Behind The Smokescreen

Game 5 of the NBA Finals was sprinkled with Timberwolves rumors. Every however many minutes we would see ‘the Timberwolves were actively shopping the 5th pick for Jimmy Butler’ scroll across the bottom line. There would be a ton of fun tidbits that Tom Thibodeau used to coach Jimmy Butler, things that were obvious. The rumors started swirling nationally once everyone got a notification from ESPN on their phones about the rumor and this tweet:

We’ve heard the rumors before. We have seen the photoshopped pictures of Jimmy Butler in a Wolves uniform. This was nothing new. Some may say that ESPN is struggling and they finally got the rumors weeks later. But in the age of the internet, I find that hard to believe. The internet has been the most reliable source of speedy information ever. Just ask Steph Curry’s new ‘Emergency Room’ 2s. The way this story came out, it felt planted.

Over the last couple weekends, I have been absent due to being in class. I was taking a condensed-MBA course that met three times from 8am-5pm called ‘Persuasion & Influence.’ Of course, after taking a class for that long consecutively you not only see everything through the lenses of the class, but you believe everything has do to with the material you just learned. While in the class, I was eager to apply it to everything I could, especially basketball. Well this is one of them. One of the principles of influence, a pretty basic one, is contrast. What the principle says is a way to influence people is through the contrast of one thing to another. There are experiments that prove this to work. One example is having three buckets, one hot, one room temp, and one cold. If you dip your hands in the hot and the cold buckets and then bring both hands into the room temp bucket, your senses will be confused. While both hands are in the same bucket, the hand that was in the hot bucket will feel cold and the hand that was in the cold bucket will feel warm. The contrast principle is used a lot in sales. When selling something expensive, a lot of times a sales person will say in comparison to what.

After that quick lesson in influence, I feel like that is exactly what is happening here for the Wolves. The league knows that the 5th pick will not net Jimmy Butler. Something needs to be added. But what is happening is that the Wolves are essentially raising the stock price on that 5th pick. The 5th pick inherently seems more valuable than it did before the rumors started swirling. Who would ever think that Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray plus another prospect would be worth one of the best two-way players in the league?

This is how the Celtics have gotten into the mix. The Celtics have more assets and a better pick than the Wolves. And a team that just made it to the playoffs, it seems that naturally they would be more inclined to make a deal with the Bulls. If the Bulls were to make Butler available, the first team that would get a call is the Celtics. The only reason they wouldn’t be because they wouldn’t want to send Butler to another team in the East, but when you’re rebuilding that doesn’t really matter. At the same time, chances of the Bulls dealing with Thibodeau are slim to none. The only way the Bulls do a deal with Thibs is if they can ruin his life. The rumors around the deal have mentioned Wiggins plus the 5th pick, which is just about what could ruin Thibs’ life. So unless something crazy happens between now and next Thursday, Jimmy Butler will not be a Timberwolf.

So why? Why did the rumors get thrown out there when it did? Now it’s time to do a lot of speculation. What we do know is the following in terms of draft workouts:

Three tidbits on guys the Wolves will look at in the 5th slot. Jamal Murray was working out in MN the day the rumors came out. Kris Dunn expressed that he will only workout against Ben Simmons, Ingram, or Jamal Murray. Also Buddy Hield hit 85 of 100 threes at a Celtics workout. These are the facts/ credible rumors. Dragan Bender is also coming to work out in MN on Thursday.

Now it is time to take a trip behind the smokescreen. It is time to speculate. There is certainly going to be a lot more that will happen in the next week and a half but for now, we will try to make sense of all this.

First, is there a link between the timing of the rumors and Jamal Murray’s workout? What does this say about Murray’s workout? Was it bad it enough that the Wolves want to move the pick? Is he not worth it there? Could it be an act?

Then there is the Buddy Hield workout with the Celtics. Did Buddy Hield just raise his stock with hitting 85 of 100 threes? Is he a serious candidate for the 3rd pick in this draft? Were the Wolves secretly trying to get him?

