How does Ricky Rubio tearing his ACL suck? How do I count the ways? Sportscenter highlights are now about 10% less interesting. Attending Timberwolves games (which, admittedly, I almost always do for their away games) now have 50% fewer "Oooooooh!"s and 40% fewer "Aaaaaah"s and 100% fewer "Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole!"s. The Timberwolves get about 40% worse at point guard. But, surprisingly, the way it hurts the most is that the Timberwolves get a LOT worse at shooting guard and small forward.
Yep, shooting guard and small forward. You see, this is something that Miami had to deal with too when Bosh went down. The real problem isn't so much the loss of the player (although that hurts too). The real problem is the pain caused by the players who come in to replace the player that's covering for the injured player. To illustrate, let's look at the Wolves so far:
|2011 - 2012 per-48 stats|
|2011 - 2012 shooting stats|
|2011 - 2012 team stats (per game wherever appropriate)|
|Expected||Actual||Forecast (takes current record as given)|
|23.0-20.0||22-21||37 - 29|
Although the table lists Ridnour as a PG, he's really been logging a lot of time at SG, only playing PG when Rubio is out of the game. And as we can see, Ridnour, while not exceptional, is having a decent year, playing nearly average-level. And Rubio, thanks to his extreme drop-off in shooting, while still good, is not playing at the superstar level he started the year with. If Ridnour were to play 34 mpg the rest of the way (Rubio's minute average), he would produce about 1.25 wins. Rubio, if he'd been healthy, would have produced 2.46 wins. So, Ridnour instead of Rubio loses the Wolves a little over a game.
But, Ridnour isn't really a shooting guard, and likely hasn't played at the 2 much since high school. He's arguably going to play better as a point guard than as a shooting guard. If we assume he plays at the level of his previous two seasons, which is about .142, there's hardly any dropoff at all! So, yay, right?
Well, the problem is that there was a reason that Ridnour was playing so much shooting guard even though it isn't his natural position (and watching teams constantly try to exploit mismatches there was kind of painful). And that reason is that, generally, the Wolves' wings are JUST TURRIBLE.
Of them all, only Ridnour and Webster come close to average. And this is after Johnson and Beasley have gone on huge 3-pt hot streaks to get out of the negative range. Even after shooting like Michael Jordan the last 5 games, Johnson's shooting numbers are still woeful.
So, the real problem here is that Ridnour's average-level production at shooting guard are gone. Even if a healthy webster replaces him, you've still got to bring Ellington off the bench (if you thought Beasley had a 23-foot contested jumper problem, wait until you see Ellington in action), and you can no longer bring Webster in for Johnson to up your SF from terrible to bad/average, which means you're playing more Johnson (ugh), More Barea (ugh!), more Beasley (UGH!). And if they use some of Derrick Williams minutes at the SF (which, by the way, would be a Very Wise Thing), that means that you need to give big man minutes to Darko, and one of the keys to the Wolves success this year has been the absence of Darko, so that won't end well either.
Last year, the Wolves were one superstar (Love), one average guy (Ridnour), one nearly average guy in limited minutes (Webster) and a whole boat full of crap. Even though some of that crap has unexpectedly, marvellously metamorphed into a Peksecutioner, the real juggling trick Adelman has pulled this year is trying to keep as much of the crap from seeing the floor as possible (the benching of Darko, Beasley), a real trick since there is so much positional overlap (both of the good guards are point guards, the 3 good big men are essentially all PFs). He's been playing Love at the 5, Pek at the 5, Dwill at the 3, etc. Keeping the best players on the floor (and keeping the worst players OFF the floor) requires a lot of playing people out of position. Rubio's absence exascerbates this -- one less good player means more minutes that Adelman will just have to give to a turrible player, and Adelman ends up basically crossing his fingers and hoping he hits the inside straight and Beasley and Ellington combine to shoot 13 for 17.
One last note on Williams at the small forward. I think it's very important to start Williams at the 3. I realize that this isn't his natural postion, and that he's probably better at the 4. But, seriously, once again for the slow kids:
- Bad is better than terrible, and below-average is an upgrade from bad. Whatever silly mistakes Williams makes at the 3, he cannot possibly be as bad as Wes Johnson at the 3. I'm pretty certain he'd be a huge upgrade.
- Williams is one of the teams better players, with a .141 WP48. Having him only play 20 minutes a game is costing the Wolves wins. They cannot continue to have such a gifted player ride the bench just because he naturally plays the same spot as Love. They need to find ways to get their best players all on the floor at the same time, and the best way to do that is to have Williams spend some of his time playing out of position at the 3. He's clearly better at it than Beasley is.
Here's hoping Adelman can continue the juggling game and get us in to the playoffs. I realize this team isn't going to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder but a taste of the postseason would still be nice, right?