Nba nerd

The Timberwolves: The Trauma Ward

The Numbers

  • Average Seed
  • 📉 Pessimist
    20.3 wins
  • Realist
    33.9 wins
  • 📈 Optimist
    47.5 wins
First Seed
Top 4
👍 Over (41)
👎 Under (41)
🎀 Playoffs

Kindnesses are easily forgotten; but injuries! what worthy man does not keep those in mind?

William Makepeace Thackeray

The Brief

The Timberwolves could have had something. They could have been contenders. Instead they'll be lucky to be fighting for the privilege of letting the Spurs or Rockets trounce them in the first round (while Popp plays with a couple of playoff lineups or McHale gives Asik some good run). The main (but not only) reason for this is that Flip Saunders overcompensated for last year's horrendous three-point shooting by letting Andre Kirilenko go.

The Story

Last year, during the offseason, I (in)famously proclaimed that the Timberwolves had a shot at 57 wins. Arturo's guess was at 52.7. I was so sure of this that I was upset that I couldn't make it to Vegas in time to put a fortune on the over/under of 38 wins. When a friend offered to bet the under at 43 against me, I felt sorry for him.  

And then, knuckle pushups happened. That was obviously a setback, but I still held out hope that 43 was achievable, because they had depth. Then, players started dropping like flies. Meniscus tears (Budinger), back spasms (Kirilenko), bionic knees (no one really thought Roy would be a star again but I was hoping they'd get 40 games out of him), and ankle sprains (Pekovic). Hell, even the guys they brought in to replace the injured guys got hurt; Josh Howard and Malcolm Lee each tore an ACL.

At one point during the season, the Wolves had Kevin Love, Nicola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, and Andre Kirilenko on the bench in street clothes. They had a playoff team on the sidelines watching. You can't make this stuff up.

Last Year

  • Actual Wins: 31
  • Expected Wins: 34.4
  • Lucky Wins: -3.9
Player Minutes Age WP48 Wins
Luke Ridnour 2474 33 .070 3.6
Andrei Kirilenko 2034 32 .252 10.7
Dante Cunningham   2010 26 .069 2.9
Nikola Pekovic   1959 28 .144 5.9
Derrick Williams   1916 22 -.009 -.4
Alexey Shved   1840 25 .018 .7
J.J. Barea   1713 29 -.006 -.2
Ricky Rubio   1691 23 .169 6.0
Greg Stiemsma 1209 28 .004 .1
Mickael Gelabale   644 30 .175 2.3
Kevin Love   618 25 .077 1.0
Chase Budinger   508 25 .054 .6
Malcolm Lee 289 23 .090 .5
Chris Johnson   284 28 .160 1.3
Josh Howard   207 33 -.013 -.1
Louis Amundson 161 30 -.026 -.1
Brandon Roy   122 29 -.029 -.1
Lazar Hayward 31 27 -.063 0
Will Conroy   20 30 -.766 -.3

Indicates that the player is no longer with the team.

  • 34.4 total Wins Produced
  • 6 players leaving
    (6198 minutes, 14.8 wins)

The main consequence of losing both Love and Budinger for most of the season was that their three point shooting was awful. A team can win in the NBA without having fantastic three-point shooting but it's nearly impossible to win unless it has at least mediocre shooters outside.

A rational person might conclude that when Love and/or Budinger return, this situation would rectify itself. No need to panic. And other than injuries, the big problem the Wolves had all season was at shooting guard. Almost all of the minutes there were played by point guards, most notably Ridnour but at times also Barea. So, all they needed to do was sign a good two guard (or let Chase play the 2), get healthy players back, and away we go! ...Right?

The coaches and general managers of the teams you follow are not rational actors.

This Year

  • Projected Wins: 33.9
  • Conference Rank: 10
  • % Playoffs: 26.9
Player Position Minutes Age WP48 Wins
Kevin Love   4.5 2727 25 .255 14.5
Kevin Martin 2.0 2627 31 .099 5.4
Chase Budinger   2.7 2257 25 .113 5.3
Ricky Rubio   1.6 2043 23 .177 7.5
Nikola Pekovic   5.0 1969 28 .106 4.4
Jose Barea 1.3 1583 29 .016 .5
Derrick Williams   3.9 1387 22 .029 .9
A.J. Price 1.0 1278 26 .079 2.1
Alexey Shved   2.2 1209 25 .025 .6
Corey Brewer 2.6 989 27 .032 .7
Ronny Turiaf 4.9 802 31 .100 1.7
Shabazz Muhammad 3.0 677 21 .001 0
Dante Cunningham   3.9 528 26 .074 .8
Gorgui Dieng 5.0 398 24 .016 .1
Lorenzo Brown 1.0 282 23 .009 .1
Chris Johnson   4.6 194 28 .089 .4

Indicates that the player is new to the team.

