An Unpopular Position: In Defense of Jonny Flynn

jonny-flynn-e1289242277968.jpg (420×315)

Everybody seems to have given up on Jonny already. Well, everybody except me.

Last season, I was at the Target Center for Minnesota’s game against the New Orleans Hornets. I’ll admit: when opposing teams with superstars come to Minneapolis, during warmups, I often wander down as close to the court as I can get to see Blake Griffin, LeBron James, or Derrick Rose take meaningless, half-hearted jumpshots and occasionally (if I’m lucky) throw down a ridiculous dunk. In this case, I wanted to see the best pure point guard since Isiah Thomas; I wanted to be as close to Chris Paul as possible.

Yeah, I’m That Guy.

But I was attending this game with my sister, who wanted to go watch the home team. *Fiiiiinnneeee.* So we made our way over to the T-Wolves tunnel to watch the players pass below. As Jonny Flynn finished his shoot-around, and walked (was it a walk? Flynn seems more to bounce in his movements) towards us, he stopped to sign some autographs. An adorable little blond haired girl, sporting a tiny Flynn jersey, blue and green hair pieces, and Timberwolves logos painted on her cheeks called shyly “Hi Jonny!” Flynn looked up, slightly startled, then cracked a huge grin and waved, before disappearing into the tunnel.

My sister may or may not have melted and fallen in love with Jonny Flynn from that moment on. And she wasn’t the first person attending a Timberwolves game to do so.

Yeah, I’m looking at you. Admit it. Before it was cool to hate on Jonny Flynn and call him the worst point guard in the league, you loved him too. Remember when we were all excited about him, and the comparisons were running WAY out of control? I heard Kevin Johnson. I heard Tim Hardaway. I heard Chris Paul. (REALLY GUYS?!!) Flynn was young, confident as hell, and ready to take on the NBA from around most players’ navels, and we were ready to embrace him every step of the way.

We were wrong, unfortunately. Flynn was not, and almost certainly will never be a point guard of Kevin Johnson or Tim Hardaway’s caliber. He definitely won’t ever be Chris Paul. In fact, most people are writing off Flynn as a total bust already, despite that fact that A) He’s only 22 years old B) His horrendous numbers from this past year (3.4/2.1 assist to turnover ratio per 36 minutes, 7.1 PER, 36% from the field) can be partially explained by an injured hip and, after his recovery, very bruised confidence and of course C) HE’S ONLY 22 YEARS OLD!

Flynn’s detractors, and they are many, will point to one stat in particular, and it is a troubling one: his turnovers. According to Basketball Reference, Jonny Flynn’s turnover percentage, the amount of times he turned it over per 100 possessions, was 26.5% this season, meaning that when Flynn touched the ball, he turned it over more than a fourth of the time. If you aren’t aware how terrible that is, especially from the point guard position, you should be reading a different blog. But again, this season’s awful numbers can be partially explained by his injury, and by his shattered confidence as Kurt Rambis pushed him deeper and deeper down the depth chart. And looking at Flynn’s ROOKIE season, his turnover percentage was much lower, 17.9%.

Some turnover percentage numbers to chew on:
Steve Nash’s 2nd NBA season: 24.2%
Chauncey Billups 2nd NBA season: 18.1%
Jason Kidd’s Rookie Season: 20.1%

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to say that Jonny Flynn will ever be as efficient as Steve Nash, or Chauncey Billups, or Jason Kidd. We went through that phase as Minnesota fans already. What I AM saying is that it would be ridiculous to entirely give up on a young player based solely off the fact that he had a bad sophomore season…while recovering from an injury. Young players often struggle, especially young players in a bad situation, with the wrong coaching. Ask Chauncey Billups how he fared when he first entered the league, playing under Rick Pitino for a terrible Boston Celtics team. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t pretty.)

So if we can agree, as Timberwolf fans, to move past the unreasonable comparisons, maybe it’s time we hoped for a more feasible ceiling for Jonny Flynn (ie: not Tim Hardaway and not Chris Paul). How does JJ Barea strike you?

