Timberwolves re-sign Chase Budinger, sign Kevin Martin

Will Kevin Martin help the Wolves end their playoff drought?

Yesterday, the inestimable Henry Abbott wrote a must-read piece on 3-point shooting and what the NBA Finals taught us about the importance of treys in the league. Although he never mentioned Minnesota by name, his findings are a good indicator as to why the Wolves struggled last year.

NBA coaches have long been far too timid with 3s — merely attempting more has long predicted winning more games, thinking which is only slowly catching on. 3-point shooting has long been seen as a condiment, a little something to sprinkle onto your time-tested offensive diet.

When your opponent packs the paint like the Spurs did, 3s quickly become even more important. They go from being condiments to survival food. Either you can get the defensive players scrambling far from the hoop to close out shooters or you cannot. Either you can punish opposing coaches for playing two plodding 7-footers (by making them run out to cover someone far from the hoop) or you cannot. Either you can efficiently turn possessions into points even without layups, or you cannot.

If you cannot do those things, you’re basically done.

There’s no denying that the Wolves were done last year. Minnesota shot .305 from 3-point range, good for 30th in the NBA and well below the range in which the 3-pointer is a good, efficient shot. Opposing teams adjusted accordingly, and before long, the Wolves were trapped within themselves: Unable to space the floor with shooters and as a result, equally unable to create efficient shots.

Minnesota’s two most recent signings are indicators that the Wolves were well aware of their struggles and are now intent on fixing them. Chase Budinger will return to Minnesota — hopefully free of any lingering effects from his torn MCL suffered last November — while Kevin Martin will join the backcourt and, essentially by default, will almost certainly take over the starting shooting guard role. Here’s the breakdown on their contracts:

  • Chase Budinger: 3 years, $16 million
  • Kevin Martin: 4 years, $28 million

As has been pointed out elsewhere, this brings Minnesota to within $4 million of the salary cap which essentially precludes Andrei Kirilenko’s return. This has been cause for quite a bit hand-wringing around the internet, as most people are less than thrilled that Minnesota went from a middle-of-the-pack defensive team to a lower-end defensive team with the two signings. Everything Minnesota has done over the past couple of years has been geared toward one thing: Keeping Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio on the team long-term. Will being a contender for the eighth seed in the playoffs be enough to keep Love interested?

It’s impossible to say for sure, but unlike a lot of commentators around the internet, I like these deals. Consider:

  • Minnesota’s starting five is likely now Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger (OR SHABAZZ MUHAMMAD!! BELIEVE THE HYPE!!!), Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. That’s two steady 3-point shooters (don’t forget: Budinger shot 48% from the corners in his last season in Houston), an enormous presence in the post and the high pick-and-roll, a magical unicorn point guard and an all-world power forward. Minnesota’s offense will be undeniably explosive.
  • Defense, individually, will be a problem. But an NBA defense should never be built around individuals. The best defenses are team exercises (and don’t forget: Minnesota’s coach once fashioned the league’s fourth best defense with a roster that prominently featured Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic). Minnesota, of course, won’t be as good at defense as Miami — a team with elite athletes and an excellent Xs and Os coach — but they might be middle-of-the-pack, and a middle-of-the-pack defense might do the trick with a high-powered offensive roster like Minnesota’s.

There are a lot of directions the Wolves could go from here in the offseason, but they don’t have a lot of cap room left. Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea are both movable players who could play nice roles on other teams. Derrick Williams might be enough to entice a rebuilding GM (and it’s worth noting that there are going to be a LOT of teams in the Tank-for-Wiggins sweepstakes who might be interested in a player with a lot of upside like Williams who also won’t conveniently win you any games). And, of course, there’s the ever-present problem of Nikola Pekovic’s looming restricted free agency.

