State of the Wolves…

So here’s my State of the Wolves:

I like the format Draft Express used in their Off-Season Analysis a few years back so let’s go with that…

Draft Picks:

Picks #6, #18, #28, #45 and #47

Depth Chart:

PG: Randy Foye/Sebastian Telfair/Kevin Ollie/Bobby Brown
SG: Mike Miller
SF: Ryan Gomes/Rodney Carney/Corey Brewer
PF: Al Jefferson/Kevin Love/Craig Smith/Shelden Williams/Brian Cardinal
C: Jason Collins

I put the players in their most natural position here and only used everyone once. Miller could be argued at SF and Foye could be argued at SG but we’ll have more on that later. Notice how goofy this looks?!?!?

This is how the playing time went (Based on the Team’s Minutes per 82games.com) minus Rashad McCants+Calvin Booth who were traded:

PG: Sebastian Telfair (50%) – Randy Foye (24%) – Kevin Ollie (18%) – Bobby Brown (3%)

SG: Randy Foye (37%) - Mike Miller (22%) – Rodney Carney (19%) – Bobby Brown (3%)Kevin Ollie (2%)
SF: Mike Miller (36%) - Ryan Gomes (34%) - Rodney Carney (10%) – Brian Cardinal (8%) – Corey Brewer (6%)
PF:
Ryan Gomes (29%) – Craig Smith (29%) - Kevin Love (21%) – Brian Cardinal (14%) – Al Jefferson (2%) – Shelden Williams (1%)
C:
Al Jefferson (43%) – Kevin Love (30%) - Jason Collins (10%) – Craig Smith (7%) – Shelden Williams (4%) – Mark Madsen (2%) – Ryan Gomes (1%)

Initial Thoughts: The blessing of it is obviously the Wolves versatility at SG, SF, and PF. The curse of it is that we are stacked with a large group of quality “backup” type players (Save for Big Al and K-Love) at these 3 positions that are more like interchangeable parts with no defined role for each on the team. We have too much flexibility. Every player besides Telfair plays multiple positions with some consistency. Gomes is kind of a poor-man’s Odom (maybe a slightly better 3pt shooter) that is a nice player off the bench that gives the team flexibility to play small or big, Rodney Carney another nice 2/3 off the bench that played well with minutes down the stretch, and Mike Miller who had an up and down year with injuries but has the talent to be a starter with a high scoring efficiency from the wing. Foye splits time between the 1/2, Jefferson and Love between 4/5 etc. Jefferson is certainly capable of playing the 5 and with the news he’s looking to slim down this summer I think that will help his cause to be quicker on defense.

Background/Recap:

After an eventless year of rebuilding without KG in ’07-’08, the Wolves started this past season right where they left off with an 0-5 start that led to a 4-15 record which resulted in Head Coach Randy Wittman getting fired. Kevin McHale vacated the front office in a move to the bench that after a slow start learning his new philosophy resulted in a solid month of January at 10-4 that even gave McHale coach of the month honors. The run came to a crashing halt however with Al Jefferson tearing his right ACL on February 8th against New Orleans. The rest of the season was mostly a wash with Big Al out, but the Wolves used the time to groom rookie Kevin Love who by the end of the season established himself as a starting quality PF with the 4th best rebounding rate ever for a rookie. (See here for the evidence and here for the breakdown.) The only other news of note in the second half of the year post-Jeferson was the trade that sent Rashad McCants out of town to the Kings with Calvin Booth in exchange for Bobby Brown and Shelden Williams. (yawn…)

Ultimately the Wolves finished 24-58 which was bad enough to secure the 6th pick in the draft after being un-lucky yet again in the lottery.

Team Needs:

“The Timberwolves are a team without an identity.” (Funny this is a sentence that I didn’t need to change from Draft Express’ 2006 breakdown, ouch. Shows you the quality of GM Kevin McHale was and the general lack of vision within the organization). Even better look at what they had for team needs in ’06 as well.

1) A defensive minded center
2) A point guard
3) Athletic scorers

Amazing isn’t it! In fact I would contend that the Wolves have been in need of a defensive minded center, a pg (other than Cassell’s stint) and athletic scorers since forever. The biggest weakness we’ve had over the past decade in my opinion is that we have no one that can take the ball to the hoop and also get to the line. Here’s a mental exercise for you, picture the Wolves on offense in the half-court (not a fastbreak) and try and visualize one of the Wolves players driving past his guy to the hoop for an And-1. Anyone come to mind? Maybe McCants or Foye once or twice in the last two years but no Timberwolf has had “Can beat guys off the dribble” and “Gets to the hoop and the FT line” listed in their strengths since maybe Marbury was running the point over 10 years ago!

GM’s Strategy:

No one really knows what David Kahn’s draft strategy is or his vision of how to build a franchise. (Other than what you think you might be able to pull out of his open letter to the fans and his first couple of interviews here and here.) However he did have a significant role in building a team in Indiana that featured Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal which was a pre-season favorite to win it all before the brawl happened. (And was also with the team when they grabbed Danny Granger after the Wolves passed on him for McCants). So we will see what Kahn’s strategy is, the good news is that moving from Kevin McHale to ANY strategy is an improvement.

