Minnesota GM David Kahn’s two-year tenure has been, for the most part, a colossal failure. The TWolves have won just 32 games over the past two seasons, easily the worst in the NBA. But, for all Kahn’s failings, he has managed to do one thing fairly well: collect high draft choices. Six of the players on Minnesota’s roster were selected with a top-five pick.
While some of his selections have been highly questionable (in his first draft, 2009, he chose three point guards in the first round), the result is that Minnesota has a roster stocked with young, talented pieces. The big question, though, is whether any of them (aside from Kevin Love) will succeed in a Minnesota uniform, because, taken as a whole, their skill sets don’t really mesh. Here’s a look at some of the promising players on Minnesota’s roster, and the issues surrounding each one.
Kevin Love, Forward
Drafted: #5 overall, 2008 NBA Draft
Love is the Timberwolves’ best player, and unlike most of the other guys on this list, we pretty much know what he is at this point. He’s a smart player and is the league’s best passing big man. He’s also the league’s best rebounder, grabbing an absurd 15.2 per game last season, the most in the league since 2002-03. His double-double streak (53) and 30-30 game against the Knicks last year made national headlines. Despite all his talents, he’s not good enough to be the top guy on a championship team (he doesn’t score enough), but he’s by far Minnesota’s most valuable piece. When figuring out what to do with Minnesota’s other guys, Love is the given—pencil him in the lineup, and make sure the other pieces fit around him.
Derrick Williams, Forward
Drafted: #2 overall, 2011 NBA Draft
Williams has a bright future, and while he is slower than most NBA small forwards, I think that pairing him and Love at the forward spots represents Minnesota’s best chance for success. Williams is strong and can get to the rim, but he’s also a great shooter, so he represents a matchup problem for most defenders he’ll face. While most agreed that drafting Williams was the right move for Minnesota, Kahn’s critics point to Minnesota’s glut of forwards and lack of centers as a reason to have selected Enes Kanter instead, who has the chance to be a great NBA center. I like Williams better than Michael Beasley though, and his character is clearly a lot better. My advice would be to commit to Williams at forward and look to offload Beasley—his stock is still high following a season where he averaged 19 PPG.
Michael Beasley, Forward
Drafted: #2 overall, 2008 NBA Draft
Beasley made some progress last season for Minnesota, but his presence creates more problems than it solves. He’s a natural power forward, so there are issues when he lines up alongside Love (and no two Timberwolves played more minutes last season). He’s a very inefficient scorer, as he averaged 19 PPG on 17 shots per game last season, and shot just 45% from the field, 26th among the league’s power forwards. His true shooting percentage of 51% is also pretty poor for a big man, and he’s not a great defender or rebounder. So essentially, Minnesota is paying for his offense, which isn’t very efficient, and very little else.
Oh, and did I mention that he was pulled over for speeding on June 26 and the police found marijuana in his car? And that it was the third weed-related incident Beasley has been involved with since entering the league? There’s a reason that Miami was willing to let him go in 2010 for a pair of second-rounders. Despite all this though, Beasley can score, and there are certainly going to be teams interested him should Minnesota opt to shop him. The TWolves’ cap situation also allows them to absorb a big contract in a trade, so Minnesota could add a pretty valuable piece if they’re willing to take on someone’s toxic contract. Beasley’s not a great influence on a developing team and still has trade value—Kahn should try to get rid of him as soon as this lockout’s resolved.
Wesley Johnson, Forward
Drafted: #4 overall, 2010 NBA Draft
Johnson wouldn’t have started on most NBA teams as a rookie, but because he played for the league-worst Timberwolves, he was pressed into action early, starting 63 games for Minnesota. He was pretty poor, scoring 9 PPG and grabbing 3 RPG while shooting just 40% FG. He wasn’t a great shooter in college (he shot 45% and 40% in two seasons at Iowa State before shooting 50% in his breakout year at Syracuse), so it wasn’t a shock that he underperformed, but what’s troublesome about Johnson is that he lacks an elite skill. He can do a bit of everything, but not enough of anything, and in this league, that’s a problem.