But whatever happens next, signing Martin and re-signing Budinger addressed Minnesota’s biggest need and, perhaps, fixed the Wolves’ offensive spacing problems. For my money, we should view this as a good thing.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Minnesota Timberwolves Draft Prospect: Otto Porter

Otto Porter, Georgetown University

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Positives: There are a lot of teams for whom Otto Porter would be a heck of a draft pick. For instance: Any team that needs a very large body who can play well out of a pick-and-pop would be well served with Porter. Any team that needs a player who scored 1.53 points per possession off the dribble in college would be well served with Porter. Any team that wants a potential game-changer defensively — a 7’1 wingspan and the ability to close out on perimeter jumpshooters — would be well served with Porter. Anybody who wants a smart basketball player with great passing instincts would be well served with Porter.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the Timberwolves are that team.

That being said, Porter is a fun prospect. He has never played AAU ball, so he was mostly unheralded before the season. But it’s pretty clear how well his game might translate to the NBA. His mid-range game is very efficient. He does most of his rebounding below the rim, and his defensive instincts are quite good, which counteracts his lack of athleticism. There are a lot of stretch-4s in the NBA at this point, but it’s not hard to imagine Porter easily fitting into that mold, given his size, wingspan and skillset.

Negatives: While many of the stretch-4s entering the league are also extremely gifted athletically (for example: Derrick Williams), Porter is neither particularly strong nor athletic. His lateral quickness makes scouts wonder what he can contribute defensively, especially as a small forward, and his 200-pound 6’8 frame will get bumped around in the NBA. He makes up for this by being a very hard worker, but he will need to add pounds of muscle to be successful at the next level.

Porter also struggles to shoot from deep range. As a small forward, he will need to expand his range to the 3-point line, and it wouldn’t hurt for him to expand it even as a power forward. That said, competent shooting is one of the easier skills to teach for NBA coaches. So while Porter would probably be a project offensively, it’s certainly possible (probable, even?) that he will get to a point where he can be effective from behind the 3-point line.

Bottom Line: Porter is a bit of an investment, since he will need to add muscle and as much athleticism as the NBA can teach. He will also need to expand his range. But Porter is still very young, and every indicator points to his motor being good enough to make him an effective player.

An effective player, mind you, who doesn’t play for Minnesota.

Timberwolves Fit: No bueno. Although Porter could become a solid small forward or stretch-4, the Wolves need neither. What they need is a good shooting guard and a back-up center, and someone who will help them win immediately. Porter fits none of those categories, particularly the latter. Minnesota is playing to keep their stars, most notably Rubio and Love. On a young team that’s a couple of years away from competing in the playoffs, Porter might make a lot of sense. But for a Wolves team that wants to make a solid playoff run as soon as possible, Porter would be a bad move.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Minnesota Timberwolves Draft prospect: Victor Oladipo

Victor Oladipo, Indiana

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Positives: Perhaps the single biggest reason  I struggle to watch and enjoy college basketball, aside from the tournament suspension on my favorite team (UConn), is the 35-second shot clock. When a team can run a set, fail, run a set, fail and run a third set all in one possession, it puts the defense at an enormous disadvantage while at the same time slowing the pace to a crawl.

This makes what Victor Oladipo can do on the defensive end all the more impressive, since he does it consistently for 35 seconds. There are a few perimeter defenders in the NBA who can hound ball-handlers as well as Oladipo (Avery Bradley and Tony Allen are the first two who come to mind), but where Bradley and Allen both struggle to score consistently offensively, Oladipo had a breakout season at Indiana as an offensive threat. He finished the season shooting a stellar 59.9% from the field, including 44.1% from 3-point range. 28.2% of his offense came in transition, which is cool because he’s unbelievably athletic and OMG RUBIOOPS ALL DAY EVERYDAY YES PLEASE. He’s also very good at cutting to the basket, so, you know, more Rubioops.

What’s more: Oladipo is a solid rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. With his offensive efficiency, his hounding defense and his rebounding, Oladipo is likely to be high lottery pick this year.

Negatives: While Oladipo’s solid offense is much improved from last season, he still isn’t a “go-to” scorer. He is turnover-prone in isolation and has an unfortunately predictable tendency to go right. He’s also not much of a ball-handler, preferring straight line drives to the basket. There are also plenty of questions regarding his upside, which makes comparisons to NBA superstars like Dwyane Wade a little bit foolish. Is Oladipo simply a scorer/slasher? Or can he be utilized in other ways as well? These questions will determine how high he ends up going in the draft.

