Jan 16, 2012; Washington , DC, USA; Washington Wizards head coach Flip Saunders reacts during the first half against the Houston Rockets at the Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Did Saunders Flip The Wolves Future?

It was tough for Wolves fans to struggle through the discordant four-year reign of terror by former GM, David Kahn. Luckily, this summer the Timberwolves decided not to pick up Kahn’s extension, and instead opted for a changing of guard by bringing in former Timberwolves head coach, Flip Saunders, to take over the reigns of a somewhat disassembled Timberwolves team.

 Saunders had his first offseason as Timberwolves GM, over the course of this summer, and now a month into the NBA season we can start to properly grade Saunders’s offseason and its impact on the current season. Lets take a look at the positive and negative impact of Saunders’s offseason so far.  Some of the major moves Saunders completed in his first offseason are the signing of Kevin Martin, the signing of Corey Brewer, the re-signing of Nikola Pekovic, and the drafting (and immediate trading) of Trey Burke.

The Positives:

Over the course of the 2013 NBA offseason, Timberwolves fans were in for a roller coaster of an offseason with new GM, Flip Saunders, having made deals which either made your stomach churn or make you jump out of your seat proclaiming your conditional love for the Timberwolves organization (rightfully so based on the previous tenure of agony and stress caused by David Kahn).

Some of the standout moves that Saunders managed to pull off were the sign and trade for swingman, Kevin Martin, the re-signing of bruising center, Nikola Pekovic, bringing back defensive specialist, Corey Brewer (who the Timberwolves originally drafted), and the re-signing of pure shooter, Chase Budinger.

Kevin Martin is looking rejuvenated in a Timberwolves jersey to start off the season.  Martin has been pouring in the points, averaging 23.2 points per game this season.  Martin has the unique ability to create his own shot, which is a dying art in today’s NBA.  Martin can put the ball in the basket from anywhere on the floor which is evident in his 44% shooting percentage from behind the arc this season. Sometimes Martin may be a little overzealous and take ill-advised shots that he just can’t make but Martin has been relatively consistent in Minnesota this year. Martin brings a whole dimension to this young Wolves team that they just didn’t have last season in three point shooting.  The Timberwolves were dead last in the league in three point shooting last season, and it showed in their record.

Corey Brewer is back in Minnesota and while he may not be Gary Payton when it comes to perimeter defense he is still a major upgrade over Chase Budinger and EuroBasket standouts Alexey Shved and Mickael Gelabale.

Brewer, an ex-Nugget, was brought to Minnesota on a 3-Year, $15 Million deal and was asked to play impeccable perimeter defense.  Brewer has lived up to those expectations so far, doing an unprecedented job guarding the opposing team’s best wing, such as Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who he restricted to 4-11 shooting on the way to a staggering 100-81 victory over one of the powerhouses of the Western Conference. While the former Florida Gator was signed for defense, he has been consistent on the offensive front as well.  Brewer has averaged 14.1 points per game on 47% percent shooting from the field.  One major downside to his offensive game is his lackadaisical three point shooting.  Brewer has shot just 30% percent from downtown over the course of this young NBA season. Brewer has proved he is a dual threat on both the offensive and defensive end and he is currently outplaying his $5 million a year deal in Minnesota.

The Nikola Pekovic re-signing was a huge plus for Minnesota. Without Pekovic on the roster, the Timberwolves would have a major lack of frontcourt depth, with no player capable of manning the five with heavy starters minutes.  While Pekovic has yet to find his niche on the offense front of the game, Pekovic uses his big body to clog the lane on defense, and pulls down a plethora of both offensive and defensive rebounds. The Wolves locked up Pekovic for five years, on a $60 million contract. Pekovic is only going to improve as he gains more and more experience in the NBA.

Another re-signing made by the Timberwolves, was veteran swingman Chase Budinger.  Budinger is out until at least mid December, though, it was good to lock up Budinger for the next three years, on a $16 million deal. He will provide valuable offense with his ability to knock down the long range shot, something the Timberwolves did not see very much of last season.

The Timberwolves signed veteran big man Ronny Turiaf to a 2 year, $3.2 million deal.  Even though Turiaf has only appeared in two games this season, he provides veteran leadership in the locker room for a young and inexperienced Timberwolves team.  Turiaf doesn’t have much left in the tank, but he is signed to a relatively inexpensive two-year deal, meaning the Timberwolves cap space is not affected for the upcoming offseasons; a huge help to their cap situation with the deep free agent classes coming up.  In the draft night deal that sent Trey Burke to Utah, the Wolves acquired the young center out of Louisville in Gorgui Dieng.  Turiaf can help Dieng grow as a player, because they have a similar style of play.  Both players love to mix it up in the middle, and are not afraid of contact or clogging the paint.  Turiaf is going to be nothing but a positive in the locker room, because even as he declines because of age, he provides a valuable veteran presence, which this young team needs.

