State of the Wolves Part II

Ok Wolves fans so we have plenty of updated information in the past few weeks that we’ve gotten straight from David Kahn on what his plan is for the Wolves. On top of that some more research has led me to change some of my views as well and we have a lot more information on the players available in the draft.

So with that here’s my State of the Wolves Part II (I’ll be pulling from the first State of the Wolves as well as my look into how the Wolves look in terms of scorers and will indent that stuff to distinguish old from new):

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 it 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 the current roster 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 besided Telfair plays multiple positions with some consitency. 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 philosphy 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 hault 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 get to the FT 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.

This is where we have the biggest change since my original breakdown has come. Kahn has been all but a completely open book with just about everyone (media, season ticket holders, etc.) over the past few weeks. (Everyone except the players he’s going to be shipping out, i.e. all of them not named Jeffeson or Love.)

Based on what we know now I think Kahn’s strategy or plan breaks down like this:

  1. Draft or trade for a true pg to lead this team.
  2. Add shooters (and scorers) around said pg and Jefferson
  3. Trade for players in the 24-26 year old range to grow the team together
  4. Find a positive coach that will take time to develop the group of younger players
  5. Work the phones and be the most aggressive GM in the league to use the leverage he has in expiring contracts and multiple 1st round picks to complete the plan by being opportunistic during the draft, free agent season, and next year at the trade deadline.

I honestly can’t wait to see Kahn’s first day or real action this Thursday to see the plan start rolling after lots of work over the past few weeks working the phones.

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.

This still is the plan, I think however based on Kahn saying he wants a group of 24-26 year olds Gortat would be the one to go after, which would work well as he is probably the most attainable. Personally I think signing Gortat would be a much better move than drafting Thabeet. I also think this item has been moved to #2 on the to do list which means that #2 is now #1…


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.

I think this is #1 on the list now and I really think (and hope) Kahn is going to go get Rubio on Thursday. One of the big things I’ve been thinking about is that the Wolves desperately need a leader on this team. Think about it. Jefferson doesn’t seem vocal enough, Love is the hard working type of guy with a winning pedigree, and Foye is just not that guy (unlike Brandon Roy who is, sigh.) Foye really is somewhat of a disappointment across the board. (I don’t want to beat up on Foye as he definitely has skill and can play, but really he is average to good in everything and not great at anything in particular which is a hard piece to build around. Again a good 6th man but nothing more than that I don’t think. Ultimately based on what Kahn has been saying I think Foye’s days as a Wolf are numbered but if not I think he could thrive in the 6th man/sparkplug role and could even start at SG until the guy we take at #6 develops a bit.

As for what Rubio would bring to the team, (I’ll have more on what I think of him as a prospect tomorrow in the draft preview.) I really think he is the true pg this team needs. Not many pass first guys that trully make their teammates better come into this league with as much potential as Rubio. I think he’s the Wolves answer at the point.

If the Wolves fall short in getting Rubio I hope they can use a piece or two to improve the #18 pick or straight up add another pick in the 10-16 range to take Ty Lawson. I think Rubio has superstar potential but I also think Lawson has star written all over him. (I’m thinking the next Chauncey Billups) Again more on this tomorrow.

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.

The good news? As I alluded to above I think the Wolves may be end Thursday night with two top 6 picks. Kahn should be able to move up to #2 to either straight up with Memphis or after an initial trade with the Wiz at #5 to add to their package without including #6. That would allow them to nab the atletic scorer they need with the #6 pick most likely in either Evans or Curry depending who’s left.

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.

Well we’ve got our answer here. I’m not too upset about McHale leaving, (See here) although I think we could have lived with him as coach. As stated earlier I think Sam Mitchell who did well with a less than talented team in Toronto or Marc Jackson would be good choices and if they could get Terry Porter as an assistant that would be good too. (Not sure if he could/would take an assitant role as he is still getting paid by Phoenix quite a bit of money for half a season. Love how that works in this league.)

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.