Bottom Line: While Oladipo’s upside may be limited, there’s also little question as to whether or not he belongs in the league. His defensive pressure would help any team, and since he can defend up to three different positions in the NBA, it’s not implausible to imagine Oladipo hounding opposing point guards up the floor and forcing opposing offenses to start their sets late in the shot-clock, which, in the NBA, has considerably more effect.

Oladipo is not Dwyane Wade. But he might be a better version of Avery Bradley or Tony Allen, and that’s a fun prospect to imagine.

Timberwolves fit: There’s a reason Derek spent the last (excellent) prospect breakdown salivating over Ben McLemore, and it’s the same reason I’m salivating over Victor Oladipo in this one: The last time Minnesota had a decent shooting guard was…well…never. Oladipo  has the potential to be a PERFECT fit in Minnesota, for lots of reasons, and I outlined a lot of them in the positives. He’s an excellent cutter, which is great when the Wolves have a player like Rubio. He’s a scoring option for teams that already have scoring options, and Minnesota has Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, and (perhaps) Nikolai Pekovic and Andre Kirilenko. If Oladipo can produce and defend the way he looks like he can, the Wolves could have a starting five that includes an increasingly-healthy Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Nikolai Pekovic and the evolutionary Avery Bradley. That, my friends, is a starting five that can win more than regular season games. That could win a couple of playoff series.

For my money, Victor Oladipo is the best choice for Minnesota in the draft, and several media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, are picking him to go to the Wolves. McLemore is the clear choice if they somehow win the lottery, but a defender and an efficient scorer like Oladipo is more likely to fit into Minnesota’s offense, and the defense he offers makes him an extremely intriguing prospect.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Kobe Bryant plays clutch “defense” on Ricky Rubio as Lakers beat Timberwolves

We will have a full recap up tomorrow at some point, but for tonight, I feel like this play warrants discussion. As Lakers and Timberwolves game wound down tonight, Kobe Bryant clutchly missed a free throw with three seconds left, giving the Wolves a chance to tie. Rubio grabbed the rebound and flew up the court, ready to toss up one final attempt at the buzzer. Then the above happened. Here’s a freeze frame.

Screen shot 2013-03-27 at 11.37.08 PM

The forearm is part of the ball?

Minnesota’s Fox Sports North announcers were not shy in voicing their displeasure, and neither were Ricks Rubio and Adelman. It’s not hard to see why; there was a lot of contact, and the contact clearly affected Rubio’s shot. The likelihood of Rubio hitting either the 3-pointer or the three free throws should be completely immaterial. If it was a foul, it should have been called as such. You can now bet on NBA Playoffs, odds are already available at Top Bet.

Now to be fair, officials are not given the option to go back and look if plays were fouls or not. This may have been difficult to see in real time (I’m being very generous here). Further, games are very rarely decided by the officiating, and this game is no different. Certainly, a bad no-call in the final seconds affected the outcome, but there’s a difference between a bad no-call affecting and deciding the game. The Lakers shot considerably better than the Wolves both from the 3-point line and from the field in general. If Minnesota shot or defended better, they could have won without the benefit of a questionable call.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there is something very wrong with a system in which a referee does not feel comfortable making what was clearly the right call as time expires. Certainly, Kobe is a superstar, and he is one of the most popular players in the league, but his status doesn’t shouldn’t elevate him above the common rules of the game (rules like “You can’t swat a guy across his arms to prevent him from getting a real look at a potentially game-tying shot”).

Rubio probably wouldn’t have made that shot (which, incidentally, makes Kobe’s alleged foul a really stupid basketball play). He probably wouldn’t have made his three free throws to send the game into overtime. But he deserved the chance, and for a franchise that hasn’t seen a victory against the Lakers in 22 tries, this leaves a particularly bitter taste behind.

Oh, and Kobe had this to say, per ESPN.

