MINNEAPOLIS – We all know what’s best for our favorite sports franchises, don’t we? Certainty in our own talent evaluation abilities is a staple of being a passionate sports fan.
Where does this certainty come from? We don’t break down extensive film on prospects. Most of us don’t fine tune complicated statistical formulas to calculate success/failure likelihoods. We receive much of our information from the national and local media. We either mimic their viewpoints, or adopt our own from extremely small samplings of player’s performances (usually in bowl games or NCAA tournament performances.) Luckily, we’re not held accountable for our bold predictions like the well-compensated executives we’re convinced we know better than.
The funny thing is… fans and sports executives are both wrong a lot of the time. Often, it’s because we buy into the Grand Narrative. Early, knee-jerk talent evaluation has a snowball effect. A lightly informed media analysis of likely draft choices slowly transforms into Common Knowledge. The sports executive that actually makes the decision starts to feel so much fan and media pressure to make the general consensus pick that it’s ultimately safer for them to comply than to rebel. If it goes bad, they can fall back on the fact that everyone else would have done the same thing. This media and fanbase inflation of draft prospects occurs on a national level as well, creating a demand for teams to trade up and grab a “star” or causing celebration when the Best Player Available falls to your team.
This common occurrence can be seen clearly in Minnesota right now, where locally and nationally fans and the media have all agreed that Derrick Williams is obviously the Best Player Available for the Timberwolves at pick number two in the 2011 NBA Draft.
This presents a wonderful opportunity for the Timberwolves. They have a great chance to repeat the draft night steal they pulled off three years ago when they selected OJ Mayo and traded his rights, along with toxic assets, for Kevin Love and Mike Miller. If the Love/Mayo swap taught us anything, it’s that the draft narrative from the media turns into an echo chamber when it comes to player evaluation. Almost none of the loud voices know anything about real player evaluation. Nobody with a megaphone looks at advanced stats or situational statistics or historical comparisons of skills/body type in order to project a player’s potential. Everyone just accepts what they’ve heard from someone on ESPN concerning who the best available player is until there is an almost overwhelming force pressuring teams to pick the player the fans and media have decided is the best player. Some teams cave in to this pressure and pick the wrong person. Some teams ignore this pressure, pick someone else and end up being wrong. Some teams ignore this pressure, pick someone else and end up being brilliant.
Then, there are the teams that use this Best Player Available Narrative to their advantage. They select the player everyone agrees is the B.P.A. and trade him for the player they view as the top choice plus additional assets.
This is what the Timberwolves should do. The Public has anointed Derrick Williams as the best player available at #2. Derrick Williams is a good player who does several things very well. He will have a solid NBA career. However, the thing he does the best (score efficiently) does not historically translate well to the NBA. In other words, success at the college level in that area is not highly predictive of success in that area in the NBA. You can be an efficient scorer in college but not succeed in that area in the NBA. You can have average efficiency in college but high efficiency in the NBA. You can have low efficiency in college and be average in the NBA. So, the fact that he can score very efficiently in college (by hitting a good percentage of three pointers and getting to the free throw line) should mean next to nothing in assessing his potential as an NBA player. He’s an average rebounder, passer and defender. And, he’s a tweener forward, which in my book is the kiss of death. What’s his ceiling? David West? A bigger Sean Elliott? Hooray! You’ve just spent the highest pick in your team’s history on a borderline All-Star. It’s not the worst thing you could do, but is it maximizing your assets?
Additionally, Derrick Williams is just the other side of the Michael Beasley coin. Less offense, more defense. Less talent, more focus. Totally Redundant.
Luckily, the narrative that Derrick Williams will definitely be the second best player to come out of this draft seems to have permeated other team’s evaluations. The Timberwolves should draft Derrick Williams and then squeeze every drop of value they can out of him. Their main targets for a trade down should be the three foreign centers: Biyombo, Valenciunas and Kanter (in that order.) Here are the reasonably realistic hypotheticals I would endorse (all of which work under salary cap rules.)
trade pick #2 and #20 for Jazz’s #3 and #12.
Wolves trade pick #2, Pekovic and Flynn for Cav’s pick #4 and Anderson Varejao.
Wolves trade pick #2, Pek, Flynn and Ridnour to Raptors for pick #5, Jose Calderon and the right to swap their 2013 pick for Toronto’s 2012 pick.
Wolves trade pick #2 for Wizard’s pick #6, #18, #34 and future 2nd rounder.
Wolves trade pick #2, Flynn, Pekovic, Ellington and Hayward to Pistons for #8, Rip Hamilton (along with his awful contract) and an unprotected 2012 first round pick.
