|With the 17th pick, the
Minnesota Timberwolves select
Their GM is: Ryan Fortson
I. Season Overview
The 97-98 Season:
Expectations: Improvement on last years 40-42 record. Consistent superstar play from KG. Development of Marbury.
Brief overview: Mission Accomplished
Record: 45-37; 3rd Midwest Division; 7th Western Conference
The Wolves made one large roster move in the off-season; they acquired the perpetually overweight (and thus injured) Stanley Roberts for the perpetually disinterested (and thus useless) Stoyko Vrankovic. First round draft pick, Paul Grant from Wisconsin, injured his right foot (sprain) in training camp, and was forced to sit out his rookie season. The team also endured a sometimes acrimonious negotiation with forward Kevin Garnett, or more specifically with his agent Eric Fleischer (who is unfortunately also Marburys agent) which culminated in KG signing a six year, $126 million dollar contract extension. Signing a contract like this based on pure potential is a risk, but one calculated to pay off handsomely, both on the court and off, as KG further develops his prodigious basketball and public relations skills. Marburys skills also developed this year, as he at times came to realize that passing can often help his team more than shooting the ball indiscriminately. He still retained, however, his ability to take over the end of games if necessary.
The team started the season flat; but seemed to turn on the jets about games in. They posted convincing regular season wins at Seattle (12/23/97) -- their first since 03/15/91 -- and against Chicago, the franchises first ever. The team was starting to be recognized as a real threat, when Tom Gugliotta, currently the best player on the squad, was lost for the season with a serious ankle injury. Googs injury was compounded with the loss of Chris Carr -- intermittently out for the remainder of the season, also with a bad ankle sprain -- only a few weeks later. Carr, projected to be the starter at the shooting guard slot, was replaced at the trading deadline in the starting lineup by Anthony Peeler, acquired for Doug West. Peeler came out firing, rejuvenating his career after an inexplicable stint on the bench in Vancouver.
The Wolves recovered from a disastrous stretch after Googs went down (8-15) to finish the season strong at 45-37, its best record ever (which admittedly is not saying that much) -- the second consecutive record finish for the franchise. This was good enough to send Minnesota to the playoffs for the second year in a row and only the second time it the franchises nine year history.
Remembering the sting from being swept last year by the Rockets, this time the Wolves were out for blood. After losing a miserable game one to the Sonics, the Timberwolves shocked Seattle (and the rest of the league) with two straight convincing victories -- the franchises first ever in the playoffs. These victories came due to the employment of a small line-up for most of the game, with Porter starting at small forward, Mitchell at power forward, and Garnett at center. Despite the expectation that Seattle would be the peskier team, Minnesota executed well enough to score on Seattles stifling defense. Unfortunately, the Wolves could not maintain their intensity, and their season was ended by the Sonics after loses in two close games. Especially painful was the poor play by Marbury and especially Garnett (who set a franchise record with 10 turnovers) in the fifth game. With Gugliotta injured and our two remaining stars playing poorly, the Timberwolves did not stand a chance.
Individual highlights this season included Kevin Garnett starting in the All-Star game, a franchise first; the successful return of Michael Williams; the resurrection of Anthony Peelers career. Team highlights included: leading the league in fewest turnovers per game; finishing second in the league in scoring per game; first ever playoff wins; and the first > .500 finish in team history. The obvious knock on the Wolves is their defense. There are some exceptional individual defenders on the team, but there needs to be a serious commitment to team defense. Some signs of this were evident late in the season and in the Seattle series. The Wolves also need to rebound the ball better, as they tend to get forced off the boards rather easily.
As a whole, the 97-98 season was a wonderful rollercoaster ride for Wolves fans, and did nothing to dampen the expectation for success shared by the players, coaches, and fans.
