Heading into the draft and free agency, the Wolves really have only three starters that they can pencil into next year’s starting lineup. Ricky Rubio, fingers-crossed when healthy will be the team’s starting point guard. Kevin Love arguably one of the most underrated players in the league will remain in his spot as the power forward. The emergence of Nikola Pekovic last season gave the Wolves a center with a body temperature above at least 32 degrees fahrenheit. Other than that the team still has holes on the perimeter. It should not come as a shock that the Wolves should be searching for a scoring wing this offseason who can produce a nightly basis.
Sadly, as the chart below indicates, the Wolves had the worst net PER ratings (team’s PER at position minus opponent’s PER at position) at both shooting guard and small forward in the entire league. It is pretty tough to be the worst in the league at one position let alone two, that is unless you are the Charlotte Bobcats.
Yet the team still won almost 40% of their games without get hardly any production from their wing spots. Most of those swingman minutes went to Martell Webster, Michael Beasley, Anthony Tolliver, Wayne Ellington, Wes Johnson, Luke Ridnour, and Derrick Williams. As mentioned in the previous post, three of those sevens players may not be on the team next year. One has to anticipate some sort of personnel turnover at these two positions in the near future and it shouldn’t be hard to upgrade those spots, considering how bad they were.
The total measure in the chart is just a summation of the net ratings across every position. Those two spots (shooting guard and small forward) for Minnesota combined for a -8.9 rating, which is downright embarrassing. The total net rating and win percentage coincidentally last season were highly correlated with a .94 correlation and a R² of .89. So it is fair to say the higher your net total rating is the better chance you have of winning games. Taking this into account, had the Wolves gotten at least a negative one net rating at each of those positions, they would have hovered around a zero net team rating. Which would have had them a lot closer to the playoffs.
The quickest way to improve the Wolves rating and win total, is simply improving at the wing positions. Considering how bad they were last year, there is really no direction to go but up. So, the main priority this offseason should be finding affordable able bodies who can produce better than last year’s crusty crop of players. You are probably thinking to yourself, well thanks for all these numbers, but we already knew how bad the team’s perimeter players were and what the team needs this offseason. Sometimes though it is just interesting to see just how bad they were in comparison to the rest of the league.
Let’s now look at those aforementioned seven players who took up a majority of the minutes this year at shooting guard and small forward.
Shooting guard last season, consisted of the trio of point guard Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster, and Wayne Ellington. Ridnour arguably played out of position for most the season last year, but was probably the Wolves best option at shooting guard. Ridnour had the best offensive rating and almost best defensive rating of the three players, he also had the best net PER rating too. His net shooting percentage was the worst, probably because he was being guarded by taller and bigger shooting guards, instead of smaller point guards. The sad reality is the Wolves best shooting guard was a point guard. Let that sink in for a minute. The Wolves best shooting guard wasn’t even a true shooting guard. Although this may have fulfilled David Kahn’s two point guard fantasy (minus the Johnny Flynn part), it would have helped if the Wolves could have started a prototypical two-guard all season long..
Looking at the small forwards, Derrick Williams was the only player to produce a positive net PER rating, although he had the worst net rating at -5.6 than any other Wolves small forward, that includes Wes Johnson’s -4.7. Surprisingly Michael Beasley held opponents to just a 44% effective field goal percentage and had the best net rating with a positive 2.9. Martell Webster usually brought a nice shooting punch from the wing, but he had the two worst defensive ratings among both groups, which proves the perception that Webster is just not that good on defense, getting his doors blown off on consistent basis. Ironically the chart above is really inconsistent throughout much like the play of the small forwards all season long. Nobody really sticks out as a solid starter at small forward. This should scare the front office.
When looking at some data via Synergy Sports, the Wolves offense consisted primarily of pick and roll (20.5% of possessions) and spot up (catch and shoot) shot opportunities (18.5%). The Wolves did fine in pick and roll situations ranking 7th in the league averaging 0.88 points per possession (PPP). Spot up chances, however the Wolves ranked just 23rd in the league at 0.91 PPP. Minnesota shot just 35.7% in spot up situations, shooting 33.8% on spot up threes. The seven wings players listed above took almost exactly two-thirds (66.5%) of those spot up chances, their results are listed below.
On PPP basis Ridnour, Ellington, Beasley, and Webster were above the team average of 0.91 PPP. Ridnour and Ellington were the two best in spot up situations, producing PPP numbers over one and ranking in the top-100 of all players in those situations.
On the flip side, Anthony Tolliver was downright atrocious, producing an awful 0.64 PPP, ranking 321st in the entire league. When considering that there were 352 players last season who played at least 400 minutes, Tolliver (882 minutes) was one of the worst spot up shooters in the league. In all fairness he had quite a poor shooting season compared to his career marks, but still he had one job to do, based on the fact that almost 44% of possessions were used on spot up jump shots, yet he could hardly ever execute.
Wes Johnson also took a good amount of spot up jump shots last season — the most among this entire group. Johnson jacked up 175 spot up shots only hitting on 34% of them, producing a very subpar 0.86 PPP. He ranked outside the top-200, which is not good. For the sake of comparison, Johnson produced a 0.95 PPP (185th) his rookie season in these same situations, shooting 37.6% from the field and 35.3% from deep. So his rookie season was not that much better than his sophomore season and closer resembled the average season of Martell Webster this year. Things aren’t looking good for Wes Johnson at this moment.
Derrick Williams also chucked his fair share too when given catch and shoot opportunities. He took the second most spot up shots among the group, 129 shots. He shot a paltry 29.5% on these shots, ranking himself almost outside the top-250 in the league. If Williams ever dreams of playing the small forward in the future, he is going to have to become a better shooter off the catch.
The good news is that the two better catch and shoot options on the team, Ridnour and Ellington, in all likelihood will be back next season. Bad news though is that two of the worst catch and shoot players on the team, Johnson and Williams, are under contract for next season (Tolliver could also be resigned at a discounted price). They could always get traded this summer, but if they remain on the team they will need to improve this skill if they want to help the team win games. Worse news is that Johnson produced average numbers in his rookie season, so it is unlikely that he all of sudden start hitting his catch and shoot jumpers next season at an outstanding clip unless he really starts dedicating himself to the game, which he does not seem too interested in doing right now. Slightly better news is that Williams, who is just 21 years old and wasn’t able to participate in a summer league or much of training camp last season due to the lockout, may just need some time and maturity to improve in these situations as well as other facets of his game. Only time will tell with him on whether he will ever adopt a small forward role.
No surprises here, the Timberwolves need wings players bad. There will be plenty of options in the offseason to try to fix the problem. Free agency, the draft, and even trades could bring in some new wing talent. Now that the obvious problem has been diagnosed, the next step is finding solutions for the problem. This is always the hardest part, and based on how the Wolves past wing players have performed in recent years, this is a department the team has not always excelled at.