12/3/2019 0 Comments
By: Dan Slaubaugh
We are just under two weeks away from Dec. 15 -- the date Golden State Warriors star guard D’Angelo Russell is eligible to be traded as he couldn’t be traded twice in the same offseason because he was acquired via a sign-and-trade deal.
If I may remind you, the Timberwolves lost out on the Russell sweepstakes this summer in a league-shocking acquisition by the Warriors who came swinging from the top rope and delivered a drop kick to Minnesota’s mid section by prying away what it thought was their point guard of the future.
The Wolves were all in on Russell. Many don’t realize the drastic sequences that took place to lead Russell to choose Golden State over Minnesota. In “largely believing they had a pathway to acquire D’Angelo Russell”, the Wolves — as rumors suggest -- had a trade mapped out to send Andrew Wiggins to Charlotte. That was Plan A. Plan B was to send Jeff Teague to Phoenix and attach a first to unload Gorgui Dieng's contract. Unfortunately, Charlotte used its money on Terry Rozier (3 years, $58 million) while Phoenix brought in former Wolf Ricky Rubio (who was Minnesota's Plan B!!) to conduct its offense, so the Wolves were left scrambling for other avenues.
Russell then saw money dwindling on the open market and subsequently took the max offer from Golden State instead of hoping the Wolves could clear money for him.
Basically, Minnesota tried really freaking hard to acquire KAT’s best friend, were willing to part ways with Andrew Wiggins, but came up short due to a shortage of funds. At one time, Russell even told KAT he was coming here -- hence the “loading” image KAT posted on Instagram.
This all leads us to the question at hand. Will the Wolves make another run at the 23-year old guard?
There are many smart people who believe Minnesota is going to, but this time around, it’s probable the thought process behind the potential proposal will be different.
There are many more questions to ask.
With Andrew Wiggins in the middle of a breakout season, flourishing with the ball in his hands due to an improved handle, would bringing in another ball handler interrupt his resurgence?
It can’t be overstated how huge Wiggins’ breakout is for the franchise. He has single-handedly made the retainment of Ryan Saunders look wise. He has propelled the team from a bottom four team in the West to a fringe playoff team with a foundation again. Most importantly, he has erased $27.5 million deadweight money off the payroll.
At his best as a primary ball handler, the Wolves could risk Wiggins — averaging career highs of 24.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.2 blocks per game on a career-best 46.2 percent from the field and a 51.7 effective field goal percentage -- returning to a form of his passive self by bringing in a playmaking point guard.
For example, we have to look no further than Jeff Teague. Wiggins often performs better when Teague is out, as he and the Wolves have no other choice but to give Wiggins the ball and let him go to work (yeah yeah I know KAT still lives but he doesn’t conduct the offense).
While Russell doesn’t dribble the air out of the ball as much as Teague, he still flourishes most with the rock in his hands -- as does Wiggs. If the Wolves have faith the two can play together, stay engaged off the ball and dominate the perimeter then it’s worth a shot.
The stats suggest it could work with the ball in Wiggins' hands. Given Wiggins’ ability to consistently drive and kick for corner threes, it’s important he’s passing to good shooters. Last year in Brooklyn, Russell shot 39.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes on 3.3 attempts per game. While that doesn’t alone indicate the two would be a good fit, it is a promising statistic.
Why you say? For starters, the ball should continue to run through Wiggins on the perimeter. You’re really going to make Wiggins adjust his game again when he’s finally producing like a real, legitimate all-star?
Ideally, Wiggins could perform as he is with a DLo type. If the Wolves get a few stand still shooters, it might maximize when Wiggins has the ball in his hands but doesn’t account for nights he is being locked down by a great defender, is having an off night or when he isn’t on the floor. They likely need another playmaker who can make plays himself when needed, score in the pick-and-roll with Towns AND shoot when he doesn’t have the ball.
However, with Wiggins and Towns, the Wolves have a foundation to build upon again. Given Wiggins’ resurgence and history of disappearing when he’s not the focal point of the offense, unintentionally asking him to take a step back in the offense could backfire.
If not Russell, than who?
Three things are true: 1) The Wolves shoot the fourth-most threes in the NBA (39.4 3PA), 2) They shoot the fourth-worst percentage from three in the NBA and 3) They currently give consistent minutes to five players who shoot 31 percent or worse on at least one catch-and-shoot three per game.
Minnesota literally employs a system that works directly against its personnel and still ranks a bad, but not terrible 20th in offensive rating (106.2).
Given their three-point happy offense, the Wolves getting shooters around Towns and Wiggins is, well, everything. It’s their new identity. Fun fact: they are on pace to shoot 871 more threes this year than last.