“That’s not a foul. They ain’t calling that s—,” Bryant said. “I don’t think I got him. That’s a tough call to make. I just put my hand in. It’s not like I went out and smacked him across the arm or anything like that. It is what it is.”

Would Bryant have been “surprised” if a foul was called?

“No. We would have gone into overtime and won the game. It’s as simple as that.”

Allow me to make one addendum: They ain’t calling that s— on YOU, Kobe. You and maybe two other players won’t get called for that. I hope you realize how lucky that makes you.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Weekend recap: Minnesota drops two more

It was another tough weekend for the free-falling Wolves.

My apologies to our readers for not getting this out earlier. Also my apologies for not giving any real sign of positivity for this team moving forward.

Two Positives

Jonah: Alongside Gelabale, Greg Stiemsma has played well in Nikola Pekovic’s absence. He had eight points in Denver and chipped in 10 and eight boards against Dallas. He hasn’t been all that effective this season but at least he can contribute when the Wolves need it the most.

Tom: Mickael Gelabale shot the lights out against Denver, finishing 8-10 from the field and 2-2 from 3-point range for 18 points. He followed that up with a solid 6-10 shooting night against Dallas, although he missed both of his 3-point attempts. Solid scoring numbers for Gelabale. That’s about as positive as I can get.

Two Negatives

Jonah: The losses to Denver and Dallas weren’t surprising to anyone. What makes it worse is seeing guys like Corey Brewer, Ty Lawson and Vince Carter making it all possible. Both Brewer and Lawson have ties to Minnesota in the past — not as much Lawson but I digress. And Carter admitted that it’s hard for him to even dunk anymore, making it that much more painful to lose to such a dinosaur. The Wolves are supposed to be young, spry and energetic. None of those have shown up on the court other than being young and inexperienced.

Tom: I don’t mean to be urinating all over everybody’s parades, but Derrick Williams’ sudden “explosion” has been a very inefficient one. Against Denver and Dallas, Williams was 4-14 (for 13 points) and 7-17 (for 18 points) respectively. I’m NOT saying there’s no reason to celebrate: Williams has certainly shown signs of improvement, and he got to the free throw line 14 times in those two games. It’s also worth noting that the Wolves really don’t need to be worrying about efficiency when they are just trying to put points on the board in any way possible, and perhaps this is as good a way as any of making sure that Williams develops quickly. But let’s temper our enthusiasm just a little bit for the sake of realism. Williams has needed a LOT of shots to put up the scoring totals he has been posting recently.

Two observations

Jonah: The Wolves dropped two over this past weekend and they weren’t even close. That means that in the last five losses for the Wolves, they’ve lost by 15 or more points in each. Ouch.

Tom: The Wolves are a game and a half out of last place in the Western Conference, but they are nearly eight games ahead of far ahead of Eastern Conference competition for worst record in the NBA. Orlando has bottomed out to 18-46 while Charlotte is 13-50 on the season.

Next up: The Wolves take on the San Antonio Spurs at home tonight.

Here are a few truly flagrant fouls

This is definitely a flagrant foul.

This is definitely a flagrant foul.

This is definitely a flagrant foul.

This is definitely a flagrant foul.

So after seeing all of this basketball violence, by my reasonable, unbiased and totally not-fallacious-at-all reasoning, I think we can definitively say that JJ Barea’s flagrant 2 should be downgraded and the Wolves got screwed. Thanks a lot refs, you big jerks.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Thunderstruck; Wolves lose 127-111

The Thunder were, once again, better than Minnesota.

Two Positives 

Jonah: Lacking offensive firepower, it’s good to see the Wolves net well over 100 points in a game. And against a fairly stout Oklahoma City defense (Eighth in the league in defensive efficiency). The bench was huge, scoring a combined 59 points on 24-39 shooting. Not too shabby. Any chance at a win runs through solid bench production because the Wolves can’t afford to let any one player shoulder the load, especially when it comes to scoring. So the strong bench play was a positive sign, no doubt.