I don’t think there is enough there on the Murray or Hield front to speculate that the rumors had to do with them. I do however believe it had to do with Kris Dunn though. Why? Well first, the Wolves were using the contrast influence principle to raise the value of the 5th pick by attaching an All-Star to it like Jimmy Butler. Why you may ask? Because the Celtics or the Suns will want to get equal or greater value now for the 3rd or 4th pick. Now a deal around the troubled Jahlil Okafor doesn’t seem as appealing for the 3rd or 4th pick. The reason that is important is because the Sixers reportedly like Kris Dunn and desperately need a point guard.

Kris Dunn is doing his part as well. After refusing to work out for the Suns and Celtics, he came out and put up conditions that are near impossible to meet, especially a week before the draft. Teams are absolutely going to be concerned about his injuries and how he matches up against other picks in the 3-8 range. The reason Dunn can do this is because he has less to lose. He doesn’t want to go 3rd or 4th. He would be happy to go 5th where he has an opportunity to grow with one of the most exciting franchises and eventually compete for a starting spot if Rubio is to get hurt or demand a trade. The Wolves do have serious interest in Dunn. If he is on the board at 5, I have to believe he is the best player available from the Wolves perspective. The only person I think the Wolves truly consider over Dunn will be Dragan Bender.

If Dunn is the Wolves’ guy behind closed doors, they are putting themselves in a win-win situation. The Wolves are truly interested in Jimmy Butler. If the Bulls bite on a deal, the Wolves are automatically playoff contenders. If not, the value of the pick went up without doing anything. And as the pick’s value is going up, the stock of Kris Dunn is going down as he is an unknown. It will be interesting if this ends up being the scenario that works out because all season long there were jokes about why the Wolves never took Steph Curry in the 2009 NBA Draft. The reason was because Curry refused to workout for the Wolves. It is risky business to draft someone who never worked out for you. The Wolves have already seen Dunn in LA and probably have more information on him in the background.

I am aware there are a lot of Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray fans in Wolves Nation, but the forecast is showing Kris Dunn more and more…

The Timber Rebuilder.

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The 3rd Spot – Timberwolves Community Big Board

Wolves fans,

The community has spoken! In our previous poll, we were able to get the top two, which was no surprise. Ben Simmons won both our page and Twitter polls. He won the page poll with 39% and Twitter with 45%. Brandon Ingram gets the second spot by getting 31% of the page polls for the top spot. In the Twitter poll, Kris Dunn got 23% of votes and Ingram got 19%. The page poll received way more votes, where Dunn came away with 7.9%. So the Community Big Board looks like this so far:

  1. Ben Simmons – F – LSU
  2. Brandon Ingram – F – Duke

Now it gets interesting. Who is the 3rd best player in the draft from the Wolves perspective? Who do Wolves fans believe is the best after Simmons and Ingram? I really believe this will get mixed reviews. So please share your thoughts.

To start the conversation, Upside & Motor talks about who would be the best fits for teams. Check it out here:

They point out how Dragan Bender would be scary for the Wolves to land, which I agree with. Bender’s potential alongside Towns and Wiggins could provide something very scary for the rest of the league. A 3-and-D big man who has guard skills could make the Wolves starting lineup a matchup nightmare. The Wolves also have the appetite for the risk with Bender. The Wolves don’t need a rookie to step in immediately and help. Bender can learn to defend from Thibs and be the future starting power forward, something the Wolves desperately need.

Then there is the daily debate within the Wolves community. Who do you take if Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, or Jamal Murray are available? From what I can gauge, there is a three-way split between the Wolves fandom. Do Wolves fans feel strongly enough to place one of them as the 3rd best player available? This is the channel to express that!

Also including here is Jaylen Brown. Throughout the season, Brown has been in the top 4 category. He is an athletic freak who screams project. The Wolves could take that on and develop nicely as another weapon for Ricky Rubio.

Please vote and share! I will close this one after two days so we can keep it moving!

 

Jamal Murray – How he Fits with the Timberwolves

A couple weeks ago we entertained the idea of adding Kris Dunn to the Timberwolves roster through the NBA draft on June 23. This post will explore Jamal Murray, freshmen guard out of Kentucky. Nothing clever I can think of for the title on this one, so just going to jump into it.

The thing that makes Jamal Murray considered a lottery pick in the draft is his scoring and shooting ability. He had the highest scoring average of all freshmen with 20 points per game. He is also a tremendous three-point shot. He shot nearly 41% from three this last season. His shot is fluid and can release in a multitude of ways. The fact that he is a Freshmen and contributed this much to a team like Kentucky goes a long way. Kentucky has a reputation for producing great NBA players.