II. Management and Coaching
After years of being one of the most mismanaged franchises in the history of major professional sports, the Minnesota Timberwolves have now obtained respectability and are seen by many as one of the teams of the future. The TWolves were tentatively sold a couple of years ago to a group from New Orleans headed by boxing promoter Bob Arum before Commissioner Stern stepped in and voided the sale. This allowed Glen Taylor to buy the team. Upon doing so, he installed former Celtic great Kevin McHale as Vice President of Basketball Operations. In essence, McHale is the general manager, though that title is officially held by Phil Flip Saunders, whom McHale installed as coach in December of 1995, replacing Bill Blair in that position. On the GM side, McHale has been wonderful, especially compared to what we had in the past. He was able to trade Donyell Marshall (who admittedly is finally starting to look mediocre) to Golden State for superstar Tom Gugliotta and someone who absolutely cannot score, Doug West, to Vancouver for someone who can, Anthony Peeler. The team could still use a quality center and a bit better bench, but there is every reason to expect that the team is in good hands with McHale. His drafts have also been quite fruitful. Three years ago he drafted Kevin Garnett at #5 before drafting high school seniors became fashionable. Now Garnett is widely accepted as the best player in that draft and one of the cornerstones of the NBA. The next year he drafted Ray Allen at #5, but was able to trade him and Andrew Lang to Milwaukee (probably a deal engineered before the draft) for Stephon Marbury, arguably the best player from that draft. (Last year he drafted Paul Grant, who has not been able to play due to injury.) Not only is McHale able to evaluate talent well, but players respect him and want to play for Minnesota. Thanks for this is also partially due to the strong (financial) support given by Taylor.
Despite his lack of fame, Saunders seems to be an excellent coach for a developing team. Before coming to the Timberwolves, he coached for many years in the CBA (winning the championship twice and coach of the year twice), so he knows how to bring out the best in struggling young players. The key to this is patience and the willingness to let young players like Marbury and Garnett make mistakes. Saunders seems to have excellent knowledge of basketball strategy, as shown by his effective deployment of small-ball against Seattle in the playoffs and a precision passing game all season. I think he might have a slight problem on defense with defensive rotations. I do not have exact stats, but I think Minnesota allowed the most 3-pointers of any team in the league. Part of this, though, might be due to the team being undermanned. Not having a real center resulted in needing to double-team more down low. Still, Saunders does an excellent job of having his team ready to play and achieve their maximum potential. He is always pacing the sidelines and is always eager to teach.
One of the keys to Minnesotas success this year has been team unity, which has been stressed by both McHale and Saunders. Both of them realize that championship teams need to develop over time and play well together instead of as a collection of individuals (see the Lakers this year). To this end, they have traded away troublemakers like Isaiah Rider and Christian Laettner for lesser talent and are unlikely to draft anyone who has serious questions about their attitude or behavior. The duo understands the importance of stability and continuity, especially among the core players, and try to carry this philosophy into their roster decisions. McHale learned these virtues in his days with the Celtics and is instilling them in the entire organization.
III. Roster: (stats are for regular season only)
Chris Carr: (6'6", 220 lbs., dob: 3/12/74, years NBA: 3; 97-98: 51 games, 22.8 mpg, 9.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg [.8 off], 1.7 apg, .3 spg, .420 FG%, .315 3P%, . 848 FT%) Carr came on board as free-agent signee from Phoenix; can score in bunches, but a huge liability on the defensive end, primarily because he never seems to know where to go. Has some size, so he presents match-up problems for smaller two guards, but only on the offensive side, as he is not always quick enough to guard faster opponents. Even on offense, it is not clear how much the coaches trusted him, as he was rarely in at the end of games despite supposedly being our shooter. Carr is signed for one more year at $1 mil. A real likable player, popular with fans and teammates, he is likely gone with the acquisition of Anthony Peeler. The TWolves are reportedly trying to trade Carr, perhaps combined with their first round pick in a deal with Denver for Garrett, but he just underwent knee surgery, so it is not clear if he will have much trade value. It would not be surprising to see Minnesota cut Carr or place him on IR if they cannot trade him. Reggie Jordan: (6'4", 195 lbs, dob: 1/26/68, years NBA: 4; 97-98: 57 games, 8.5 mpg, 2.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg [1.0 off], .9 apg, .6 spg, .478 FG%, .569 FT%) Much the opposite of Carr; he is a defensive stopper, an active and pestering defender who can certainly disrupt an offensive players rhythm. He is almost certainly the best defender among Minnesota guards. For that matter, his tenacious play allowed him to move to small forward at times, despite being undersized at the position. To his credit, he knows his role and only looks to score as a last resort when the offense breaks down, or off of garbage baskets. A real leaper, he can execute some stunning dunks in the open court -- just dont ask him to shoot with any range. He is a surprisingly good rebounder for his size and almost always contests for loose shots. Jordan can consistently be counted on to put forth his best effort and bring energy to the court. He played in the CBA and briefly with Detroit and Portland before signing with the Wolves mid-way through last season. Jordan is a free agent, but is not likely to attract much interest from other teams. Still, management seems to think he is a keeper, as he is cheap and fills a role that the Wolves sorely need (backcourt D). Jordan has already participated in some summer promotional efforts for the Timberwolves, which is probably a sign that he is expected to have a slot on the roster.