Barea is, at the moment, clearly a better shooter and less turnover prone than Flynn. But that’s why it’s called a ceiling: it’s what we would like to see Jonny become. Both players mix passing and shooting well. Both possess excellent athleticism and court vision. Both are dominant ball handlers, who may or may not dribble a little too much. Both players claim to be 6’0, making both more full of crap than a Port-A-Potty at Woodstock.

But lets dig into some basic numbers a little more. Take a look at some statistics from Barea and Flynn’s respective rookie seasons.

Per 36 Min Points Assists Turnovers Field Goal % 3 Point %
JJ Barea 14.7 4.5 2.7 35.90% 28.60%
Jonny Flynn 16.8 5.5 3.6 41.70% 35.80%

The only statistical category in which Barea bests Flynn early in their careers is turnovers, as Flynn averaged almost an entire turnover more per 36 minutes. But with the knowledge that both players have similar athletic skill-sets, from reading those specific statistics, it doesn’t seem to be a stretch to say that Flynn could be as effective, if not more effective, than JJ Barea at some point in his career.

Success in the NBA is all about the situation you are placed in, and Barea has been placed in an ideal situation in Dallas. He has several other extremely dangerous offensive options distracting opposing defenses, including a pack of shooters who effectively spread the floor, allowing him to get into the lane for all those little BS layups he keeps stealing. (Not that I’m complaining, thanks JJ for helping knock off Miami!)

At this point, it sounds very unlikely that Jonny Flynn will be given the chance to find success in Minnesota. Flynn’s name has been thrown around in Timberwolves trade rumors more than anyone else, and if he were to be traded, my sister and a very cute little blond girl would both be very sad. Honestly, I too would love to see him succeed in a T-Wolves uniform. But even more than that, I’d argue that at this point, trading Flynn is an impractical decision. After his abysmal season, Flynn has submarined his trade value so much that the majority of SB Nation sites reporting that their team is involved in Jonny Flynn trade talks are submerged in impassioned requests not to trade for him.

So I ask: considering that your other options for Rubio’s backup this season are Sebastian Telfair and Luke Ridnour, what would it hurt to hang on to Flynn? It could do wonders to give him some healthy, quality minutes (hopefully under a new coach, and in a new offensive system), and try to build his confidence back up. Minnesota (and the rest of the NBA) might find they have a better player than they realized just as Dallas did with Barea’s growth.

And Jonny? Keep smiling. My sister says it’s a very good look on you.

A complete 180; Wolves win 116-105

Minnesota Timberwolves' Anthony Randolph (15) Is

Just for tonight, Randolph fulfilled his potential

The 180 I’m referring to doesn’t just relate to the result. Tonight’s tilt offered a number of different aspects that the Wolves were unable to pull off last night against the Lakers.

Let’s start with Kevin Love. Against the Lakers’ heavy-hitting frontline, Love had a tough time getting anything going inside. Sure the refs ate their whistles a lot of the time, but they did indeed match his intensity and hustle — he couldn’t make shots either — which is required to do against such a beastly presence inside. It’s pretty adamant that the Pistons lack the depth inside to contain such a large mass of manliness and tonight only proved that. Chalk up yet another 20-20 for Senor Amor, as he was the driving force to tonight’s victory.

Another reason for tonight’s complete 180 comes from the point guard play. Last night, neither Luke Ridnour or Jonny Flynn came to play; they looked flat and just out there in the emotion of the game. Tonight, they made plays, simply put. Ridnour was firing the ball at a perfect clip, going 5-of-5 from the field for 15 points. He only dished out one assist, but that’s where Flynn comes in. If I told you that Flynn had 14 assists and only two turnovers, would you believe me? If I would’ve told you this 1-2 months ago, would you have tried to hunt me down with a vengeance? Flynn played one of the best games I’ve ever seen in his young career. And although some may think he still looks like a blind squirrel out there, he looks more comfortable in the offense and understands that his role isn’t to score; it’s to set teammates up and make the best decision possible. He did that tonight.