If you didn’t know, floor spacing and the catch & shoot are things the Wolves truly struggle with. Matter of fact, they are among the worst in the league. See this post by Nylon Calculus. While the Wolves can choose between Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray to space the floor, Murray is the catch and shoot talent. Murray has the potential to come off of screens and spot up for a 3-point shot like a J.J. Redick. Murray shot 56% when coming off of screens. He will also have the chance to hang in the corner and spot up threes when Wiggins or Towns are double-teamed and when Rubio is looking to penetrate & dish. Thibodeau loves the corner three and it will likely be Murray’s first task to master that shot, if drafted.

For anyone being drafted in the 5th spot, the hope is that they can come in immediately and contribute. That doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be a starter. The only starting spot without much competition would be the power forward position, but there aren’t talented enough power forwards in this draft to take that spot. A guard like Jamal Murray though would need to come off the bench and score. They would need to add to the depth of the team and have someone other than Shabazz Muhammad as the only scoring threat. Murray can absolutely be that. Murray has a high BBIQ and is very aggressive. He is mature beyond his years on the court. It will be interesting to see how that translates in the NBA.

There are some significant issues that Murray has though. The first is his ability on defense. There is a good chance that Murray will never be an adequate defender in the league. He lacks the athleticism to stay with guards in the NBA. This can be an issue if Tyus Jones is on the team. Having scrappy guards who can defend seems to be important to Thibs.

While Murray has the size to play either guard position, he does struggle playing the point guard position with efficiency. He averaged more turnovers than assists and seems to play naturally off the ball. He also has some problems with finishing around the rim, something that doesn’t get easier at the next level. He could get time to develop behind LaVine in his first few seasons in this aspect.

It seems that typically many people will mention Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield in the same sentence. It is important to note that Murray is three years younger than Hield. That is the span of a rookie contract. By the time Murray is the age of Hield, his rookie option will be decided on and he will be a fairly known commodity. The three-year gap could amount for something. Hield did should 5% better in FG% and 3P% on one more three-point attempt per game. Buddy Hield is a better fit for a team looking to win now. It almost seems like the Boston Celtics would be a great fit if they decide to keep their pick.

While the Wolves will be shooting for the playoffs this season, they did earn the 5th-worst record in the NBA with a fairly healthy roster. So the Wolves are hoping to make a significant jump that will be reliant on the improvement & development of their current personnel and on Coach Thibs implementing his schemes flawlessly in his first season. Realistically, the Wolves are somewhere between the 7th-worst in the league and the 7th-seed in the West. The long-term goal for the young core is to win a championship. If that is the case, it may make the most sense to draft a guy that can be molded into that group when making a decision between two guys (Murray and Hield) who have a similar skill set. By taking Jamal Murray, the Wolves get a three-year grace period for a guy who can carve out a role on the team in that time.

In the short term, Murray isn’t doing much. He will need to learn to defend, how to play the point guard, and finish around the rim. He may see time when the Wolves desperately need to spread the floor or need someone to come off of screens to catch-and-shoot. Thibs is not crazy about the ‘baptism by fire’ rule of getting rookies a ton of minutes to develop. He will get them developed in the ways he can. Murray will probably find himself in the corners on the offensive end and move his way up. It may be a couple of years before Murray actually sees significant minutes. It could be a good thing nonetheless. The Wolves may look to bring in a couple free agents who can help boost the Wolves into a winning franchise in the time Jamal Murray develops.

With Thibodeau around, it is clear that Murray will not see a lot of minutes until he can at least hold his own on defense. That may not come until year two or three. But when he does learn to defend, he will serve as a great change-of-pace scorer off the bench or alongside LaVine or Wiggins. It could also could at a time where Andrew Wiggins is seeing some stretch-four in a couple of years. Murray will be able to run his defender off the court like a young Reggie Miller or Ray Allen. He may never be great in that sense but he could definitely bring attention away from Wiggins and Towns.