In fairness to David Kahn, the 2010 draft wasn’t exactly stocked with talent, so Johnson at #4 wasn’t a huge reach, but Johnson seems destined to be a career backup. Minnesota should hang on to him and find him some minutes behind Favors and Love, but his development should not be their number one priority. At 24, he’s at least two years older than everyone else on this list, so Williams, Anthony Randolph, and Ricky Rubio should all be higher priorities than Johnson.
Anthony Randolph, Forward
Drafted: #14 overall, 2008 NBA Draft
Ever since Randolph exploded onto the scene at the NBA’s Vegas Summer League in 2009, he’s been regarded as a super athletic player with the talent to succeed in the NBA. But in three seasons, he’s averaged just 9 PPG, 5 RPG, and 46% FG. This is largely due to the fact that he’s averaged just 18 minutes per game during his career, but why is that the case? Why has Randolph struggled for minutes on teams that tallied 29, 26, and 17 wins? Why has he been deemed expendable by both the Warriors and Knicks?
Don Nelson felt that he wasn’t motivated in Golden State and had a bad attitude, which is more than a minor problem seeing as Nelson plays an up-tempo style that suits the high-flying Randolph and doesn’t ask much from his charges on defense. Another up-tempo coach, Mike D’Antoni, let Randolph go after just half a season (granted, he was able to land Carmelo Anthony by doing so). Yet despite his expendability, he’s shown flashes of greatness—witness his 31-point, 11-rebound effort against the Mavs on March 24 and his 24-point, 15-board showing the next night against OKC (both games were on the road, too). My advice to Kahn would be to hold on to Randolph for a little while and see what he develops into. His contract is pretty friendly (less than $3 million this season, after which he becomes a restricted free agent with a $4 million qualifying offer), so there’s no reason to get rid of him unless Kahn can use him to add a legitimate blue-chipper.
Ricky Rubio, Guard
Drafted: #5 overall, 2009 NBA Draft
We’ve been waiting two years for Rubio to debut in the NBA, and if the lockout is as bad as some predict, we’re going to have to wait a little longer. There was a ton of hype surrounding the young Spaniard back when he was drafted in ’09, but that hype dissipated over the next two years as it became unclear when (or if) Rubio would play in the league. The hype won’t be as strong this time around for multiple reasons, but mostly because his stats have declined severely as it becomes increasingly evident that he can’t shoot at all (32% FG in 42 Spanish League games last season, 31% in 20 Euroleague games).
Rubio still has fantastic passing and playmaking abilities, but his jumper, which was perceived as a minor flaw in a raw 18-year-old, has now become a major question mark for a 20-year-old entering his seventh professional season. That said, his first season will still be heavily anticipated, even if casual fans won’t get to see much of it outside of SportsCenter highlights (the TWolves are on national TV just once in 2011-12). Rubio has the potential to become the type of exciting, dynamic player that fans obsess over—I’m just not sure that he’s the right guy for Minnesota down the road. If he finds success early, his popularity should help revive the game in the Twin Cities and make the hapless TWolves interesting again. But for all his flash, if he can’t knock down a jumper consistently, he’ll be exposed very quickly—NBA defenses are just too good for a flaw that big to go unnoticed.
Kahn is in a difficult spot on this one, because trading Rubio after some early success would cause an already annoyed fan base to launch a full-scale revolt. Looking at it from a purely on-court point of view, Minnesota may be better served to deal Rubio early while his stock is high for an established point to provide some desperately-lacking veteran leadership. But that’s risking a lot for a GM who might not be around much longer. The best-case scenario for Kahn is that the rumors surrounding Rubio’s demise have been greatly exaggerated and he develops a jumper while bringing his singular playmaking abilities to a boring Minnesota team. But if Rubio can’t adapt, Kahn will have bigger problems than just finding a new point guard.