Stephon (Starbury) Marbury: (6'2", 180 lbs, dob: 2/20/77, years NBA: 2; 97-98: 82 games, 38.0 mpg, 17.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg [.7 off], 8.6 apg, 1.27 spg, .415 FG%, .313 3P%, .731 FT%) The class of the Wolves backcourt. A true playmaker (he was already 4th in the league this year in assists) and scorer who can kill you with the drive -- only Allen Iverson is quicker to the hoop -- or the long shot. He has the size and the skills to be the prototypical point guard. Marbury is very acrobatic and sometimes almost Jordan-like in the shots he can make. Unafraid to take a game over; however, he will sometimes overcompensate for a struggling team and dig himself and the team into a ditch with a poor shooting night. When he is calm and collected, however, hes pretty much undefendable. A natural point guard, with inhuman passing instincts; like Iverson, sometimes his passes are so accurate and so unexpected that a teammate will fumble the ball -- he more than anyone else probably missed Dean Garrett (who signed as a free agent over the summer with Denver) this last season, as Garrett was a perfect recipient of the bullet pass in traffic. Needs to work on his defense, but is athletic enough, and prideful enough, that he can and will rise to a defensive challenge. He also has a tendency to miss key free throws toward the end of games, but that may vanish with experience. With focused energy, he will be a perennial All-NBA guard. One of the three best point guards in the West, along with Kidd and Payton (Stoudamire is close). (And yes, I am well aware that Van Exel wend to the All-Star Game.) Nitpicks aside, he is second only to Garnett in value to the franchise. Id put his value as equal to Gugliotta in a pure hoops sense, but he is about seven years younger. He is signed through one more year as part of his rookie contract, but the Timberwolves have exclusive rights to negotiate a contract extension with him this summer. Marbury has been the subject of various trade rumors, but it is unlikely, at least in my opinion, that the TWolves would even entertain serious offers until after the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is finalized and the new salary cap guidelines are known. It is quite possible that a restrictive cap could help Minnesotas chances of resigning Marbury by hindering his mobility. After the tension surrounding Garnetts contract was resolves, Marbury pledged that his extension negotiations would go much more smoothly. Then in February, about the time he was pissed off about being snubbed for the All-Star Game back home in Madison Square Garden, he complained to Sports Illustrated about the Minnesota weather and lack of a night life. He supposedly wants to play for his beloved Knicks, but the Knicks will not have enough cap room in a year (barring major trades) to sign Marbury and McHale knows this. Marbury also wants to win and hopefully realizes that the best place for doing that, as well as getting a competitive salary, is in Minnesota. In all likelihood will remain a Wolf for the foreseeable future, as Taylor certainly has the money to spend on the team.
Anthony Peeler: (6'4", 212 lbs, dob: 11/25/69, years NBA: 6; 97-98: 38 games [with Wolves], 31.4 mpg, 12.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg [1.0 off], 3.6 apg, 1.6 spg, .452 FG%, .424 3P%, .766 FT%) Acquired from Vancouver for Doug West. While I, like all Wolves fans, was disappointed to see West (the last original Timberwolf) go, the trade has paid off bountifully. Most importantly, Peeler provides the outside shooting threat that the TWolves desperately needed. Example: Peeler made more three pointers this season than West has made his entire career. Ironically, Minnesota might not have traded for Peeler and his scoring ability if Gugliotta, their leading scorer, had not been injured. By this twist of fate, though, the TWolves found themselves a quite pleasant surprise. I had wondered where Peeler had disappeared to, after some serious success in the crowded pre-$haq Lakers backcourt. (Peeler was traded to Vancouver to free up cap room.) Seems that he never lost his game. A big, physical two guard, who found his shooting touch in his first game with the Wolves after riding the Grizzly pine for waaaay to long. He also showed a real commitment to defense, and plays remarkably well within the Wolves system. His main role is to position himself behind the three-point line to spread the floor so that Marbury can drive and, if necessary, dish to Peeler for the three. Peeler is the teams best distance shooter, and a versatile, athletic inside presence. He can absolutely score in bunches (see the 3rd game of the playoffs), and will throw himself around for the team. Peeler is under contract until 2001 and set to earn $2.5 mil next year. Peeler has very quickly developed into starting two that Chris Carr was to be.