Along with Flynn’s exquisite play, the reserves made a complete turnaround. Anthony Randolph, Lazar Hayward and Anthony Tolliver stepped into their roles and commanded this game. In the second quarter, Randolph took matters into his own hands, charging the lane and drawing all sorts of contact. His defense is still suspect but when you nearly put up a 20-10 line off the bench, who cares? Especially in the flow of this type of game. What I particularly love about Randolph’s game is his aggressiveness. He attacks loose balls and then puts that thing on the floor and flies down court like some quick-handling guard. If his jumper starts to develop and he doesn’t look so bewildered on defense, we could’ve pulled off the trade of the century.

With Flynn and Randolph anchoring the reserve squad, Tolliver and Hayward both fit in well. They both played to the flow of the game and never showed any real weakness, or ever tried to force anything to happen. They sat back, let Flynn and Randolph work their games and were there if all else broke down.

Nearly everything was different about this game. Nearly. It’s obvious that our very own Michael Beasley is seriously struggling. He’s reminding me an awful lot of a black hole; whenever the ball swings his way, no one should count on getting it back. Usually the remedy to a cold shooting touch would be putting yourself in better positions to make high-percentage shots. Instead, Beasley’s been fixing to settle for off-balanced jumpers from beyond the arc. Even when he attacks the hoop it hasn’t looked nearly as smooth as it was earlier this year. There’s no doubt that the man has some maturing to do but there’s also no doubt that he needs to produce at a more efficient rate if he indeed is the scoring threat we thought he was.

This was a big win. Road wins are damn-near impossible to come by, so this was a real treat. (Quick side note: The Detroit Pistons are nearly a more forsaken team than the Wolves. Outside of Greg Monroe and possible Rodney Stuckey, this team has no real core to ride into a new era. A disgruntled Rip Hamilton, an injury-riddled Tayshaun Prince and a severely overweight Charlie Villanueva are no where close to an answer in D-Town. It’s truly a shame that the city, and it’s sports teams, are crumbling before our eyes.)

Next up is

Webster and Flynn's return gets spoiled; Wolves lose to Warriors 108-99

Golden State Warriors' Monta Ellis, left drives past Minnesota Timberwolves' Corey Brewer during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010 in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo)

Monta Ellis doesn't need Stephen Curry

Those Warriors are pesky. Just when you think the Wolves had them backed into a corner with no escape route, they hop aboard the Monta Ellis-express and sail their way to a smooth victory.

What should’ve been the story of the night — Martell Webster and Jonny Flynn shine in their game back from injuries and lead the Wolves to a victory — was toiled thanks to magnificent play from Ellis and terrific three-point shooting from the Warriors.

The Wolves came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, which seems to be the case in recent games. Lately they just find a groove in the first quarter that doesn’t seem comparable, making them run away with the score. Darko Milicic was hot and Mike Beasley was firing on all cylinders, especially from mid-range. This continued all the way into the second quarter, where the Wolves actually took hold of a commanding 12-point lead. It seemed unsurmountable at the time, but you never count out a team that has Ellis, a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and let’s his game do all the talking for him.

Ellis took charge and led the Warriors back into the game igniting a 12-2 run late in the second. And he didn’t stop there. With the scored tied at 51, Ellis hesitated at the perimeter with the ball in his hands and unleashed a 26-foot bomb with no doubt in his mind — as well as mine — that it would go in. Swoosh, and the Wolves lose their lead going into halftime.

From there, things didn’t get much better. Ellis continued his valiant effort and even got his teammates involved, most notably Reggie Williams. They started firing, and hitting, the three-pointer at will and the Wolves’ defense grew tired and porous as a result. Once the defense was spread out enough, Ellis started beating them off the dribble, slicing through the defense like a knife through butter and attacking the hoop with animosity like he had been all game long.