Instead of bringing in another max contract, it’s fair to suggest keeping Wiggins and setting their eyes on bringing in cheaper complementary pieces that fit around Wiggins and Towns is the logical move rather than capping out the roster by bringing in Russell. A free agent next summer, Brooklyn Nets sniper Joe Harris -- shooting 46.2 percent on catch-and-shoot threes — intrigues me as a great fit for the Wolves to throw $45 million over three years at.
If Rosas and co. believe Wiggins’ performance is the new norm, then he has to factor into the Wolves’ long-term plans as the primary perimeter scorer. If they have doubts about sustainability and think another scorer is necessary to build a contender, then they should attempt to pry away Russell from The Bay. That’s how the Wolves should prioritize this.
The championship question
The championship question perhaps is the most important. In bringing in Russell, the Wolves wouldn’t be making the move to make the playoffs but rather with a belief that their Big 3 can develop into a perennial title contender as they’d have little to no financial flexibility remaining with KAT, Wiggs, and DLo.
With Towns (24), Wiggins (24) and Russell (23), the Wolves would have a big three whose timelines fit perfectly with one another.
The Timberwolves’ interest in Russell is no secret and in a bottle, the trade makes sense. Towns wants him here. Robert Covington seems like the perfect Andre Iguodala replacement for the Warriors. While Wiggins has balled as a playmaker this year, they still need a long-term option at point guard.
However, and I recognize the incredibly small sample size, the Wolves boast the only duo outside of L.A. averaging more than 25 points per game. Wiggins is putting up career highs in points, assists, rebounds and field goal percentage. Towns is hitting 40 percent of his threes on nine attempts per game. The Wolves, for now, have a foundation again.
Bringing in Russell could work, but if I’m Rosas, I’d roll the dice on Wiggins continuing to improve alongside Towns (who Bill Simmons ranked the NBA’s 10th best player a few weeks ago) while retaining cap flexibility over giving up a plethora of assets to acquire a max contract who may not be an ideal fit.
With Jeff Teague ($19 million/year) off the books next summer and Gorgui Dieng ($16 million/year) the summer after that, Rosas will have an opportunity to surround Towns and Wiggins with valuable role players who fit the team.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, and I wouldn’t be upset if they did as it COULD work. But…
Because of the breakout of Mr. Wiggins, the Wolves would be wise to not trade for D’Angelo Russell.
By: Brendan Hedtke
Everybody grows and learns at a different pace in their life. Some babies walk much earlier than others. Some take longer to accomplish this feat. Yes, it may be frustrating to witness the pains of failure that occur. However, it is encouraging to see babies try again and again. They never lose confidence in their ability to walk.
In many ways, Jarrett Culver is like a baby that is struggling to learn to walk. I know, I know, Culver is 6 foot 6, weighs 195 pounds, and clearly has been walking for years. That’s not the point. The similarities lie in his struggles to adjust to the NBA. He has had many ups and downs throughout the first 19 games of his young career, but he has kept the same mentality as the baby who is trying to walk. Persistence and confidence.
Culver has not given up on himself nor shied away from playing his style of basketball. The stats do not show that he is doing great things on the court, but Wolves fans can find solace in his confidence and demeanor on the court. We see him slashing to the basket and going hard at the rim. We see him pull the trigger on the perimeter. Although he is converting only 28 percent of his 3-point attempts, he still is confident enough to take 3.9 threes per game in under 24 minutes a night.
The age-old question of all slow starts is, “Will it get better, or is this what we will get?” My answer is that it will get better. Maybe not this year, but it will get better. If you look at the evidence that Culver has given us, all signs point to improvement coming. During his freshman year at Texas Tech, Culver averaged 11.2 PTS, 4.8 REB, and 1.8 AST per game. Those numbers do not strike anyone as the stats of the No. 6 overall pick in the NBA Draft. One year later, during his sophomore season for the Red Raiders, Culver improved in all of those statistical categories. His points per game jumped to 18.5, he nabbed over 1.5 more rebounds per game and assisted on 1.9 more shots per game.
Along with his improvement in traditional stat categories, Culver’s defensive rating went from 93.4 during his freshman season, to 86.7 his second season. His improvement defensively showed up in the national ranks as he was not in the top ten for defensive rating or defensive win shares his freshman year. During his sophomore year, Culver ranked 6th in defensive rating and led the country in defensive win-shares, with 3.5 according to Sports Reference – College Basketball.