Terry Porter: (6'3", 195 lbs, dob: 4/8/63, years NBA: 13; 97-98: 82 games, 21.8 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg [.5 off], 3.0 apg, .8 spg, .449 FG%, .395 3P%, .856 FT%) Porter provides experience off the bench. A point in height only, really has the scorers mentality. Good scorer and defender, real stable, and a free-throw shooting ace. Before the arrival of Peeler, Porter served in the role of designate three-point shooter, a role he still reprises from time to time, especially in clutch situations. He has always suffered criticism for his lack of playmaking abilities (Drexler was the actual playmaker on those great Trailblazer teams), but at times will play the point so as to free up Stephon for a scoring binge. Hes not the smartest (in a hoops sense) guard in the world, but his age and experience have imparted a good amount of maturity to his game, though he still occasionally makes bad passes that would not be expected from someone who has played as much basketball as he has. On a team that can pass as well as the Wolves, all that is really needed from a point guard is the ability to get the ball in play and occasionally break the press. For the most part, Porter can fill this role quite suitably. Porter is a free agent this summer and might elicit marginal experience from other teams, though probably not much. He is very popular with his teammates and the coaching staff and has brought great leadership to the locker room, especially as a mentor for Marbury. Because of this, as well as his ability to hit key shots and generally serve as a capable back-up guard, he will probably be re-signed, despite his advanced (in basketball terms) age, for one or two more years. There is a chance, however, that he will retire.
DeJuan Wheat: (6'0", 165 lbs., dob: 10/14/73, years NBA: 1; 97-98: 34 games, 4.4 mpg, 1.7 ppg, .3 rpg, .7 apg, .2 spg, .400 FG%, .471 3P%, .600 FT%) A slight little point guard, who looks to shoot, Wheat has apparently has impressed the Wolves coaching staff in limited minutes. An energy player, perhaps with some work on his handles could fill 15 minutes a game when offense is needed. Size is an issue -- hes a real small 6' -- but he has an inhumanly quick release on his jump shot, and, as Peeler often brings the ball up, his playmaking skills are not as exposed as they could be. He was drafted by the Lakers in the second round last year and then signed by Minnesota, mostly because Williams was still injured at the time (and was not expected to return) after being cut by L.A.. He is a free agent this summer, and the return to health of Michael Williams probably means that he will not be re-signed unless the Wolves truly believe that Wheat can develop into a quality back-up point guard in a couple of years. Unless another team signs him, though, Wheat will likely be brought to training camp, and might even stick with the team if Williams is injured. Michael Williams: (6'2", 175 lbs., dob: 7/23/66, years NBA: 10; 97-98: 25 games, 6.4 mpg, 2.6 ppg, .6 rpg, 1.3 apg, .4 spg, .333 FG%, .970 FT%) Williams finally started playing again this season after years of suffering with a plantar facia (foot) injury. Had some serious minutes in the Seattle series, and proved that he is still a viable player. If he continues to rehab as well as he has, he could take the veteran guard mantle from a retiring Terry Porter, if indeed Porter does retire. Hes a smart player, a hard worker, and an absolute killer at the line. His game has always involved drawing fouls, and its good to see that he hasnt lost that ability even as his injuries have slowed him up. His outside shooting is somewhat suspect, especially from three-point range. Williams has one more year left on his contract at a little under $3 mil and is therefore likely to stay with the Wolves, as he is still considered damaged goods by the rest of the league, especially at his high salary.
Bill Curley: (6'9", 245 lbs, dob: 5/29/72 , years NBA: 5; 97-98: 11 games, 13.3 mpg, 3.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg [1.0 off], .4 apg, .485 FG%, .667 FT%) Curley was a throw-in for salary cap reasons on the deal that sent J.R. Rider to Portland. He was injured at the time (ankle and knee) and stayed injured for well over two seasons until late this past season. His main purpose when playing is to bang people around and soften up the other team. Curley actually has a decent mid-range shot, but not something that you would want to depend upon late in the game. Even before his injuries, he was not especially mobile. He might be good for a few minutes as a defensive presence against slower power forwards and centers, but not much more than that. He is signed through next season at $1.54 mil.
Kevin (KG; Big Ticket) Garnett: (6'11", 220 lbs, dob: 5/19/76, years NBA: 3; 97-98: 82 games, 39.3 mpg, 18.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg [2.7off], 4.2 apg, 1.7 spg, 1.83 bpg, .491 FG%, .738 FT%) Needless to say, KG is the franchise. A definite superstar in the making, he is amazingly consistent, scoring in double figures every game of the season (until his disastrous game 5 at Seattle). I dont have the stats to back this up, but Id be willing to bet that he scored between 15 and 25 points in three-quarters of his games. He stepped up his game a bit after Gugliotta went down for the season with an injury. All things considered, he is also probably the best defensive player on the team and has guarded players at all five positions. He is an excellent ball handler, as evidenced by his assist numbers, which are amazingly second on the team. He is beginning to develop a more consistent jump shot (it would be nice if he could add a consistent 3-point shot [.188%] to his repertoire), but could probably stand to drive the lane more. He needs to gain strength without losing speed. This will help him not only drive the lane but also make him a better defensive presence in the post, something the Timberwolves desperately need. He creates huge match-up problems on both sides of the ball and often demands double teams offensively. Minor criticisms aside, he is the most valuable player on the team. He is signed until 2004 with a $125mil contract extension that goes into effect next year.
