Feb 18, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young (21) is defended by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Anthony Bennett (15) during the fourth quarter at the Wells Fargo Center. The Cavaliers defeated the Sixers 114-85. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Timberwolves for Now & Later: Thaddeus Young or Anthony Bennett?

Thaddeus Young put up a very solid numbers during the 2013-14 season, averaging 17.9 points and 6.0 rebounds on the year. He also dished out 2.3 assists and stole the ball 2.1 times per contest. His Player Efficiency Rating was 16.3, a score that ranks Young as a slightly better than average NBA player.

In his seven seasons in the league, Young has developed a reputation as hard worker with a nose for the basket. His hustle combined with his top-notch athletic talent have made him a very reliable defensive player as well.

In a nutshell, Thaddeus Young is a good player and a proven NBA commodity. Coaches love Young because they can count on him for production without having to call his number. He’s a man talented enough to do as he pleases, but who seems fine in embracing his part within the team concept.

If you like glue guys and role players, then you probably love the way Thaddeus Young plays basketball.

Last season Anthony Bennett did not put up ‘very solid numbers.’ Not even close. In 52 games, Bennett shot 35% from the field. He averaged 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds. His PER was 6.9, ranking him among the worst players in the entire NBA.  He finished out the season on the bench, nursing a knee injury.

Bennett’s first season was so bad that it ranks among the worst ever for a number-one overall pick. You have to go back to Kwame Brown in 2001 to find a similarly terrible rookie campaign from the first selection. While Kwame played a surprisingly long time in the NBA, his careers averages of 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds do little to suggest  future success for Bennett.

Through one season, Bennett’s most notable attributes were his tendency to get injured, his inability to stay in games, and his talent for lugging 20 extra pounds up and down the court.

If you like fat rookies with terrible shot selections, then last year Anthony Bennett was your guy.

The Wolves front office must have been looking at last year’s numbers because they agreed in principle to flip Bennett for Young in the proposed three-team Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins trade. On the surface, it seems a no-brainer for them to upgrade from Bennett to Young. After all, Young can step in and start from day one. At the very least he’ll knock down jumpers and make a positive difference on defense.

And Young would fit right in with our veteran group, especially with the latest rumors that Wolves plan to hold on to the likes of Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. Flip Saunders could roll out a competitive, if not exceptional starting lineup of Rubio, Martin, Wiggins, Young, and Pekovic. They’d be a team that would stay in games.

With that lineup Glen Taylor would be able to present a decent basketball product to the fans next year while at the same time promoting Wiggins, LaVine, and Dieng as the hope for the future. Their bases would be covered: A plan for now, and one for later, too.

But I’m not sure it’s the right play.

Let’s look at the absolute best case scenario.  In a perfect Timberwolves world, the Rubio, Martin, Wiggins, Young, and Pekovic team would gel under Flip’s tutelage, creating an unlikely team of basketball heroes. This strange squad would rise like last year’s Phoenix Suns, exceeding all expectations along the way. They’d run, they’d gun and they’d be a ton of fun to watch.

In addition, the bench core of Mo Williams, Corey Brewer, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng would be the second part of the relentless Wolf Pack attack.  They’d wear the opposition down minute-by-minute, and quarter-by-quarter.  They’d be so good they’d get a nickname. Upon entering the game, Dave Benz would say something like, “And here comes the Wolf Pack,” or “Tag-team checking in.” It would catch on nationally.

Yep, the Wolves would take the league by storm, and Minneapolis would henceforth be referred to as “Lob City North.” They’d sink their teeth into the 7 or 8th seed, and be the team that nobody wants to play in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Things would be so big, so ‘blown up’ that Kanye West, unable to contain his genius, would call up Prince and together they would collaborate on a hit remake of Duran Duran’s classic “Hungry like the Wolf.”

Yeah and the Easter Bunny is real, too.

If we do trot out the Rubio, Martin, Wiggins, Young, and Pekovic lineup,  please tell me this scenario doesn’t seem far more likely: Too much Martin. Not enough LaVine. What happened to Shabazz? Why is Mbah a Moute still on the team? 38 wins. No, not the draft pick! Help!!!

With that squad, the veterans Brewer, Budinger, Martin, and Williams would choke away the Wiggins and LaVine minutes, and the team would be just good enough to jeopardize the Wolves’ chances of having a first round draft pick next off-season.

The 2015 season would come around and we still wouldn’t know if the young guys can play. And we’d be without the potential of a freshly picked first round punk. No Okafor. No Alexander. No Nothin’.

Young could be gone, too. He’s on a two-year deal, with a player option after one. If he doesn’t like what the Wolves are doing, it’s within his power to move along to wherever he chooses.

What I’m really trying to say is this: we’re gambling an awful lot all for the illusion of competitiveness. In trying to sell us on the present while at the same time dangling hopeful carrots of youth just over the horizon, the organization is running the risk of ruining a great thing before it ever has chance to develop.

It’s not that any of these pitfalls are actually Thaddeus Young’s fault. He’s merely a symbol of the overly ambitious Now & Later approach, and of Flip’s struggle in trying to be both the president and the coach simultaneously.

I say screw worrying about next year’s win total. If we’re going to build something, then let’s do it right this time. I mean, c’mon, how are we ever going to find out what we have if Flip’s more concerned about Kevin Martin’s offensive production than in seeing what we have with our young guns?

If only Flip could just drop the expectations for the upcoming season and instead go all in on the future, he could see that Anthony Bennett, not Thaddeus Young, is the right play. I know, I know, I just spent three paragraphs at the top bashing Bennett for his historically bad rookie season. But like Young, Bennett is also a symbol; a symbol of hope. Committing to Bennett is committing to the Wolves long-term future.

And he could end up being pretty good, too.

For all of his faults, Bennett has a ton of potential.  As a freshman at UNLV his per 40 minute numbers were insane: 23.7 points, 12.0 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 53 percent shooting. This is what Bennett was doing before he was becoming the biggest bust in the history of the NBA Draft:

Since the end of last season Bennett has dropped 20 pounds, and he’s looking a lot more like the beast from the video. In addition, he’s had both his tonsils and adenoids removed to help him with his asthma and his sleep apnea. He’s breathing and sleeping better, and he seems to have a fresh outlook going forward.

Despite his physical improvements, we still don’t know whether Bennett can make it in the NBA. But because of his upside and what he means to the Wolves philosophy going forward, he’s worth taking the chance on.

Right now, Thaddeus Young is the better player. But the future is just around the corner, and these initial building block moves will largely determine the height of the Wolves’ ceiling in the coming years.

Let’s get it right now, so we don’t have to live with the regrets later

What do you think? Would you rather have Bennett or Young?


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