Ok here’s my updated plan of attack for the Wolves:

1. Trade Mike Miller to the Washington Wizards for the #5 pick and Mike James.

2. Trade #5, Craig Smith and a future top 10 protected 1st  to the Grizzlies for the #2 pick and Greg Buckner.

3. Use the #18 on the BPA (Best Player Available) Hopefully a guy like Earl Clark falls here.  The Wolves are said to have promised Austin Daye that they’ll take him if he’s available here and in Chad Ford’s latest mock draft he was available. Daye would seem to fit in with Kahn wanting to add shooters to the team. Mullens is still an option as well but may be gone.

4. Sign Marcin Gortat (Or Chris Andersen or Anderson Varejao if possible) with as much of the midlevel exception as necessary.

5. Hire Sam Mitchell as coach.

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: Ricky Rubio (50%) / Sebastian Telfair (25%) / Mike James (15%) / Randy Foye (10%)
SG:
Randy Foye (40%) / Curry/Evans (40%) / Rodney Carney (10%) / Greg Buckner (10%)
SF:  Corey Brewer (30%) / Austin Daye (30%) / Ryan Gomes (20%) / Rodney Carney (20%)
PF: Kevin Love (40%) / Al Jefferson (30%) / Ryan Gomes (30%)
C:
Gortat (50%) / Al Jefferson (30%) / Kevin Love (20%)

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.

Same thoughts here with this lineup. Probably a borderline playoff team this year with Rubio getting his feet wet and Curry/Evans also getting significant minutes.

That’s my State of the Wolves Part II right now, next up I’ll have a more in depth look at the draft and what the Wolves should look foron Thursday.

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.

Goodbye Kevin McHale, Thanks… I think?

So although I really don’t want take too much time to talk about him, this wouldn’t be a true Minnesota Timberwolves blog without a proper farwell to the man that has had his hand on just about every action the Wolves made in the past decade and a half. (Save for maybe thinking the “Timberwolves Extreme Team” would work. Then again maybe that was his idea…) So here goes…

Goodbye Kevin McHale, thank you for your…uh…time and…uh… service to the Timberwolves.

Wait, wait, wait. I have to stop and ask myself, “Am I really thankful?”

Continue reading

McHale OUT

You have to love technology right? This probably isn’t the way that David Kahn had planned to have everyone find out that McHale is not returning as the Wolves coach, but just before Midnight tonight Kevin Love posted this on his Twitter account: “Today is a sad day…Kevin McHale will NOT be back as head coach next season.”

And with that the Wolves coaching search begins (or so we think). Again I’d like to throw my vote out for Sam Mitchell to replace him and take over the reigns of this young Wolves team. I’ll have more on that later. (Side note: there’s a new poll up for you to voice your choice for the Wolves new coach –> )

As for McHale, could he stay on in some sort of player development capacity? It seems the players liked him and Jefferson said multiple times he learned more under McHale than anyone else.

In any case it will be a very interesting day for the Wolves tomorrow.

EDIT: T-Wolves blog has the letter Kahn sent via e-mail addressing the situation to Timberwolves Season Ticket holders.

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).

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.

A Second Bowl of Wheaties for You

And since it’s the inaugural weekend here why not a second bowl of the Weekend Wheaties for you?

  • Thanks to T-Wolves Blog for finding this Big Al interview:
    The “Sludge” marathon for lupus (?) on KFAN today included an interview with Al Jefferson. It’s maybe a third of the way into that link’s mp3 file.

    Al’s take, shorthand version:

    * Offseason in Florida, MN, and Mississippi.

    * Rehab’s feeling “real good,” says he’s feeling confident, it’s getting stronger. Ready for training camp, which was the plan.
    * January. Sigh. Several mentions of January.
    * McHale, coaching: Playing for McHale wonderful, didn’t feel pressure, could play through mistakes. Sitting back and waiting to see what happens.
    * Kahn: Kahn called him, they had a “great” conversation. Made Al feel confident.
    * Al says he “most definitely” wants to come back lighter, and says he and Kahn discussed that. Says he played heavier last year to play the center position. Wants to be more mobile, and being lighter would help the knee.
    * Sludge cannily uses LeBron to bring up defensive improvement: Al tosses Michael Jordan into the comparison. “I’m not there yet, if I want to be that guy…. I have to step up defensively.” Thinks the weight might help him. McHale and Wittman have “talked to him about” that. “80% of it is just a work ethic.”
    * The draft: Al likes “the idea of a great point guard.” Randy to the two, Sebastian backing up with the second unit is how he sees things.