  • 📅 26.7 WP last year
    by these players
  • 🔀 -8.9 WP (roster changes)
  • 17.0 WP (age/experience)

In the offseason, Flip signed Kevin Martin to a 3-year, $24 million contract. As good as Kevin Martin is offensively, we don't think there is a big difference between him and Luke Ridnour defensively, so this seemed like a sideways step. It got worse, however; he also signed Chase Budinger to a 3-year, $15 million contract. There are two big problems with this:

  • Both players serve essentially the same function, especially within the context of Adelman's offense. Both have defensive deficincies.
  • Signing both players used up so much cap room that it was nearly impossible to offer AK-47 a contract that would keep him here

Players like Andre Kirilenko are extremely important. It's true that his outside shot isn't the greatest. But isn't that what the team was paying Kevin Love and Chase Budinger for? Every player on the team does not need to be a three-point threat. Worse, the team signed Corey Brewer, who's basically a poor man's Andre Kirilenko. In the same way that my Hyundai Elantra is a poor man's Ferrari. It frankly amazes me that Corey Brewer is still in the NBA. He has somehow managed to get a reputation as a solid defender, despite the fact that he's a horrible defender who displays an astounding lack of judgment. He helps when he should stay on his man (i.e. when guarding a deadly corner 3pt-shooter) and commits terrible fouls (if he is such a great defender, why does he commit so many fouls?). Unlike Kirilenko, he doesn't make up for his poor outside shooting by being a great passer or great rebounder.

In short, and this should not surprise us from a team chosen by Flip Saunders, it's obvious that the Timberwolves don't employ many people who put much faith in advanced stats.

Projected Playoff Rotation: KLove, KMart, Rubio,Pek, Budinger, JJ and a great opportunity to listen to Pop humiliate some hapless sideline reporter in.

The Wrap

But the news may not all be bad. I'm a little more optimistic than Arturo is about Martin, Pekovic, and Cunningham. Cunningham will improve by reverting to his 7th-man role; he'll likely get fewer chances to take ill-advised shots from the top of the key, since there will be better offensive players surrounding him. Pekovic will be healthier. Martin will get to the free throw line again now that he isn't just a spot-up target for Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant. And notice that the variance is extremely high in our models; It's the highest in our database. In other words, it's really hard to tell what versions of these players will trot out on the court this year.

As a fan, I kind of like that. I'll just focus in on that optimistic 47.5.

The biggest problem with this roster (besides how fragile it is at the top) is how shallow it is. The top five account for 37 wins by themselves. If roster spots 6-15 were any good this team would be much more likely to contend. I actually think a healthy version of this team would be a very dangerous round 1 opponent, particularly if Kevin Love gets back to form.

But it's going to be really hard for them to survive the season out west and make it there. The lesson is that drafting well and making smart small signings can make a huge difference.

Love the new design... Been following the site for some time now, great work
What is the explanation behind Pekovic's drop in production?
Why do you have both Pek and Kevin Martin significantly below their previous production levels? Also, re AK47, it seems pretty clear he wanted out. they offerred him 3 yrs/$21m, and he turned it down. It seems his agent misread the market and then when he realized his mistake it was too late. Brewer was the back-up plan. I think they paid to much for Brewer and handled the draft poorly, but it's hard to pin the loss of AK47 on Flip. Agree on his lack of advanced stats, but at least he seems to have embraced 3s and getting to the rack, which is at least a small step forward from his mid-range jumpshot offense when he coached the Wolves.
First of all - I have always been a reader of this site and think you guys do a great job. Keep it up.

I think one of thing advanced stats misses (coming from a bit of a novice) is how much players' production changes depending on the surrounding players, particularly in win shares. The stat can fluctuate wildly across seasons, particularly players who switch teams, play different positions, take on different roles, etc. On the contrary, certain levels of awfulness around the rest of the roster can have a secondary impact on how much a player can boost his own performance numbers. Or the opposite, which is what happened with KLove. It's messy to say the least.

The second factor is different methods of calculating the stat. I typically use basketball reference. According to BR, AK had about half of the win shares as what you guys list above for your method. Other things play a role, such as fewer Rubio assists hurting his numbers last year due to being surrounded by historically bad shooters, etc, a situation that is improved dramatically (though I do love your accurate comment on it being an overreaction). Not to mention the space created on O with Love and Peko back in the lineup on a consistent basis is simply going to improve how things look for everyone. They also often don't consider the fact that players can and do improve. It is evaluating a past, isolated situation.

That being said, it is dumb that as fans of this team we/I are in a bit of a defensive stance on the reality of the situation. I agree with the overall theme of the post, though think it is a bit negative: as a Wolves fan, you don't want your one spending spree summer to result in being placed in a situation where you "might" or have to "fight" for the privilege of being quickly ousted in a 5-game 1st round series. It's not a good place to be, and that is where we are headed for the next few years unless another major piece is added. That piece should have been Martin, AFTER signing Kirilenko, which no matter what anyone says, WAS ABSOLUTELY possible. AK got lukewarm when Kahn was fired because Kahn promised him a 3 year, $30 million extension Flip pulled from the table which, in my opinion, while a bit of an overpay, would have been entirely worth it and made the Wolves a 2nd/3rd round contender instead of this "fight for your life" situation.