Some NBA players burst onto the scene their rookie year and take the league by storm. Recently we have seen this done by Luka Doncic and Trae Young. If we go further back, we see fast starts from players like Blake Griffin and LeBron James. Unless things turn around quick, I don’t foresee Culver’s name being mentioned alongside these players when we discuss great rookie seasons.
With that being said, many players have had slow starts to their careers and turned out to be quality NBA players. Kemba Walker, Paul Millsap, J.J. Reddick, and Kyle Lowry all had underwhelming starts to their careers. Another player who had a slow start is Khris Middleton. Middelton only averaged 6.1 PPG his rookie season and shot 31.1 percent from three, he is currently a career 38.8 percent three-point shooter, which is a respectable clip. His per 36-minute stats during his rookie campaign were 12.5 PTS, 3.8 REB, and 2.1 ASTS. Compare those numbers to Culver’s per 36 stats of 13.9 PTS, 4.9 REB, and 3.4 ASTS. Culver statistically is having a better rookie season than Middleton. Last season, Middleton was the second-best player for a Milwaukee Bucks team that won 60 games and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. This is proof that players can and do improve immensely after their rookie season.
I’m not saying Culver will for sure turn into Khris Middleton. Middleton is a much better shooter than Culver will likely become. The comparison was less of a player comparison and more of a look into a player with similar rookie stats. It is worth taking a look at these stats and coming to the realization that maybe Culver isn’t the fastest learner and that’s okay. We saw how it took a season for him to adjust to the college game at Texas Tech and maybe it is going to take him a season to adjust to the NBA game. Many rookies require time to adjust to the NBA. Not everyone will turn into Luka Doncic.
Now what everyone wants to know, how does Culver stack up against the other rookies? I pulled stats for four players that have a connection to the Wolves or Culver and wanted to see how their numbers compared to Culver’s 9.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists on 28% three-point percentage and 37.2% from the field in 23.7 minutes per game. DeAndre Hunter, Darius Garland, Coby White, and Cameron Johnson were the four players that were chosen.
Hunter and Culver squared off in Minneapolis during the Final Four for the NCAA National Championship in April. Hunter was the 4th overall selection in the 2019 NBA draft and is a key rotational piece for Atlanta, averaging 31.7 minutes per game and contributing 11.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 36.6 percent from three and 39.4 percent from the field. The only stat that stands out is the three-point percentage.
Darius Garland was a coveted prospect by Wolves fans and there was hope that trading to the 6th pick would allow us to take him. Due to the surprise of many, Cleveland took Garland 5th overall, even though they have a second-year point guard in Collin Sexton. Some think Minnesota swung and missed on Garland and were forced to take Culver, but I believe they knew Culver was a realistic option and were comfortable with taking him at No. 6. Garland has played in 19 games with the Cavs, averaging 10.9 points, 1.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 38.1 percent from three and 38 percent from the field in 28.2 minutes per game. Again, these numbers do not stand out, aside from the three-point shooting percentage. Also to note, Culver plays much better defense than Garland does, which is worth something.
Once Garland was taken, Wolves fans were praying that Rosas and co. would decide to draft Coby White from UNC. This was not the case and White ended up in Chicago, playing 25.4 minutes per night with averages of 13 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists on 32.5 percent from three and 36.7 percent from the field. White averages nearly four more points per game than Culver, but their rebounding and assist stats are similar. White is a better shooter than Culver, but again Culver is the better defender of the two.
Lastly, I want to compare Jarrett with the player he was traded for on draft night, Cameron Johnson of the Phoenix Suns. Johnson has appeared in 16 games for the Suns and plays 19.2 minutes per night. During his time on the court, he has scored 8.9 points, nabbed 2.9 rebounds, and assisted on 1.6 shots per game while shooting an efficient 40 percent from three and 42.5 percent from the field. Johnson is a much better shooter than Culver, but his play outside of that is nothing to call home about.
The common theme when comparing these rookies to Culver is the increased shooting percentage from three. Culver has had his struggles thus far this season, but things should continue to improve for him as he becomes more comfortable in the NBA and gets used to the added distance for the three-point arc. While Jarrett lacks an efficient offensive game right now, he has shown many flashes of quality defense that should set him up to be a good defender in the NBA. His start is slow, but it isn’t astronomically bad. Wolves fans should not be overly concerned by Culver’s play thus far. It’s been less than a quarter of a season, give him some more time. Jarrett’s performance in the first 19 games of his NBA career will not define him as an NBA player when it is all said and done. Many signs point to Culver improving and becoming who we all thought he would be coming out of the draft
*Stats provided by Basketball Reference and are updated through 12/2/201