Ellis was essentially unstoppable tonight. He really is one of my favorite players in the league and probably my favorite to watch play live because of how creative he is and the energy he devotes to a game. The combination of his superior strength and freakishly athletic abilities was too much too handle, especially when he had poor Luke Ridnour guarding him all night. Ridnour was out-matched all night long and paid the price for it. He became frustrated on the offensive end throwing up unneeded shots and only made one out of nine of them. His assist total — 11 for the night — was impressive but it doesn’t make up for what he lost shooting the ball wildly and inefficiently. He honestly just looked like a lost puppy out there looking for someone to pick his ass up and cuddle him.

Kevin Love had a subpar performance, one of the firsts in a very long time. He still got his double-double recording 13-14 but got his 13 points off of a dismal 33 percent FG%. His now infamous three-point shot was contested nicely by the Warriors D as he failed to knock one down, and couldn’t get anything going inside thanks to some tough love on the inside on the part of the Warriors front line and the refereeing crew.

All in all this just wasn’t our night. I was, however, impressed with Jonny Flynn and Martell Webster in their return back to game action. Flynn didn’t do a whole lot, but you couldn’t help but cheer for the guy when he was on the court. After he hit his first three-pointer, he simply jogged back down the court with that smile from ear-to-ear that so many fans have fallen infatuated with. As for Webster, he couldn’t have done anything wrong tonight, in my eyes. He plays like that well-seasoned veteran we need because it seems as if he does everything right, or at least he did tonight. Like I said earlier today, if he keeps these kinds of performances up, we might see Wes Johnson fall into a reserve role as Webster moves into the starting lineup. It could ultimately benefit the team as a whole in the future.

The Wolves continue their road trip tomorrow night with a game at Phoenix, and the tumultuous road trip doesn’t end there: The T-Pups will then head to Portland, Denver and L.A. shortly after that. For a team that’s only won one game so far on the road this season, you can consider this stretch a real test of patience, will and determination.

An Interview with Jonny Flynn's Little League Coach

Howlin T-Wolf had the privilege of interviewing Jeff Cafarella of Niagara Falls who was Jonny Flynn’s little league coach.

HTW: Jeff you coached Jonny Flynn in little league when he was 11 and 12. Jonny certainly looks like a guy that is just built as an athlete. Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of baseball player and teammate he was?

JC: If you know anything about this kid, you here the same story over and over again….this kid will do anything you ask him to do.  He was the leader of the team and stepped up to light a fire under any one’s butt who needed it.  He batted 2nd and played shortstop for us both as an 11 and 12 year old and was never once challenged for his spot in the line up or on the field.

HTW: Any particular stories or moments you remember from those teams?

JC: I will always remember meeting this kid for the first time.  It was his first year in our league (with his cousin Eric who you will see in MLB one day soon), during our first practice I asked him what position he feels most comfortable at, and his answer is something I never heard before and its an answer I haven’t heard since them.  He looked at me and said “Coach, I don’t care where I play, or how much I play, I just ask that I get into the game at some point.”  I didn’t know what to say…lol.  Needless to say, he never stepped off the diamond or lost his starting spot.

The other memory I will always have is when he jumped over the catcher to win the championship for us!  It was a heated game against our biggest rival, and he did everything he could to win the game.  He was dead at the plate, catcher had the ball and was waiting for him….all of a sudden, there goes little Jonny jumping over the catch and landing right on the plate!

HTW: How much fun is it to see a hometown kid succeeding at the level Jonny is?

JC: It is amazing.  Niagara Falls doesn’t get too much credit or notice except for these past few years with the success of NFHS.

HTW: Niagara Falls might be one of the few places that Jonny could come to Minnesota from where he might be getting a slight upgrade in weather. For those of us that don’t know what’s the weather like in January in Niagara Falls?

JC: January is nice and cold and snowy….Wind-chills can be around -20 degrees at time and the snow is always blowing….There are mornings you walk outside and your nostrils freeze right up!

HTW: The Wolves also signed Jonny’s longtime teammate Paul Harris, another Niagara Falls guy, to their summer league team. I think he’s got a pretty good shot at making the team this season. Any thoughts on Harris and his game?

