Feb 25, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns power forward Marcus Morris (15) drives on Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (12) during the second quarter at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

On Flip Saunders' obsession with two-way players

Ah, the elusive two-way player. Wolves’ boss Flip Saunders has made well-known his desire to acquire a host of “two-way players”. Which is great — all teams want two-way players. Heck, a team full of two-way players would be an All-Star team, no doubt.

The absolute best are just that — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, etc. But you know who isn’t a two-way player? The vast majority of those in the NBA.

Look at the San Antonio Spurs’ Finals-winning roster: they employ a host of role-players. Gregg Popovich himself was ripping on Danny Green‘s one-on-one defense to the media. Matt Bonner is strictly an offensive player. At this stage in Tim Duncan‘s career, he’s far more effective on defense than offense. Marco Belinelli is an awful perimeter defender.

Yes, this is probably my greatest pet peeve regarding Flip’s player-acquisition philosophy. It’s so incredibly short-sighted and obvious in it’s matter-of-fact-ness that it makes him look silly and naive.

Constructing a roster is about more than simply acquiring two-way players. There is only one Miami, and there are only so many superstars across the league. Putting a team together is about finding a superstar and one or two complementary, star-type two-way players. The rest of the roster needs to be filled with players that have at least one exceptional skill — three-point shooting, defense, or rebounding.

Look at the Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, or the Memphis Grizzlies. How many one-way players do each of those squads have? Here, I’ll tell you: Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol. That’s it.

The Wolves? Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, and Ricky Rubio. What’s that, you say? Love and Pekovic are bad defenders and Rubio can’t shoot? The national narrative is strong, isn’t it?

Love and Pekovic are such enormous plus-contributers on the offensive end of the floor that their average-y defense is passable and allows them to be considered “two-way players”. Neither are net-negatives on defense, just as Rubio isn’t a net-negative on offense because of his passing ability.

It’s especially obvious when looking at the rest of the roster. Martin? Horrible, atrocious defender. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute? Cringe-inducing offensive player. J.J. Barea? Bad on both offense and defense.

The Wolves need to fill in the supporting roles on the roster with shooters like Jodie Meeks, Anthony Morrow, Kyle Korver, and Mike Miller. All four of those players have either been free agents over the past two off-seasons or are currently available. On the flip side, Mbah a Moute is a perfect example of a defense-only player that is vital for playoff teams to have on the roster. Free agent wing Al-Farouq Aminu is another example of a defensive-minded, net-positive player that would be a welcome addition.

This is why having a Kevin Martin on the roster is okay. But for every Martin, you need a Mbah a Moute or an Aminu. Give me a roster full of players that are exceptional at one or two things and can be mixed and matched based on opponent and game situation before employing a handful of average all-around players — the Brewers, the Dante Cunninghams, etc.

There are plenty of free agents that would add positively to the Wolves’ rotation at a low cost. To name a few: Aminu, Morrow, Chris Douglas-Roberts, C.J. Miles. Saunders is rumored to have interest in Steve Blake, who would be a pretty average backup but at least is a career 38.8% three-point shooter.

We’ll talk more specifically about these targets in an upcoming post, but other than the mid-level exception (a bit over $5 million), Barea will need to be moved to make room for another player. The Wolves have a number of wings, especially with the additions of Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III from the draft, so don’t expect them to sign another one. But let’s just say that I would have gone about constructing the roster a bit differently if my point guard was a passing savant.

Backup point guard and power forward will be the focus during free agency, so we’ll study those two positions a bit more in-depth. It’s just frustrating to see so many free agent wing players that could contribute positively to a Rubio-led offense, and have the Wolves’ roster be chock-full with non-shooters like Brewer and players like Shabazz Muhammad.

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