Tom: Ricky Rubio’s nine assists were good to see. But perhaps more encouraging was his confidence. It’s been a gradual journey back to health for Ricky, and he clearly isn’t quite there yet, but we are starting to see him truly accelerate up the court and show some confidence on his surgically-repaired knee. Getting that confidence back is going to be Rubio’s first step in recapturing last year’s magic, and he seems to be moving in that direction.

Two Negatives

Jonah: I understand that Greg Stiemsma had one hell of a game (13 points on 4-5 shooting, 5-6 from the free throw line and four blocks) but I’m sick of seeing Chris Johnson parked on the bench, especially in blowout games like these that are just an excuse for tryouts.

Tom: After several solid games in a row, Derrick Williams showed a pretty serious regression to the mean. To his credit, after missing both of his early 3-point attempts, he stopped chucking, but he struggled to finish at the rim when he took the ball inside. His final shooting line, 3-14, was less than inspirational. He may have been taken out of the game a little bit by a couple of bad early no-calls by officials, including one on which he was very nearly undercut while in mid-air.

Two Observations

Jonah: There’s a certain drinking game called, “Thunderstruck”. Here’s just a quick preview:

The harshest part is when you get stuck on a “Thunder” in the middle of a verse or the bridge. You’re talking sometimes 20 seconds or more of chugging! The Wolves seemed to be that guy who gets stuck on the longer parts, and it totally sucks. That is my interpretation of last night’s game.

Tom: Kendrick Perkins is the kind of big body that can give Nikola Pekovic an off night. If Pek can’t bull his way to the basket, he struggles in the post. On the other hand, it seems like the best way to get Pekovic on track against a slow-footed opponent like Perkins would be to run some high pick-and-rolls and allow him to take advantage of Pek’s slowness. That didn’t happen much last night.

Next up: 

A win! Wolves win 100-92

Rubio dished out 10 assists as the Wolves tallied a much-needed win over the Cavaliers.

Two Positives

Jonah: Luke Ridnour posts his second 20-plus point performance in the last three games. He’s been the most sound, consistent scoring option nearly all season long. Whether that’s a good thing or not, it’s been working for the Wolves because they lead to rare wins like this.

Tom: Guys who were struggling to make it in the NBA make for fun stories when they start to find a niche, and Mickael Gelabale is finding a serious niche with the Wolves. Starting in his second consecutive game, Gelabale scored 11 points on just four field goal attempts and posted the team’s highest +/- of +16. Extremely efficient numbers for the T-Wolves newest guard.

Two Negatives

Jonah: Derrick Williams got himself into foul trouble in this one but does that really warrant just 16 minutes for the newly-starting power forward? He made the most of his time on the court with 12 points and a +/- score in the black. But he needs to find a way to keep himself on the court, keep engaged in the game and impress Adelman just enough to keep him there. Not an easy feat.

Tom: Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing Ricky Rubio climb over double digits in his assist count tonight as much as the next guy. But Rubio turned the ball over quite a bit down the stretch and finished with seven turnovers overall. 10 assists or not, seven turnovers is entirely too many.

Two Observations

Jonah: JJ Barea came back tonight after missing last night’s game with a tweaked foot. He didn’t contribute much (five points, 2-4 shooting in just 15 minutes) but Barea is and will continue to be an offensive focal point for the duration of the season. Face it, do we really have a better option?

Tom: I mentioned above that it’s fun to see Mickael Gelabale finding a niche. Less fun is seeing Gelabale’s fellow niche-finder Chris Johnson get yet another DNP-CD tonight for reasons that continue to escape me. Terry Porter’s rotations in Rick Adelman’s absence were an utter nightmare in a lot of ways, but at least he found minutes for Johnson, and Johnson rewarded him by playing shockingly good basketball. I’m not saying that Chris Johnson’s PER of 24.8 isn’t a product of a small sample size (because it is), I’m just saying that until Johnson STOPS producing at that level, wouldn’t it make sense to, you know, let him produce?

Next up: The Wolves face the Utah Jazz at the Target Center on Wednesday. Game starts at 8.