JC: Paul was the big man in Niagara Falls because he was so much bigger then the kids he played against.  He is a good player and can make people around him better.  He will work hard on the court, but he has his off nights.  But i think if you guys can get Jonny and Paul, you’ll be in for a treat.

Howls on Curry canceling his workout with the Wolves…

A quick note on the news on Stephen Curry canceling his workout with the Wolves:

Obviously it looks like Curry wants to be a Knick and does not want to be T-Wolf.

So what should the Wolves do if Curry is the BPA (best player available) at #6 on June 25th? Personally I don’t think you can pass on him. Curry is not Steve Francis and is not the type of player who would put up such a fight that he would sit out and not play. He might drag his feet on the way to camp but sooner than later it’s in his best interest to play and be a team guy. Of course this would also allow Kahn to have a nice trade chip especially if the Knicks really want him as much as is being rumored. Could the Wolves trade Curry for say sparkplug and solid six-man Nate Robinson who the Knicks don’t have enough money to resign (once they give Lee a boatload of money)? Or a possible future 1st round pick and either versatile swingman Wilson Chandler or the #8 pick where they could take Flynn? Kahn won’t be able to fleece his old mentor Donnie Walsh the same as others have Isaiah Thomas in the past but you have to believe their friendship will offer plenty of trade talk and options shoud a situation like this come together on draft day.

EDIT 6/13/09: Kahn agrees the skipped workout is not enough to force him to not draft Curry.

Insights into Kahn's thinking and how that translates into building a contender…

Every Wolves fan should take a look at the notes over at T-Wolves Blog from Kahn addressing a group of season ticket holders. My initial reaction? YES! Finally somebody who gets it.

Kahn said there were five opportunities over the next 16 months to drastically change the team (for the team to “pop”):
1) The upcoming draft
2) This summer’s free agency
3) Next year’s trade deadline
4) Next year’s draft
5) Next summer’s free agency

Here’s to hoping we get the first splash right away at the draft in two weeks.

When asked about rumored trades, he mentioned Kirk Hinrich whom he described as a nice player who makes too much money. He said Hinrich is not what the team is looking for offensivelyThis is obviously interesting after discussing the possibilites of Hinrich on the Wolves. The key thing here is that Kahn is focused on the offense which is good (not that we don’t need defense too). Further proof was given in what he said this morning at a media breakfast:

“We need shooters,” he said. “We were the worst-shooting team in the Western Conference last year.”

Can’t argue with this either, isn’t it refreshing to have someone in the front-office at least show they understand!

Other thoughts I especially liked:

  • Wants to be hyper-aggressive on adding new pieces
  • Could have 7-10 new players/perimeter players by training camp 2010
  • For a championship caliber team, Al Jefferson and Kevin Love are, respectively, 2nd and 4th best players. The team needs to find players who can be the 1st and 3rd best players, according to Kahn.

Yes, yes and yes to these 3 points. Obviously the third point is a tall task getting a top level A player but it shows a lot about Kahn to say that. It’s a long cry from the “we’re fine” mentality McHale has seemed to have as well as the whole front-office and organization over the past decade. Nobody can argue that we shouldn’t be hyper-aggressive and no one can also argue against having 7-10 new players to go with Jefferson and Love. The real interesting thing here is no mention of Foye. Could he be on his way out? Obviously it would depend on the trade but does anyone really love having Foye on the team and would be really broken up if he were gone?

Let’s delve a little deeper into this description of a championship caliber team that Kahn is talking about and trying to build. With a couple of team bloggers already looking into “How to Build a Contender” over at the Daily Thunder here (Part I) and here (Part II) by Joe Newell and the original idea at Hornets 24/7 by Ryan Schwan.

