Very well then. The Wolves are once again one game under .500, suffering yet another loss in a close game situation, making the team now a stunning, 2009-Wolves-esque 0-9 in games decided by four points or less. This is not a playoff team folks, and should the dice roll in such a way to allow them their first berth in 60 years, they will be eliminated so swiftly you may not even realize the team actually made the playoffs. This is the permanent ceiling of this iteration of the Wolves and I'll bet that's why you aren't very excited either.
But enough with the defeatism. At least for a few paragraphs. We still have a very exciting basketball team to watch, and that game against OKC was a classic indeed, especially if you are a basketball fan in general. How good is Durant? Appreciate him, folks. But let's take the usual 2008 Kevin Love-sized step back and take a look at the team so far. Why are they 16-17? Many theories have been thrown out, but in general among the fan base there seems to be two schools of thought that headline the debate: "it's the offense!" and, "the Wolves just can't defend the rim." If I had to choose a side to the ongoing debate, I would definitely pick the offense. Too many minus offensive players. It is flat out remarkable how poor some of the players on this team are at shooting the basketball. For example, much has been made about Rubio's shooting woes, but very rarely is 10 minutes per game of astonishing 26.5% shooting from Alexey Shved mentioned (fun fact: only one other player in the entire NBA has played 30+ games and shoots a lower percentage: Phil Pressey in Boston). Again, when you give 10 minutes per game to a ballhander who shoots 26% from the field, bad things happen. You lose. Your bench scores 5 total points in 2 of 3 games. Barea gets a chip on his shoulder, over-extends himself and drives everyone bonkers. And the most maddening part? The coaches try the same thing again, and again, and again…..
But while the real reason might be linked to offense, defense, x'es and o'es, Adelman and rotations, lack of development or whatever stance you want to pick on that particular day, it is potentially much simpler than these futile debates. The reality is: the Wolves are, quite simply, with a few obvious exceptions, a collection of bad players. My absolute go-to advanced stat is Win Shares per 48 minutes, which is conveniently accessible from Basketball Reference. For those unfamiliar with the stat, it calculates, using complicated maths, comprehensive weighted stats and formulas that we will not delve into, a players' overall impact towards a team's win total. The approximate league average is .100. A small number indeed, but let that be your bench mark. To give a sense of who is considered "average," some of the players who hover around .100 for this season include: Courtney Lee, PJ Tucker, Mike Miller, Robert Sacre, Tim Hardaway Jr, and obviously several others. A player with a .100 (Greg Monroe) is ranked 161 of 435 so it is worth noting that most players do indeed fall below this mark. Another thing this stat does is weed out bad players who, according to conventional wisdom (otherwise known as Flip wisdom), are "good." For example, Rudy Gay, due to his abysmal shooting and shot selection, has a 0.50 WS/48 this season meaning, in net statistical contribution, he is well below average despite his fairly good scoring averages. This is why Toronto is good all of the sudden. They replaced a bad player with good ones in the lineup, even if the new production isn't coming from a household name. It is often as simple as that, and doesn't even matter what positions are affected, so long as you allocate as many minutes as possible to players who are good.
So, how do the Wolves fare? This should come as no surprise, but, quite awfully:
There are a plethora of takeaways from this chart, which shows this season as well as the prior two for each player.
1. Some general thoughts: that is a lot of red. Any success this season pretty much hinges on one player and he is at the top of this list. Pekovic is really good, and Martin is a fine pickup even if he has disappeared in second halves. Rubio's shooting woes drop him to sightly above average. The top 4 are a really solid set of players. But from there it gets iffy and then comes a harsh drop off to terrible players who don't belong on an NBA roster. For example, look at how awful Shved has been for this team. He is approaching negative win-share territory. Also note Turiaf's number is based on just two games, but he has been serviceable and above average throughout his career.