Lots to like from this, that Kahn and Jefferson had a great conversation, that he’s looking to slim down this offseason (always a good idea in today’s NBA, I never understood the bulking up thing unless of course your Ndudi Ebi), and that he likes the idea of bringing in a great point guard and having Foye shift to the two. Kirk Hinrich anyone? (I should be throwing out my version of a “State of the Wolves” breakdown later this week with a more in depth look at the current team and where to go from here.)
  • After deeper reflection on the draft I am now throwing my hat into the “Wolves should use the #6 to make a move” camp. Here’s to hoping Kahn can leverage it in a deal and pick up a solid player that can contribute who’s team is moving him for cap purposes. (A couple of guys come to mind, Hinrich as I mentioned yesterday, Chris Kaman or Baron Davis would also fit nice and the Clips have to do something, not sure on how he fits but Jamal Crawford is a solid player that could be had from GS, and what about the Sports Guy’s hypothetical deal for the Wolves to get Tony Parker? Sign me up for that one.)
  • The Wolves have to bring back McHale at this point right? The players want him (and seemed to like playing for him and played hard) Otherwise who is left to bring in? It would have to be another current assistant (which always seems hit and miss on who pans out) as Flip and Eddie Jordan were both signed, although a guy like Boston Celtics defensive ace Assitant Coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn’t be too bad. Really we need a guy who can develop the young guys and isn’t the good stuff we always here about McHale his hands on development of our bigs from KG to Big Al to Love?

Weekend Wheaties

What’s better than a bowl of Wheaties on Saturday morning? Besides isn’t that what we all want, a picture of the Wolfies on the cover of a Wheaties Box? 
Here’s 5 spoonfuls to get your weekend started off right… but first let me thank SG over at T-Wolves Blog for the shout-out this morning, welcome anyone coming over from there.
  • Did you know the Howlin’ T-Wolf is on twitter? Follow us here.
  • Welcome to Loud City, an Oklahoma City Thunder blog, throws up a post I was thinking of putting together here… isn’t the Birdman, Chris Anderson, a great pickup this offseason? The stats say yes, my eyes watching the playoffs certainly say yes. This article also seems to alleviate fears he’d fall back into trouble. The only thing I would disagree with WTLC’s breakdown is this, $2-$3 million probably isn’t enough. Half the teams in the league need a quality C/Energy Guy. If a team signs 31 year old James Posey to the full-midlevel last year I would have to think even in the down economy that the Birdman after his performance in the playoffs is going to get something close. To me this would be a great move by Kahn if he can bring the Birdman into our den for anything less than the full mid-level and even that would still probably be worth it. He would fit in great with both Big Al and Love in my opinion and would match the energy of Craig Smith and Coerey Brewer (assuming he can come back healthy) off the bench too. Thats a nice active front line with 3 guys that would come in and play all out every play, something this team has always been shallow on.
  • Jerry Zgoda over at the Trib has the breakdown of players coming in to workout this week. I’ll have a more lengthy draft breakdown later this week but the headliners of guys coming in are Austin Daye from Gonzaga, B.J. Mullens from OSU, and UCLA guard Darren Collison. Based on recent mock draft the Wolves would be looking at these 3 with their picks at 18 and 28. 
  • A number of people around the internet/radio continue to talk about the Wolves trading for Kirk Hinrich. Frankly I like Hinrich and his fit on this team a lot. Some are saying the Wolves are discussing the #6 straight up for him and the other is for Mike Miller. I highly doubt Kahn would send out the #6 right away his fourth week on the job even for a solid guy like Hinrich. Moving Miller after a so-so year here in Minny makes more sense to me and moves one of our surplus wings for a much needed presence in the backcourt. Really there aren’t too many guys that fit in better with Randy Foye than Hinrich in my estimation. A steady ball-handler and decent 3pt shooter who can run the team as well as be a gritty defender that isnt afraid to match up with sg’s (for instance he’s one of the better guys in the league at slowing down the unstoppable D-Wade). So we’ll see if these are merely rumors or if they actually come to fruition in a deal for the Wolves.
  • Kahn is scheduled to meet a second time with Kevin McHale this week. I’ll have more on my thoughts on bringing back McHale as coach later this week.