Flip’s Moves: Timberwolves trade Trey Burke on draft night


This is the first part in a series reflecting on Flip Saunders’ personnel moves as president of basketball operations in this second go-round with the Timberwolves. We are starting with a look at his draft night trade from 2013, the first major move made after rejoining the organization.

After years of David Kahn misfiring on move after move as the GM of the Timberwolves, Glen Taylor named old friend Flip Saunders as president of basketball operations on May 3rd, 2013.

Flip’s first point of business was the 2013 NBA Draft. Wolves fans were hoping for something that could give them hope after Kahn’s utter incompetency over four years of drafting, which produced a grand total of one player (Ricky Rubio) that is still with the team.

The Timberwolves had the 9th pick in a draft that even at the time was viewed as lacking big-time talent. The only potential superstars people saw in the draft were Victor Oladipo and Nerlens Noel, who had torn his ACL part-way through his season at Kentucky.

Since it was doubtful the Wolves could get a high-impact player with the 9th pick, they targeted someone who could fill a need. Leading up to the draft, the Wolves were rumored to have their sights set on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the University of Georgia shooting guard with a nice stroke. However, Caldwell-Pope was taken one pick before the Timberwolves by the Detroit Pistons, causing Flip to adjust on the fly.

Flip responded by taking Trey Burke and quickly trading him to the Jazz for the 14th and 21st picks, which produced Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, respectively. Wolves fans were confused by the draft, just as they had been during Kahn’s tenure. Burke would have provided a backup point guard that could score, which would have been a nice complement to Rubio. Instead, the Wolves ended up with a wing scorer in Shabazz and a rim-protector in Dieng.

Two years later, how has this trade worked out?

In his first two years in the league, Burke has seen ample playing time for a Jazz team that is attempting to develop young talent — similar to the Wolves. He has averaged 12.8 points and 5.0 assists while playing over 31 minutes a night. Those numbers aren’t bad when you consider the type of talent Burke has largely been working with in Utah.

However, he is shooting just 37.4% from the field and 32.4% from beyond the arc. His Player Efficiency Rating (which attempts to measure the full-impact a player has, with 15 representing an average player) has been a below-average 12.6 in both seasons.

Muhammad has only played 75 games over his two years due to injuries and the fact that head coach Rick Adelman did not play him much when he was available his rookie year — Shabazz averaged just 7.8 mpg over 37 games as a rookie.

After dropping some weight over the last off-season, Shabazz saw his playing time skyrocket with Flip as coach, playing 22.8 mpg and averaging 13.5 points and 4.1 rebounds. He also shot a stellar 48.9% from the field and 39.2% from deep. His PER jumped all the way up to 19.9 last year after registering only a 13.1 in his first year.

Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Similar to Shabazz, Dieng didn’t see much playing time under Adelman in his rookie year, either, appearing  in 60 games but only averaged 13.6 minutes. His playing time did see a huge increase with Flip as coach last year as he played in 73 games, starting in 49, and averaged an even 30 minutes per game.

Dieng was close to averaging a double-double last year, with 9.7 ppg and 8.3 rpg. He also averaged 1.7 blocks and shot 50.6%. He has had PER readings of 16.5 and 17.2 in his first two years, making him the only player of this trio to be above average both years.

So far, it seems like the best player of the three is Muhammad. He continues to improve his game and has become a legitimate weapon for the Wolves. He can post up smaller guys and beast his way to the rim, but also has a solid stroke from three-point range. Nolan Schmidt recently had an enlightening piece here at DWW on Shabazz’s improvement and what to expect from him in the future.

Gorgui has a nice touch to his post game and has shown that he’s capable of stepping out and hitting some mid-range buckets. According to NBA.com player tracking, Dieng shot 58.1% within five feet of the basket and 55.2% from 10-14 feet. His percentage fell off as he got further out, but he should be able to extend his range a little more with help from the coaching staff and possibly Kevin Garnett.

Burke, on the other hand, hasn’t found the same success in the NBA that he had in college. His low shooting percentage can partially be attributed to not finding many good shots in Utah’s offense, but it seemed like he was plenty capable of creating off-the-dribble shots in college. Still, he should continue to get better as he gains experience and as his teammates also improve.

It’s only been a two-year sample, so it’s too early to declare a winner and loser in this trade. At this point, however, it sure seems like the Timberwolves have the player with the highest potential. If Shabazz can stay healthy and keep his shooting percentage high (especially from deep), he could turn into one of the best off-the-bench scorers in the NBA. Gorgui will be a great rim protector at the very least, and he should be a reliable third or fourth option on offense, someone able to get buckets when the defense keys in on Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Saunders didn’t get the player he wanted in the 2013 draft, but he was able to turn that top-ten pick into two useful players that may even be better. Two seasons in, Flip’s first major decision as the president of basketball operations for the Wolves can be viewed as a success to this point.