Tom (Googs) Gugliotta: (6'10", 240 lbs, dob: 12/19/69, years NBA: 6; 97-98: 41 games, 38.6mpg, 20.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg [2.6off], 4.1 apg, 1.5 spg, .5 bpg, .502 FG%, .821 FT%) A crucial member to the team and its most consistent scorer before going down with an ankle injury (bone spurs) in January. Along with Garnett, he forms arguably the best forward combo in the league. Googs is a bit stronger, so he usually plays the power forward position, but it is not unusual to see them used interchangeably on both offense and defense. Googs is a better outside shooter at this point in his career than KG, though he still cannot hit 3-pointers consistently (.118%). Still, Gugliotta frequently pops out for a jumper when someone else drives. He is known for his willingness to sacrifice himself defensively, a problem exacerbated by Minnesotas lack of consistent center play, frequently contesting tough rebounds. Googs will not dominate players with his strength, but has enough talent and quick enough feet to compensate for this. When Googs went down with an injury, Minnesota was arguably one of the hottest teams in the NBA. It took the Wolves several games to adjust before finishing the season strong. Despite the Wolves eventual ability to adjust, though, make no mistake that Googs is crucial to this team if they are to win a championship. Gugliotta can and almost certainly will opt-out of his contract this summer. However, he has openly expressed interest in staying in Minnesota and suggested that he would be willing to accept slightly less than market value to do so. It is fully expected that Minnesota will re-sign him.
Tom Hammonds: (6'9", 225 lbs, dob: 3/27/67, years NBA: 9; 97-98: 57 games, 20.0 mpg, 6.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg [1.8 off], .6 apg, .3 bpg, .516 FG%, .697 FT%) Hammonds, who was signed after the Wolves cut Cliff Rozier, has developed into quite a workhorse for the Wolves. Toward the end of the season, he was getting around 8 rebounds per game. More importantly, he served as a strong defensive presence on the blocks. This is not so evident from his stats, but he played a crucial role in stopping the opponents inside players. Hammonds even saw his share of time at center, especially when Roberts and Parks were injured for the last few games of the season. Hammonds offense is limited to only a few feet from the basket, but he is decent at put-backs. His numbers may not be big, but he can put in solid minutes off of the bench. Unfortunately, because of salary cap restrictions, the Wolves can only give him a 20% raise from the veteran minimum he earned this year. (This is barring changes in the CBA.) Hammonds wants to stay in Minnesota, but at least for next year would have to take less than he could get on the free agent market. Consequently, it is not likely that he will be back.
Sam (Sam-I-Am) Mitchell: (6'7", 210 lbs, dob: 9/2/63, years NBA: 9, 97-98: 81 games, 27.6 mpg, 12.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg [1.5 off], 1.3 apg, .8 spg, .3 bpg, .464 FG%, .349 3P%, .832 FT%) After a couple of weeks of line-up experimentation, Mitchell eventually to Gugliottas spot a starting power forward. Mitchell was probably a bit undersized for this position, as evidenced by his relatively low rebounding numbers. Mitchell is a gritty player, though, and not someone to be ignored on either offense or defense. On defense, Mitchell is pesky and quick enough to defend both power and small forwards. On offense, Mitchell can hit a 20-foot baseline jumper with amazing consistency and scores most of his points this way off of defensive rotations. He is also a decent three-point shooter, again usually from the baseline. He is neither big nor fast enough to cause match-up problems, but he can punish teams that do not play him honestly. Mitchell is a very intelligent player and always seems to know where to be on both sides of the ball. His veteran leadership helps the young Timberwolves like Marbury and Garnett both on and off the court. His is 34-years-old, but he played his first few seasons in the less demanding European leagues, so he probably has a few more good years left in him. All in all, he is Minnesotas most valuable reserve. In the first half of the season, he played the role of sixth man and might have received some consideration for the corresponding award if the injury to Googs had not forced him into the starting line-up. He is a free agent this summer, but wants to stay in Minnesota and there is every reason to expect that the Twolves will re-sign him and make Mitchell their sixth man again.