Sorry for the length. Love the site, and look forward to visiting again.
To commenter above: Intuitively Pek's production dropped because he had no space inside with Love out of the lineup, something that will improve from the opening tip next week. As a result, he struggled to finish in close with his FG% dropping. Rubio also missed considerable time, and Rubio/Love/Pek are a tremendous tandem as we saw in the early parts of the 2010-2011 season when the Wolves really started to click. If health can be less of a concern, there is little worry this team will miss the playoffs, in my opinion, based what we saw during that lone stretch when those 3 played together consistently....which is something the stats above do not capture.
Going to keep rambling. Found an example of the win share critique on my first try: Al Jefferson. According to BR, he had a below average win share/48 mark his last year with the Wolves. He went to Utah and immediately went back to what you would expect from an above average player while posting modest increases to his basic stats. Even looking at players through the years, such as Kevin Martin, the wins produced year over year varies dramatically. It's just not a good predictor of EXACT future success, as it varies by 20-50+%. Directionally? Sure.

In addition, Rubio doesn't fare all that great in advanced metrics, largely due to his shooting I presume. Below average in fact. Does this mean you don't bend over backwards to keep him around as long as possible? Hardly.
Wins Produced loves Ricky Rubio.
I'll also point everyone to this piece where I did year to year correlation on one of my older models:
I feel I've gotten better.
His WP48 last year was .144 and around .200 year before that. This year it is projected to be .106.
I'm asking (Arturo)- why the projected dropoff for this year?
Hi guys, I love your site. I've been working on my own predictions for the season based on projected wins produced, and have been mostly pretty close to your predictions, but not for the T-Wolves, who I have projected at 48 wins. When I compared my individual predictions to yours, they are not that far off. I added up your individual player predictions above, and came up with 45 wins, in line with my prediction. This is a big difference to 33.9 wins - what gives?
An open letter to Flip Saunders.

Could you have done any worse this offseason? Would you consider yourself the worst GM in the league? Do YOU think you did a good Job? Let's review your moves.

1) Let AK go because he "cant shoot threes."
2) Didn't draft C.J. Mccollum because he's "too small."
3) Drafted one of the worst players in college basketball, Shabazz Muhammed, and admitted you actually didn't like Bazz. You also referred to him as a "natural scorer."
4) Signed Corey Brewer for three years 14+ million to be the "6th man of the year candidate" How is he still in the league, Flip? He is my least favorite player in the league and was awful on Denver last year. Creating havoc and leaking out in transition are not NBA skills.
5) Signed an aging, defensive sieve Kevin Martin for four years 28 million.
6) Overpaid for an effective but limited Chase Budinger.
7) Inexplicably gave Pekovic five years 60 million when Pek had absolutely leverage.
8) Failed to trade Derrick Williams and extended him for 6+million.
9) Traded Luke Ridinour and a second rounder for the right to overpay the coveted Corey Brewer.
10) I know I forgot something. You've said so many dumb things and made so many bad moves it's honestly hard to keep up with your shenanigans.

Could you imagine if Kahn made these moves? The media would have LIT HIM UP, and yet somehow you just gets a free pass? I listed 9 moves that range from comically BAD to Corey Brewer taking 7.4 3FGA per48. You should have been fired for one of these moves, but somehow you've completely flown under the national and local radar. You should work for Fox News the way you've manipulated and distorted the truth about you.

I can not wait until you trade Kevin Love and a reverse protected first rounder for Lamarcus Aldridge and justify it by saying "He's a guy who can get his own shot."

You also are well on his way to becoming the coach when you fire Adlemen for benching Brewer. I know we're all really excited to watch the team launch mid-range jumpers.

Being a Wolves fan used to mean that we were awful in a funny way. It used to mean that we had hope. It used to mean we had an awesome PF and if only we could luck into singing a few good players we could be contenders (see 2012). It used to mean 5$ dollar tickets and half filled stadiums so I could sneak down 5 rows from the court.

Now? Being a Wolves fan went from funny-depressing to "I'm just going to root for another team"-depressing in one offseason. We are locked into a 33.9 win roster that features two of my least liked players (Brewer, Bazz) for at least two years. What hurts the most is that with a few simple moves we could have been contenders. There's no hope anymore. It's not funny. It's not cheap. It's just sad and depressing. Please quit your job and be terrible at a different job. You've turned a potential championship team into a 34 win team in 3 quick months.

I miss Kahn.

Let's go Rockets.
Why is Pek regressing?

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