2. The Wolves have NINE players who are below-average contributors. 3 Good. 1 Elite. And 2 who have the potential to be average at best upon their returns from injury in the year 2060 (Turiaf/Chase). But the point is, they are giving a lot of minutes to crummy players. They are devoting 9 of 15 roster spots to these crummy players. 3 of these players can't even crack the rotation in the wake of injuries. This is not a good overall roster situation at all. That is the reason the team is not very good, is playing inconsistent ball, and can't get over the hump. In order to get over the hump, the team simply needs better players. No amount of coaching will fix Barea, Shved, Brewer et. al. In addition to Turiaf/Chase (this will help without a doubt, though may take time for them to recover), they need a trade for a Kyle Lowry or a Thaddeus Young. A guy who is on the block, in a rebuilding situation, who is a solid player that can play 20-30 minutes off of the bench in a super sixth man role.
3. Interestingly enough, AJ Price is about as close to average as you can get for a backup point guard on this team based on his prior two seasons in Washington. Adelman not giving him a shake and going with the woefully underproductive Barea/Shved combo has been a killer to the bench for a season and a half now. Furthermore, Hummel, though not hitting his shots of late, playing mistake free ball has him (along with Dante') as the Wolves' #1 bench player statistically. Long story short: they really should have kept Ridnour and moved Barea.
4. It goes to show you that Flip, like so many of his NBA front office brethren, still can't tell the difference between a good NBA player and a bad one. He may "know basketball better than Kahn does," but he is a classic "eye test" guy who has next to zero eye for talent that can actually contribute. He will wow the fanbase and media with extended, frantic expositions on his weekly Funkadelic show on KFAN, but he remains as transparent as ever to anyone paying attention.
5. And this all starts from the Wolves' ongoing inability to find a productive player in the NBA draft, which is the ultimate way to round out your roster with cheap productivity. As you know, the Wolves traded the 9th pick for a player who pretty much had a red flag tattooed onto his face, and a center who may make a contribution next season, but is wholly replaceable.
(steps on soapbox)
What irritates most about the Shabazz selection isn't even as much the pick itself, it's that Flip is on the record picking a player he didn't even want. The very first thing he said publicly after the draft was, "I know fans are disappointed." Think about that for a second. One of his main media guys, Dan Barriero, tweeted hours before the draft that "there was a better chance the Wolves re-draft Ndudi Ebi than take Shabazz."
Flip, of course, defends the pick to this day, while nearly all players sandwiching that 9th pick are off to pretty good starts to their careers. Among some of Flip's doozies on the Funkadelic show include (assume all quotes begin with "here is what you've gotta realize"), "Burke is good, but remember Tyreke Evans started strong in Sacramento his rookie year and then regressed." "But, oh, oh, but we got TWO players out of the trade so you have to look at them both combined!" "Burke wouldn't be playing for us either!" The typical, transparent lip service. I gave Flip the benefit of the doubt, and still think he deserves a shake at another draft, but boy was this draft perhaps the most incompetent use of yet another asset as you can witness. Only the Flynn pick may rival this last one out of principle. And remember, this is your next coach!
(steps off soapbox)
Sorry about that. I still think the Wolves have a good chance of making the playoffs. If the chart above demonstrates anything, it is that Turiaf and Chase being out hurts us more than meets the eye. It remains to be seen why on earth it has taken this long for them to get back into the lineup, as both have been in practice for weeks now. This only complicates/delays things further as they work their way back in. But say the Wolves squeeze in as the 8th seed (anything higher will require a major regression from Phoenix, and the Wolves will have to surpass Dallas regardless), what then? An evisceration by the Spurs/Thunder of course, but then what about next season? No cap room, few assets to use, and several young teams waiting to make a similar leap. It is just a very underwhelming era for this iteration of the team. And unfortunately, the braintrust doesn't seem to have the witherall to improve the bigger picture.
Tonight the Wolves play the Sixers on the road. Hopefully they find a rhythm, but I would continue to expect this kind of inconsistency for the remainder of the season, Chase, Ronny, easier schedule or not.