Cherokee (Chief) Parks: 6'11", 240 lbs, dob: 10/11/72, years NBA: 3; 97-98: 79 games, 21.6 mpg, 7.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg [1.8 off], .7 apg, 1.1 bpg, .499 FG%, .651 FT%) The Timberwolves acquired Parks basically for nothing (the restructuring of trade conditions) in a trade from Dallas. He has contributed a little more than nothing, but is still a bit of a disappointment for a lottery player. I am placing Parks with the forwards because that is his true position. Part of the disappointment about Cherokee might be due to the fact that he has been forced to play out of position at center most of his time with the Timberwolves, a position which he is just not strong enough to handle effectively. He has a decent outside shot, though nothing approaching three- point range, which can cause limited defensive problems for other teams by drawing their center out of the blocks. Cherokee does not, however, possess effective post-up moves, mostly because of his lack of strength. Similarly, he is susceptible to post-up moves on defense because of his lack of strength. He does have enough hops to block the occasional shot. Cherokee started 43 games at center mostly because many other teams do not have good centers. However, it is clear that Cherokee is not the answer at center if the Wolves want to win a championship. Someone else is needed to guard Shaq, Robinson, Duncan, and other strong quick centers in the league. Cherokee might still be adequate coming off the bench, but even then power forward is probably a better position for him. He is a free agent this summer and may seek employment elsewhere depending on who Minnesota drafts. Given that the Timberwolves will probably not pick up the option on Roberts (see below), combined with the fact that Grant has still not played a game in the NBA, I imagine Parks will probably be re-signed as an insurance policy. If he is, McHale and Co. is going to have to put Parks on a rigorous weight training program over the summer.
Paul Grant: (7'0", 245 lbs, dob: 1/6/74, years NBA: R; 97-98: did not play due to injury [96-97 at Wisconsin: 12.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, .494 FG%, .713 FT%]) Given Minnesotas woes at center, they could have used Grant this year, but he missed the season with an injury that was eventually diagnosed as being similar to the one that sidelined Gugliotta. Many people were surprised the Timberwolves drafted Grant at #20 last year, but faced with the prospect of losing Garrett to free agency and not sure if Roberts would be healthy for much of the season, the pick looked reasonable in retrospect. McHale reportedly drafted Grant because of his toughness and aggressiveness on defense. Barring a major trade, Grant will definitely have the opportunity to compete for the starting job at center next season.
Zeliko Rebraca: (6'11", weight unknown, dob: ?, years NBA 0) Who? Rebraca is a European center whose rights the Wolves acquired I think from Seattle in exchange for a second round pick. He is supposed to be a great leaper and shot blocker and is improving offensively. For his Italian League team he averaged 17.1 ppg in 31.1 mpg with 6.7 rpg (1.9 off) and accounted for 22% of his teams offense last season. He shot 64.3 FG% and 80.6 FT%. I have never seen him play, but these seem like decent numbers. Because he is a second round pick, the TWolves must be under the cap (not likely) if they want to sign him for above the league minimum. If they cut Roberts and decide not to re-sign Parks, it is possible the management might try to figure out a way to bring Rebraca over. Likely, though, he will continue to play in Europe, where I imagine he is earning more than the NBA league minimum.
Stanley (Big Fella) Roberts: (7'0", 290 lbs [probably an underestimate], dob: 2/7/70, years NBA 7; 97-98: 74 games, 6.2 ppg, 4.9 rbg [1.5 off], .4 apg, 1.0 bpg, .495 FG%, .481 FT%) Acquired last year in a draft-day trade for Stoyko Vrankovic, Roberts has been a marginal improvement, but still not the answer for the Wolves at center. He definitely takes up space on the defense, but his weight makes him extremely slow, which leads to frequent foul trouble. Plus, his atrocious free throw shooting means that you definitely do not want him in at the end of games. He has a long history of injuries, but he stayed healthy enough this year to play in most of the games, though he did wear down toward the end of the season and consequently missed the playoffs. On offense, he can dunk, but that is about it. (I have to admit, though, that it quite fun to watch him lumber toward the basket and dunk.) His hands are not good enough to catch passes from Marbury when he drives the lane, nor is Roberts quick enough to really be in position in the first place. He is scheduled to make around $4.5 mil next year, but Minnesota has the option to buy out his contract for $1 mil. Roberts might be acceptable as a back-up center, but is not worth the money it would take to keep him. It is doubtful that Roberts will ever get in the shape necessary for him to be a quality starting center, so the Wolves will probably exercise their buyout option and not bring him back next year unless they can get absolutely no one else at center.