All in all, if the draft goes Simmons, Ingram, Dunn, Bender, I would first look to trade the pick. My ideal would be to move down to get Wade Baldwin or Timothe Luwawu. If there are no takers for the 5th pick, which seems more and more likely by the day, the decision to pick between Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield will be a reality. I am siding with Jamal Murray because he is better in the catch-and-shoot, is more versatile in what positions he will be able to play, and is three years younger.

A Dunn Deal?

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The title is cliché, but wanted to take the opportunity to use it before it was over-Dunn. Get it? Yes I did it again. A quick shout out to @kadung1 for his tremendous Wolves photoshop work as well. He put together the image. Go give him a follow on Twitter. 

The Wolves have the 5th pick, officially. So the smoke is finally beginning to clear. The Wolves will likely shop the pick but it should be of no surprise to any executives in the league that this is a two-man draft. In comparison to other years, the value of a lottery pick may be low due to natural supply and demand. Many teams in the lottery, especially the Boston Celtics, will look to trade their picks. There is also a group of prospects between 3 and probably 15 where they are merely the same level of talent. 

One prospect that is becoming more and more intriguing by the day is Kris Dunn. I will be the first to admit, I wasn’t a fan midway through the season. I still think there are some major holes in his game. He can’t shoot and I believe he made a living of taking advantage of his size to get to the basket. What is also concerning is that he has had a series of shoulder injuries in his career. His camp has already declined to provide information on his physical to Boston and Phoenix, the two teams picking before the Wolves. It could be strategic since both the Celtics and Suns have point guards that are foundational to their franchises. 

Before diving into this discussion, Britt Robson wrote something similar, but I still had a good amount I wanted to get off of my chest. Please check out his piece. 

Why is Dunn growing on me? For a few reasons. First off, I love defense. More important than that is Thibs loves defense. If the Wolves keep their pick, I have to imagine that the player that is drafted is a player that can play defense. Dunn is a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year where he averaged 2.6 steals this last season. Dunn’s 6-4 athletic frame paired with a 6-10 wingspan is something that could disrupt opposing ball handlers.

Dunn also can rebound, pass and score. Not only was he the Defensive Player of the Year, but he was also the back-to-back Big East Player of the Year. This season he averaged 16.4ppg, 6.4apg and 5.2rpg. His advanced stats are also nice. He has an offensive rating of 106 and defensive rating of 95 while having a 28% usage over the last two seasons. What really makes him stand out though is that his offensive and defensive Win Share and Box-Plus-Minus are basically equal. That means he is a damn good two-way player. To be honest, he may be the best two-way player in the draft. 

Dunn is also growing on me because I really dislike risk, especially in the draft. Dunn is an experienced player who has played two seasons at a high-level. He is one of the most NBA-ready players entering the draft. At 22, he can still grow with the other Wolves young players. He could be a starter in the league but could also have a Marcus Smart-type of role for the Wolves. 

Speaking of his role, there is a reason why Dunn is eyeing the Wolves roster. He isn’t only interested in the plethora of talent that is on the roster. He believes he can break into the rotation and earn a significant role with the team. Before withdrawing his name from the draft last season, DraftExpress.com projected Dunn to be the 13th pick in the draft. You know whom that is ahead of? The 24th pick, Tyus Jones. You have to imagine that Kris Dunn’s camp is eying Tyus Jones current role as the backup point guard. Dunn can score and defend better than Jones and both are probably at the same level in terms of being a ‘floor general.’ 

The other thing that isn’t mentioned enough is Ricky Rubio’s future. A disclaimer is that I love Ricky. I am a part of the problem though. I can’t imagine this team as performing better without Ricky Rubio. Dunn could be the future starting point guard of the Wolves. And if he is capable of being that, as Robson mentioned, it’s a good problem to have. There is the possibility that Rubio and Dunn can coincide in smaller lineups or in a ‘death’ defensive lineup with Rubio/Dunn/Wiggins/ Dieng/ KAT. 

The reality of the situation is that, the Wolves don’t really need another wing or another sub-par power forward. The Wolves could use some consistency and security at point guard. Picking Dunn could mean that Shabazz has a future for at least another season with the Wolves. Dunn’s scoring could also be extremely helpful off of the bench alongside Shabazz. Adding Dunn is making more sense by the day.

Just Trade the Pick

As we get closer and closer to the draft, I am becoming more and more convinced that the Wolves need to trade their 2016 1st round draft pick.Unless it’s top-3 of course. The exception to the rule for me would be getting Simmons, Ingram, or Bender. All would be worth holding onto the pick.

