Today it was announced that the Timberwolves have signed free agent point guard Mo Williams on a 1-year, $3.75 mil deal. Williams played last year for the Portland Trail Blazers, averaging 9.7 PPG, 4.3 APG and shot just about 37 percent from deep.
One of the biggest weaknesses on the roster was their (capable) depth at the point guard position. Ricky Rubio’s the obvious starter but immediately after that things got blurry. For most of the season, you saw JJ Barea take hold of the back up duties but saw just as much time at the 2-guard spot than the point. Alexey Shved didn’t play much at all last season, thanks to Rick Adelman’s guidance and tutelage, and he could’ve become a possible option there.
But other than that the Wolves showed how desperately thin they were at the position, especially considering how poor of years both Barea and Shved endured last season given their inconsistent minutes. Flip Saunders has made it a point to change things there this season by drafting Zach LaVine, who, regardless of whether he can actually play point guard or not, gives the Wolves depth in the backcourt. And now you bring on Mo Williams to shore things up.
If you ask me, since a Kevin Love trade is looming over our heads, bound to be completed in the next 30 days or less, we may have witnessed Flip Saunders upgrade the entire outlook of the backcourt from last season to this — AND FOR LESS MONEY!
Take it like this; JJ Barea was set to earn $4.5 mil this coming season, while Shved a near $3.3 mil. Williams and LaVine will make a combined ~$5.85 mil next year. That’s nearly $2 million in savings, all while likely upgrading the production from the bench’s backcourt.
But there’s still a catch.
Williams, although a polarizing, fun-loving kind of player, is well past his prime, surviving in the NBA on one-year deals like his latest with the Wolves. He had a pretty good season playing behind — and sometimes next to — Damian Lillard in Portland but still struggled with a lot of the issues he’s faced over his entire career. Take a look at his shot chart, for instance. Williams has constantly been a chucker his entire career and always above the break. He took just 47 threes from the corners and only made 16 of them, so he’s not going to be particularly useful playing alongside Rubio, who will depend on guys huddling in the corners for triples (Please, God, let Chase Budinger find his stroke again this season).
Williams has also struggled with a high usage rate, even during his “prime,” playing alongside the one and only LeBron James. Look, he likes to dribble and he’s a point guard, nothing wrong with that. But you’re going to find strikingly similar numbers from JJ Barea, who was the death of most Wolves fans last season. How many more constant-dribbling point guards can we stand before they simply pass the ball? Luckily, Williams finished with more assists per game with Portland last season than Barea did in Minnesota but Barea did boast a higher assist rate than Williams, who got to dish the ball off to wonderful spot-up shooters in Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews.
As for LaVine and Shved, neither player has shown enough to prove their worth in the NBA yet, and that goes to saying that Shved has an additional two years of experience over LaVine. What’s that say about Shved’s NBA run so far? Regardless, LaVine’s athleticism and sheer potential is enough to consider it an upgrade at the “backup combo guard” position. I still believe that Shved can thrive in the right system but it won’t be in Minnesota anymore given the talent and experience ahead of him.
All of this was basically a lede into the fact that the Williams signing is likely a move before a move that likely has Barea and Shved looking for new homes in new cities. Likely paired in a Love deal or a separate one to tweak the final roster before camp, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Flip is molding this team with the players he wants to coach, and that doesn’t include Kahn-era guys like Barea and Shved. And as much as I understand the idea as well as the newly saved $2 mil in cap space, I don’t officially believe that Williams/LaVine is much of an upgrade over a Barea/Shved backcourt, and let me tell you why.
As for Williams vs. Barea, both are viewed as score-first point guards off the bench, who bring intensity as well as playoff experience to the table. Williams is very much in decline at 31 years old and will not be much better than he was last year unless he can prove to hit that corner three a little more often. Barea may be beginning his decline at 30 years but much of last season’s woes could be contributed to a down year. His turnover rate has been lower than Williams’ the past two seasons and his three-point percentage (31.6) is well-below his career average of nearly 35 percent. Maybe it’s me reading too deep into this but if Barea’s being ousted because of his poor play last season, I wouldn’t be surprised is he finds a new home and puts up a better season than what Williams might do in Minnesota. But that’s basketball, right?
The LaVine/Shved matchup is a bit of a wash because Shved simply hasn’t performed well at all in the NBA minus a couple of exciting breakout games. Part of me truly does believe that Shved has it in him to become a solid combo guard somewhere in the NBA, but it all has to do with his confidence and on-court demeanor. Wanna know where you can get a boost in that? Making shots. All you have to do is ask Mo Williams that one. But LaVine is an intriguing prospect, who may be more than a year away to making any real contribution, but it’s why the Shved project likely isn’t going to work out in Minnesota any longer. It’s a tough break for the Russian but that’s the biz, buddy.
So if Flip’s mission was to go out and successfully upgrade the backcourt this offseason, I’d have to wait and see before you can clearly give him the credit of doing so. But, if anything, he shaved $2 mil from the cap and brought in players that are at least capable of replacing their counterparts and perhaps doing even more, especially in the case of LaVine.