IV. Team Needs
Given the above evaluation of players and their likelihood of staying with the team the roster for next season looks like this so far:
Team Needs: You will note that I already have the league limit of 12 players on my roster. This is one reason why I expect Carr to be traded and why I dont expect Roberts or Wheat to return. Of course, there is always the injured reserve list to play with. Packaging Carr with a player or a pick or trading Carr for a non-guaranteed pick will create more space for other players on the roster. Then again, I would not be surprised to see either Williams or Curley legitimately injured at the beginning of the season, given their histories of injury. This might give Wheat a spot on the team, depending on who the Wolves select in the second round. Plus, I am sure the Wolves would love to have Hammonds if they can convince him to come back for less money than he could earn elsewhere.
Still, it is usually a bad idea to base your plans and picks on thin possibilities rather than on who you are fairly certain you will have. Given the above likely scenario, the most pressing need is at center, especially considering that Grant is still vastly unproven at that position. Team rebounding was not too terrible, but it did pose problems at times. More importantly, a lack of consistent interior defense caused frequent double teams that left other players open for easy shots. The other major need is a consistent bench. Googs (when healthy), Marbury, and Garnett all played in the high thirties in minutes. Porter and Mitchell are both capable reserves, but both are also in the tail end of their careers. The TWolves expect to be challenging for a championship (assuming they can re-sign Marbury) in two or three years, after they have gotten more experience in the playoffs. Consequently, all plans for supporting players must be made with that in mind. Minnesota is well on track to achieve this goal, but minor improvements do need to be made. In addition to needing help up front, their other major needs are a solid outside shooter (Porter is too old and Jordan cannot shoot) and a point guard who can give consistent minutes in relief of Marbury (Williams has yet to prove that he can play a full season again and even then is still probably not good for more than 12-15 minutes a game on good nights). As shown by small-ball in the Seattle series, though, frontcourt help is a much more pressing need. The Wolves are generally able to defend teams without a powerful center, which most teams do not have, but they never came all that close to competing against the Lakers/Shaq in four regular season games and need to get the players to do so if they are going to advance beyond them in the playoffs eventually. The same could be said for Duncan, Robinson, and San Antonio. If the opposing center is quick but not strong, like sometimes with Olajuwan, Saunders can put Garnett on him. However, Minnesota desperately needs someone to guard the stronger players in the league. Parks was too weak to fill this need and Roberts too slow. If possible, the Timberwolves will draft someone who can play center for them. If not, they should probably pick the best available power forward, with emphasis on the word power.
VI. My Selection
Doleac is a bit slow and has underdeveloped post moves, but the Wolves do not need him for his speed, only his strength. Doleac seems to have the weight (265 lbs) and strength to slow down opposing centers enough to ease the defensive pressure off of other interior players, thus reducing the need for double teams. This should help out on defensive rotations and should give KG more freedom on the defensive end to roam around and block shots, something he is already quite good at. Doleac is not a great rebounder, but should be adequate at it. Doleac is also not a great shot blocker, but can at least alter some shots if opposing guards try to drive the lane. On the offensive end, Doleac has good enough hands to catch drop off passes from a penetrating Marbury. Doleac also has quite a good outside shot for a big man, which could draw out the opposing center enough to open up the middle for drives by Marbury and others. Doleac shoots free throws at over 80%, which could come in handy toward the end of games when teams are usually removing their big men for fear of them getting fouled and going to the line. Furthermore, Doleac is an intelligent player who will be able to learn the offensive and defensive systems that Minnesota uses and will know where to be at all times. In a precision passing offense like the Wolves use, this is a very valuable skill. On the downside, other than the limitations mentioned above, Doleac might turn out to be a big stiff like Luc Longley who is decent but not necessarily someone you want to pin your offensive/defensive hopes at center on. Then again, you could do worse than getting Longley at #17. Also, some have questioned his work ethic. To sum up, despite a potential to be a flop and less than awe-inspiring skills, Doleac fits the TWolves needs to well to pass up with this pick. In short, he is the best available center available and not a reach at this slot.
VII. Others considered
Brian Skinner (Baylor): At 6'10" and 240 to 255 lbs (depending on where you look), Skinner could probably play some minutes at center, but is more suited for power forward. Skinner was one of the best shot blockers in college this past season. He is also a tenacious rebounder. He plays very strong and could give Minnesota what they need in this department. Skinner has decent scoring ability inside, but not much of an outside shot. His free throw percentage is in the mid-60% you often find in centers. His physical attributes and skills actually remind me some of Dean Garrett, who the TWolves sorely miss. If he can accept his role as a primarily a defensive player who scores on the occasional dunk or putback, he can become quite an effective player in this league. I agonized greatly between him and Doleac and think that Skinner will be a very good selection for whomever does take him.