As I was car shopping this weekend, it dawned on me. Draft picks are like new cars. They depreciate the second they leave the lot. The same goes for draft picks. The Wolves will likely land somewhere in the top 6 picks with the 5th best odds of getting number 1. What sounds better, a shiny-new top 5 draft pick or Jamal Murray, a kid who can score and shoot pretty good, but thats really it. Oh and he is a few years away from contributing. To add to it, he is going to be buried behind Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and maybe even Tyus Jones. Shiny-new top 5 draft pick sounded better right?

Lets try another scenario. A shiny-new top 5 draft pick or Buddy Hield, an older rookie who still will need to adjust to the pace of the NBA and not being the focal point of the offense. And he isn’t really a good defender. And he is prone to chucking up shots. The shiny-new draft pick still right?

The reality is, there is not a talent in the 4 to 10 range that really sound better than a shiny-new draft pick. At least from the Wolves perspective. The Wolves are stacked with young players and breaking into the rotation, especially if you are a guard or small forward, will be extremely difficult. There isn’t a power forward that really complements Towns in that range that also doesn’t have ‘bust’ written across their forehead. Why? Because it’s been proven time and time again that scoring doesn’t translate to success in the NBA. And the prospects from 4-10 have that as their claims to fame.

So what do the Wolves do with the pick? Trade it. To whom you may ask? A team in a desperate need to rebuild. There are a lot of those on the horizon. We may look at the Thunder if Durant decides to leave. The Bulls if everyone becomes unhappy. The Pacers may part ways with Frank Vogel which could be a problem there. The Clippers will likely reconstruct. The Rockets and Mavs will be candidates. Memphis will also be forced to start over with the likely departure of Conley and their aging roster. I am sure the list is longer but the point is, there will be a market for a team who wants a draft pick of their choice to speed up their rebuilding process. The Wolves could potentially field offers from most of these teams that can be enticing.

Thibodeau has mentioned a few times in his press conference and interviews that free agents and trades would need to fit this team for where it is going in the next 3-4 years. Many of the teams I mentioned above may not have players that fit the bill to make a trade. I have floated the idea around on twitter (@timberrebuilder) of getting the likes of Serge Ibaka, Paul George, or Jimmy Butler. All guys that fit the bill but may have too high of asking prices. There also the question of fit with guys who play small forward.

Then there is the list of fringe teams that are somewhere in between rebuilding and figuring out their identities. Teams like the Kings, Suns, or Nuggets. I wouldn’t be opposed to dangling the 5th pick for a player like Eric Bledsoe or Kenneth Faried. Many would love to pair Cauley-Stien with his old college teammate Towns. All of these are players that can fit a need for the Wolves and don’t really fit on their current rosters.

There is also the possibility the Wolves trade down and add a role player. The Nuggets again come to mind as they have a lot of picks (three total, getting one from Houston and Portland). The Nuggets have a lot of big men prospects that could fit well with the Wolves. The Bucks are in the late lottery and also could offer a role player in which they could move up and grab a point guard like Kris Dunn. I have always been intrigued by John Henson and would be open to adding him to the roster. In the late lottery I would be interested in adding Timothe Luwawu from France or forward Ivan Rabb from Cal. Both are defensive-minded and would be good projects for Thibs and his staff.

All in all, I don’t get excited at the prospect of having Kris Dunn or Jaylen Brown on this roster. To me there is the same value or talent in picks from 11-17 for this draft as there is in 4-10. This leads me, someone who loves the draft, to want to trade the pick. The guys available in the 5th-pick range have a common denominator, not great defense. I am sure a few players could be argued for but in general, if a player can’t defend in college, they won’t be able to defend at a high-level in the NBA. This may have slid without question before when your coach is Flip Saunders or Sam Mitchell and offense is your forte. But Thibs could make a rookie’s life miserable if they’ve never played defense.

These are my thoughts as of now. These thoughts could change a month from now when the draft gets closer and the draft boards begin to sort themselves out. My logic is trading the pick before there is a name associated with the pick will be important to get the most value for it. Just like selling a brand-new car with zero miles vs selling a car with one owner.

The Timber Rebuilder.