The Negatives:

 Flip Saunders had a less than stellar draft night with all three of the Timberwolves prime candidates (Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter Jr, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) having been drafted before the clock hit Minnesota. Almost every mock draft said the Timberwolves would draft Caldwell-Pope, the two guard out of Georgia, and he would immediately have a significant role in Rick Adelman’s rotation due to the fact he was one of the strongest perimeter shooters in the draft; an aspect the Timberwolves lacked last season. Unfortunately, the Detroit Pistons decided to swipe Caldwell-Pope from the Wolves, so Saunders had to improvise…

Saunders decided to take the best player on the board. Saunders picked star point guard, Trey Burke out of Michigan. After Saunders picked Burke, every Timberwolves fan on Earth cringed. This pick brought back cringeworthy memories of David Kahn’s infamous 2009 draft where he picked three point guards in the first round. Kahn picked Jonny Flynn out of Syracuse, Ricky Rubio out of Spain, and Ty Lawson out of North Carolina. We all know Jonny Flynn was a total bust and he is now succombed to playing in the CBA. Rubio, while a solid player, left Wolves fans waiting as he continued to play in Spain, and still hasn’t found his jump shot; an aspect of the game that can hurt the Wolves in late game situations. Finally, Ty Lawson, who was immediately traded to the Denver Nuggets, was arguably the best out of the trio. Currently this move makes Wolves fans despise former GM, David Kahn, even more considering the fact that Lawson is putting up All Star numbers this season and has become an elite point guard in the league. Thankfully, Saunders immediately traded Burke for the 14th and 21st picks from the Utah Jazz.

 With these picks, the Timberwolves selected swingman Shabazz Muhammad out of UCLA, and the big man Gorgui Dieng, who played a vital role in Louisville’s 2013 NCAA Tournament success. Neither of these two have not lived up to their expectations so far in the season, but it may be too early to judge, considering it may not be their fault.  Rick Adelman has refused to give both Muhammad and Dieng significant minutes and their stats show it.  Muhammad has averaged just 4.2 minutes per game and Dieng has averaged 5.8 minutes per game. These players can contribute, Muhammad on offense, and Dieng on defense, but Adelman is simply not giving them the chance that most rookies initially get to prove their worth to a team. Adelman has consistently run a three man rotation off the bench of JJ Barea, Robbie Hummel, and Dante Cunningham. I am not sure whether to call this a negative on Saunder’s CV or not.  Adelman has not given either rookie a chance to contribute so we do not know how they would fare when given consistent, and considerably higher minutes night in and night out.

With the 52nd pick in the draft, the Timberwolves selected combo guard, Lorenzo Brown, out of NC State.  Brown was immediately shipped down to Iowa to develop his limited skills in the confines of the D-League, as is protocol with most late second round picks.  Brown did not like the idea of playing in Iowa and asked for a trade almost immediately.  He was then traded to the Brooklyn Nets’ D-League affiliate, the Springfield Armor.  Brown is now playing for the Philadelphia 76ers off the bench and is a regular in an NBA rotation.  Why is this a failure?  The Timberwolves essentially wasted a draft pick on Brown as he is now playing for another NBA team and showing he can be a viable contributor in an NBA rotation; a theory that the coaching staff in Minnesota did not think was realistic in the short term.

With the 59th pick in the draft, the Timberwolves selected forward Bojan Dubljevic who is currently still in Europe.  One cannot expect much from the second to last pick in the draft, but there are always still hidden gems at the end of the draft.  Look at Isaiah Thomas, who is now the Sacramento Kings starting point guard over established starters such as Greivis Vasquez, and is making a definite impact in the NBA.

 Saunders could have done a lot better with this pick, and one name that stood out at this point in the draft was forward, C.J. Leslie, out of NC State. Leslie is an athletic freak and could have been stashed in the D-League to develop his talent, or could have at the very least, have gotten a Summer League invite either to Orlando or Las Vegas to prove his worth to Saunders, Adelman, and the rest of the Timberwolves front office and coaching staff. Leslie could have also convinced Lorenzo Brown to stay as they were teammates at NC State over the course of their college careers. Instead, Saunders opted to pick a player who likely will never even make it across the pond to play in the NBA for the Wolves.

Overall, Saunders had a solid offseason, and should look to build off of it next years over the course of this season as the trade deadline approaches as well as in the foreseeable future as the Timberwolves are now a playoff team, but will need more weapons both offensively and defensively to take the team to the next level, a task Saunders will be charged with. Saunders must learn how to improvise in the draft, as most of the time things do not go to plan, not only for the teams, but for the fans as well. Saunders will have to weigh the teams needs more than the the needs of the fans that have been horrified by the recent Timberwolves drafts.  I believe Saunders is on the right track to being a great GM and he should help improve the Timberwolves into legitimate contenders in the near future and while his short term success has been one that makes the horizon bright for the Timberwolves, his long term success is too difficult to predict as of right now.

 

Tags: Corey Brewer Flip Saunders Gorgui Dieng Kevin Martin Minnesota Timberwolves Shabazz Muhammad

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