If none of these options are truly available, there would be value in trading for the severely underrated and modestly paid Marcin Gortat from Phoenix along with the #13 pick.
The Wolves top target should be international man of mystery Bismack Biyombo. As an 18-year old, he led the second best league in the world (the Spanish League) in blocks per game. Biyombo is a perfect compliment to Kevin Love, covering up Kevin’s greatest deficiencies with his team defense. He posted the first ever triple-double at the Nike Hoops Summit (with points, rebounds and blocks), shattering Kevin Garnett’s tournament record for blocks. He speaks multiple languages. His favorite players are Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love. His ceiling is a more athletic Ben Wallace. He is the Most Interesting Man in the World. The overriding narrative on Biyombo is that he’s a huge risk, despite his success in a tougher league than the NCAA. This pre-conception springs from the failure of previous players from Africa. None of the failures he’s compared to had accomplished anything close to what Biyombo already has achieved. This flawed narrative is an excellent opportunity for the Timberwolves to capitalize on misperceived value and draft a player who best compares to the best defensive player from the past decade. This is a cornerstone that fits nicely with Love and Rubio.
If the Wolves draft Williams and trade him for Biyombo and additional assets, they should be targeting Alec Burks in the late lottery. The Wolves are missing a guard who can put the ball on the floor and create for himself. The sophomore from Colorado isn’t great from the outside, but otherwise the areas Burks excelled at in college project very well as a pro.
I would much rather have a Biyombo/Burks combo than trading for an overpaid vet and a mid-lotto pick. The new CBA will punish teams with overpaid players. Kahn may be feeling pressure to win next year, but the prudent choice is to continue to build for the future with rookie contracts and reasonable deals. Stop-N-Pop from CanisHoopus.com pegged it when he said the most valuable pieces in the NBA are superstars and rookies who outperform their contracts. They represent value. The Wolves should be value shoppers.
As I’ve clearly laid out, I obviously know what’s best for my favorite team… just like every other amateur GM/fan in the world. Hopefully, the Wolves will follow the general consensus and draft Derrick Williams. They then should quickly flip him for a player that has an equal or better chance of succeeding and is a better fit for team needs while gaining additional assets. Please upset everyone who thinks they know what you should do. Make the most of this unique opportunity in your team’s history.
For the past 5 years I’ve released a mock draft that attempts to guess what 30 NBA general managers are thinking. This is equivalent to guessing what 30 insane people want for lunch. For some reason, I can’t stop myself from doing it. This year, however, I’m prioritizing a ranking of who I feel will ultimately be the best players, followed by my hopeless prediction of how the draft will unfold.
MY 2011 BIG BOARD 1. Kyrie Irving 2. Bismack Biyombo 3. Jonas Valanciunas 4. Enes Kanter 5. Derrick Williams 6. Alec Burks 7. Brandon Knight 8. Tristan Thompson 9. Kawhi Leonard 10. Jan Vesely 11. Kemba Walker 12. Jimmer Fredette 13. Kenneth Faried 14. Donatas Motiejunas 15. Klay Thompson 16. Tobias Harris 17. Josh Selby 18. Jordan Hamilton 19. Marcus Morris 20. Malcolm Lee 21. Chris Singleton 22. Davis Bertans 23. Markieff Morris 24. Marshon Brooks 25. Nikola Mirotoc 26. Tyler Honeycutt 27. Travis Leslie 28. Charles Jenkins 29. Nikola Vucevic 30. Iman Shumpert
2011 NBA PROJECTED MOCK DRAFT 1. Cavs- Kyrie Irving 2. Wolves- Derrick Williams 3. Jazz- Enes Kanter 4. Cavs- Jonas Valanciunas 5. Raptors- Brandon Knight 6. Wizards- Bismack Biyombo 7. Kings- Jimmer Fredette 8. Pistons- Kawhi Leonard 9. Bobcats- Klay Thompson 10. Bucks- Marcus Morris 11. Warriors- Jan Vesely 12. Jazz- Kemba Walker 13. Suns- Tristan Thompson 14. Rockets- Alec Burks 15. Pacers- Marshon Brooks 16. 76ers- Markieff Morris 17. Knicks- Jordan Hamilton 18. Wizards- Tobias Harris 19. Bobcats- Kenneth Faried 20. Wolves- Donatas Motiejunas 21. Trailblazers- Iman Shumpert 22. Nuggets- Chris Singleton 23. Rockets- Nikola Vucevic 24. Thunder- Tyler Honeycutt 25. Celtics- Josh Selby 26. Mavericks- Travis Leslie 27. Nets- Nikola Mirotic 28. Bulls- Charles Jenkins 29.
Spurs- Kyle Singler 30. Bulls- Malcolm Lee