Personal Analysis:

First lets look at the 3 team needs:

1) A defensive minded center: Again I reiterate that taking a run at Chris, The Birdman, Andersen would be a good move this offseason. Likewise, Anderson Varejao also could fill this role and is a FA this summer. Both players would bring the energy, rebounding, and tough/active defense to the team that has been missing while we had a constantly rotating door of backup centers fill the roster. (A third option would be “The Polish Hammer” Marcin Gortat of the Orlando Magic who when given minutes has been just as good as Andersen/Varejao) Snagging one of those two would give the Wolves a very solid 3-pronged Front-line with Love and Jefferson where any two of the three could play well. Slot Jefferson in for 36-40 minutes, Love for 30-35 and 20-30 for Birdman/Sideshow Bob and you have arguably one of the top front-lines in the league all of the sudden.

2) A point guard: Certainly the team has a solid player in Randy Foye that some have argued is the teams point guard of the future. However looking at the breakdown of the Wolves 5-man units at 82games.com from this past season notice who the SG is on all of our best ones. Yes folks its Randy Foye. Honestly I’m conflicted on Foye. I think he’s comparable to Leandro Barbosa and Jason Terry and would be a great scoring 6th man guard that can play both 1+2 and would play starters minutes off the bench. Part of me says hes not the long-term solution at PG for the Wolves because I don’t see him creating for his teammates very often. The other side says that paired with the right back-court mate who can create his own shot to go along with a Big Man in Jefferson who is also good enough to score on his own and I think it could work out well with Foye at the point. I think that trading for Hinrich could work out quite well or drafting a player at #6 like Tyreke Evans who can create his own shot and get to the basket at will would also work well. Both players are bigger than Foye and could match up well with SG’s on defense. The other part of me (that says Foye should play SG) says the Wolves should be looking at Johnny Flynn at #6 who fills the role of a more traditional PG and would be an upgrade over Telfair.

3) Athletic Scorers – Again the Wolves haven’t had an athletic scorer since Marbury left town. Drafting Evans, Flynn, or maybe Stephen Curry would change that. Don’t see a ton of trade options for a player that fits this mold either.

Other Considerations:

It’ll be interesting to see what Kahn does in his first month on the job and how he starts building the team and shaping it into his vision of a contender. Personally I think they should bring back McHale as coach for three reasons,1) he connects with the players well can commands their respect, 2) as a result of that connection he seems to do well developing players (especially big men), and 3) because really there aren’t that many better options available unless you can convince a guy like Jeff Van Gundy to come to Minny or sign away a top assistant like Tom Thibodeau from the Boston Celtics.

Looking Forward:

Since we all like to play GM here’s my stab at what I would try and realistically do this summer if I were running the Wolves:

1. Draft Tyreke Evans with the #6 pick in the NBA draft and B.J. Mullens with #18.
2. Trade #28 for a future first round pick.
3. Trade Mike Miller to the Bulls for Kirk Hinrich
4. Sign Chris Andersen, Anderson Varejao, or Marcin Gortat with the full-midlevel exception.

I don’t think anyone could disagree that every one of these moves is completely fathomable for the Wolves to be able to make this summer. The only thing that would need a little luck is being able to convince The Birdman or Varejao to sign with us. The Birdman probably prefers the mid-level in Denver if they offer it and Varejao may command slightly more than the MLE. That being said Gortat might be had by the Wolves with their full MLE.

With these moves the Wolves Depth Chart looks something like this with the percentage of minutes broken down:

PG: Kirk Hinrich (40%) / Sebastian Telfair (30%) / Randy Foye (20%) / Tyreke Evans (10%)
SG: Randy Foye (40%) / Tyreke Evans (25%) / Kirk Hinrich (20%) / Rodney Carney (15%)
SF: Ryan Gomes (33%) / Corey Brewer (33%) / Rodney Carney (33%)
PF: Kevin Love (40%) / Al Jefferson (30%) / Craig Smith (20%) / Ryan Gomes (10%)
C:
Andersen/Varejao/Gortat (40%) / Al Jefferson (30%) / Kevin Love (20%) / B.J. Mullens (10%)

That’s a playoff teams folks! And a fairly good one at that. Notice also how the roles become more defined even and that we basically have a solid 3-player rotation both in the backcourt and in the frontcourt without giving up our flexibility? Then we can fill in at SF whatever player we need based on the matchups that night. This is a solid NBA team in my opinion that could compete in the West right away next year.

That’s my State of the Wolves right now, next up I’ll have a more in depth look at the draft and what the Wolves should look for later this week.

Feel free to leave your comments below or Twitter them to me @howlintwolf. Also I’m up and running over at Ball Hype as well so if you want to give me some love it’s always appreciated.

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