush capped off his summer by tying the knot with his long-time girlfriend and mother of his two children. So to quickly recap: ring, historic regular season, agonizing Finals defeat, new team, another (and probably more important) ring. Got it, let’s move on.
In terms of true basketball-related value, the front office, as well as the fan base, hopes that Rush can step in and be the consistent “3-and-D” guy that every team so desperately covets. But at 31 years old, with a list of injuries that includes two torn ACL’s—his left one in 2012 and his right one during his time at Kansas—the question becomes: can the former Jayhawk standout stay healthy enough to carve out a role among a pack of hungry wings in Minneapolis? Or is Brandon Rush destined to be the next member in a long line of failed Wolves swingmen experiments? That’s a list that features Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, Lazar Hayward, Michael Beasley, Ryan Gomes, Brandon Roy, Rodney Carney, Martell Webster...OK, fine, I’ll stop now because my eyes are bleeding.
Let’s examine the risk/reward of this signing.
Financially, there is essentially zero risk here with how this deal is structured. In a summer where guys like Solomon Hill, Maurice Harkless, and Aaron Afflalo got 4-years, $48 million, 4/$40 million, and 2/$25 million, a one-year flier for less than what Drew Gooden will make seems like a no-brainer.
Financial Risk: 1/10
While the Rush signing seems to be a steal on the balance sheet, a major reason the former lottery pick out of Lawrence was available for next to nothing is his injury history. Since tearing his left ACL in 2012, Rush has only played in 44 percent of the possible games, and has simply lacked the burst and athleticism that made him the first freshman to be named First Team All-Big 12 (a year before some “KD” guy accomplished the same thing). While Rush did show brief flashes of his former self last season during 72 games during the Warriors historic run, the inability to stay on the court this upcoming season would be a damaging blow to a team already thin in the shooting department.
Injury Risk: 6/10
Finally, the last major risk can also be looked at somewhat through a reward prism. The Wolves want Rush to stay healthy. They want him to continue to shoot 40 percent or better from downtown. They want him to spell Andrew Wiggins when guarding the opposing team’s best wing player. However, if he can do all of those things at a high level and earn the trust of the coaching staff, it leaves less and less playing time available at the SG and SF position.
With Zach LaVine and Wiggins expected to consume a majority of those minutes, and Thibs potentially experimenting with prized rookie Kris Dunn playing alongside Ricky Rubio, the result of a successful Brandon Rush campaign could mean a certain Shabazz Muhammad may be the odd man out. While competition for playing time is technically a good thing, a situation in which “Shabazz watches Rush play > Rush watches Shabazz play” may not be an ideal formula for a player looking for a new long-term deal nor a team looking to develop it’s young asset.
Playing Time Risk: 5/10
The #1 reason Rush was signed to this squad was his ability to successfully stroke it from deep. A career 40.3 percent 3-point shooter on 4.5 attempts per 36 minutes, Rush finished 11th last year in 3P% with 41.4 percent, ahead of noted marksmen Kyle Korver, Khris Middleton, and J.R. Smith. The Wolves as a team last season finished 25th in the league with a frigid 33.8% on threes, and had only one qualified player shoot better than the league average for 3P% of 35.4% (Zach LaVine, 38.9%). Did Rush benefit from playing alongside two of the best 3-point shooters in league history? Of course. But buckets are buckets, and when given the opportunity, he showed that he can be a significant floor-spacer coming off the bench.
Shooting Reward: 8/10
While #GettingBuckets is one of the two primary objectives of the “3-and-D” specialist, the other objective is to obviously stop your opponent from doing the same. At 6’6”, 210 pounds, and sporting a 6’11.25” wingspan, Rush seems to have all the athletic gifts required to be a force on the defensive end. However, two ACL injuries in the span of five years have zapped any competitive advantage Rush had in the athleticism department, and the result has been a player who last year ranked 72nd among SF’s in defensive Real Plus-Minus with a -2.29, ahead of only Doug McDermott, Nick Young, and our beloved Shabazz Muhammad. As a rookie under Thibs, McDermott failed to carve out consistent minutes in the Bulls rotation primarily because he was a human turnstile, so being lumped into the same defensive group (no “D”) might suggest that Rush’s ceiling this season may be lower than we all hope.
Defense Reward: 3/10
Finally, while using analytics to study team chemistry is above my pay grade, anyone who has followed the NBA long enough knows that there are guys you want on your bench and guys you don’t want (i.e. Lance Stephenson). The late and great Flip Saunders believed this, and went out of his way to surround the young pups with veteran voices at multiple positions, guys who had experienced winning at the highest level and could provide guidance both on and off the court. At 31 years old, Rush fits this description perfectly, having experienced eight years in an ever-changing league while spending his last two seasons on a historic Warriors team that broke records, won a ring, and genuinely liked one another.
Chemistry Reward: 7/10
The Wolves entered #SummerSixteen looking for primarily two things: rim protection and wing players who could specialize in “3-and-D.” As my new teammate at Canis points out, it appears the Wolves have found their rim protector to back-up Karl Anthony-Towns, but locating a two-play player who can space the floor and provide a defensive boost? I’m not so sure. Nevertheless, a 1-year deal worth 1⁄4 of what Jeff Green will make next year for a 41 percent career 3-point shooter seems like a steal in itself, regardless of what Rush can or cannot provide on the defensive end.
My Ruling: Good Deal
How do you think the Brandon Rush signing will turn out?