As Ryan explains his idea:

It’s a little simplistic, but it seems to me that there are two ways to contend for a title in the NBA: Field a team with two Class A scorers, and surround them with specialists(see Shaq-Kobe or Shaq-Wade, 2nd Three-Peat Bulls) or field a team with one Class A scorer, and two Class B scorers, then fill in around the edges.(Ginobili-Duncan-Parker, Jordan-Pippen-Grant, Dantley-Thomas-Dumars, Hamilton-Billups-Sheed) The Hornets are currently built around a Class A scorer(Paul) and one Class B scorer(West), and one scorer(Peja) who they hoped would be Class B, but has fallen to Class C. To me, they either need to find another class B scorer on the cheap or try and upgrade their Class B scorer to a Class A one. The question is, however, who do I classify as a Class A or Class B Scorer? Class A are those players who are not only efficient scorers(points per shot of 1.3 or better) but whom retain that efficiency while taking around a dozen shots or more. Class B are those scorers who average between 1.2 and 1.3 points per shot, while taking the same number of shots per game.

I’ll spoil it for you but if you go over there you won’t find any Wolves on the list of the 29 GUYS Class A scorers in the league. You will find efficent big men (Howard, Shaq, Amare, Yao, Duncan etc.) some great shooters (Martin, Allen, Billups, Nash, Granger, Durant, Nowitzki, etc.) a handful of all-around scorers (James, Wade, Roy, Pierce, Salmons, etc.) and some guys who thrive in the paint and get to the line a lot (Paul, Harris, Ginobli, Maggatte, etc.)

Currently the Wolves have a Class B (1.19 so close enough) efficent big man in Jefferson and two players that WOULD be Class A if they got 11+ shots a game in Kevin Love and Mike Miller. In fact Miller had been a Class A scorer in Memphis until he came to MN and in the 14 games he shot more than 11 times for us last season he was indeed a Class A scorer with 17.7 PPG on an average of 13 shots for a PPS of 1.36. For Love in the 25 games he played the most minutes (27 mins+) he too was a Class A scorer averaging 16 points on 11 shots for a 1.44 PPS that puts him just above Lebron James. Not too shabby. So I have to agree with Kahn that Jefferson is at best a #2 player and Love is a #4. (I think you could argue Love as a solid #3 in the Horace Grant/Dennis Rodman role to two class A scorers like Jordan/Pippen). As for Foye he rates out similiar to Westbrook in Joe’s breakdown in Part I, basically average at best and not someone who should be shooting 14 times a game.

So the question now is, is Miller in the Wolves long term plans? Obviously his expiring $9mil expiring contract is one of our best trade chips, but if we were to find a way to get him more shots next season it could lead to some more wins for us. Likewise if Love can get the 30+ mins he should be getting we can expect him to be a Class A scoring big man next season. That being said Miller + Love are far from the same Class A scoring duo that Shaq+Kobe or Jordan+Pippen are on championship teams but with a very solid Class B big man in Jefferson (who’s efficiency could improve with defenses giving more attention to anyone else on the team) and the ability to still be able to draft or trade for another Class B or even Class A scorer the Wolves don’t sound as bad as a team that hasn’t been able to win 30 games in the last 2 years. As for Foye he’s starting to look more and more tradeable for the Wolves. Think about it, why are we beating ourselves up trying to find guys that will fit with an shall I say “awkward fit” combo guard like Foye. So let’s start to figure out some trade ideas involving Foye.

As for what to target in the draft, looking again at Joe’s breakdown in Part II of this year’s upcoming draft class both Harden and Curry stand out as the best scorers. Certainly the college numbers won’t be translating for sure (see Redick and Morrison) but it gives you a good idea for who to target and how much of a scorer they really are. A third player not on Joe’s list is Jonny Flynn who was at 1.39 PPS last season at Syracuse and would fit the Wolves need at pg quite well. As for Evans who I previously advocated for, he’s looking less attractive the more I hear, including turning down a workout for the Kings (ESPN Insider) against competition after saying he would take on anyone and everyone. Meanwhile if we did move Foye we can start from scratch and get a more traditional poing guard (like drafting Flynn) and a more traditional shooting guard (like by trading Foye).