Keon Clark (UNLV): He is 6'10", but only 220 lbs, so it is unlikely that he will be able to play much center in the NBA, at least not against stronger opponents. Minnesota already tried a light, weak center with Cherokee Parks and it did not work out, though admittedly Clark is a much better leaper than Parks. Still, he does not fit my assessment of what the Timberwolves need. Perhaps more importantly, he has serious attitude and coachability questions. He was kicked off his team only nine games into the season. I think that McHale is right in avoiding this type of player. Clark is uncoachable and thus will not succeed at the NBA level. Last year Minnesota drafted Gordon Malone in the second round. Malone had a great deal of talent (including good leaping ability), but he was always lost on the court and was the first player cut in training camp. He has since gone on to be cut by his CBA team. Someone before Minnesota will probably take a chance on Clark as he is one of the best leapers in the draft, but they will be making a mistake.
Matt Harpring (Georgia Tech): His 6'7" height and outside shot reminds me a great deal of Sam Mitchell. Eventually, the Wolves are going to need another small forward who can come off the bench and score from the outside, but they have more pressing needs for the moment. Harpring would be a good addition to the team, but he would not solve their problems with interior defense.
As for others, I dont think that Jelani McCoy will put forth the effort to be a good defender. The stats for Nesterovic are not impressive enough to make me want to draft him, especially since European players are often poor defensively. I could not find any information on Stepanija and am not going to draft a player blind. The same goes for power forward Mirsad Turkcan. I think that Skinner is clearly better than Ansu Sesay.
VIII. Who the Timberwolves will probably take and other off-season moves:
I do not expect that Doleac will be available when Minnesota picks at #17, especially if Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom are really out of the draft. This is not a criticism of other GMs in this draft as I think our record is probably as good as that of the real GMs. If Doleac is indeed gone, I think there is a very good chance that the TWolves will pick Skinner (which may very well end up being a better pick than my selection of Doleac). McHale has said that he wants the meanest, toughest big man he can find and Skinner likely fits that bill. The fact that he was the high scorer at the recent Chicago pre-draft camp with 44 points in two games is an added bonus. If Doleac or Pat Garrity fall to them at #17, the Wolves would have to consider them as well. Despite past success, I dont think that they would take a high schooler, since either Harrington or Lewis would be too much of a project and the team is looking for a more immediate contribution. The Timberwolves are supposedly bringing in twelve players for workouts, so things are wide open. If they do not like the big men who are available, they might surprise people a bit and take Michael Dickerson if he is available, though only if they are fairly sure they can trade Carr. The European centers might merit some serious attention, certainly more than I am able to give them, but we already had a bad experience with a European center in Stoyko Vrankovic. Also, these centers are likely to be long term projects. Last year, McHale surprised everyone by reaching down to select Grant, though in retrospect the selection made some sense. The clincher was supposedly that McHale liked the toughness he saw when he looked in Grants eye at a workout. This shows that potential draftees are not only going to have to have good stats and skills, but also be the type of player that McHale thinks will fit into the team emotionally. I think Skinner shows this more than any of the other big men that are likely to be available at #17.
As mentioned several times, the team is likely to trade Carr, or at least make their best effort to do so. The two prevalent rumors are to trade Carr and the #17 pick to Denver for Dean Garrett or to trade Carr for an early second round pick so that they can select hometown hero Sam Jacobson. Both of these trades have some plausibility, though Im not sure I would bet on either of them happening. Other trades for Garrett may be attempted as Minnesota is supposedly desperate for them and Garrett really wants to return (he was in team offices a couple of weeks ago). Until they sign some of their free-agents, I doubt that the TWolves have much that would elicit trade interest from other teams (considering they are basically limited to Carr, Williams, Curley, and maybe Roberts). With Garnetts big contract, they are well over the expected salary cap and thus will not be able to sign any free agents except for the league minimum. Minnesota does have its million dollar cap exemption available and might use it on a sharpshooter depending on who it looks like they will have on their roster toward the end of the summer. Shooters are usually easier to find than interior defenders, so this is probably a problem that can be put off for a couple of months. Of course, the impending lockout may force everything to be put off for a couple of months. When things do resume, expect the Minnesota Timberwolves to be well prepared to enter the new season gunning for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and advancement to the second round or beyond!.
James F. Black (Season overview and Guards)
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