The Minnesota Timberwolves have a lot of young talent and may be willing to move some pieces for immediate help.
Chad Ford of ESPN is reporting that Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is a “big fan” of D’Angelo Russell and may be tempted to use the No. 1 pick on the Ohio State product. But for that to happen, he needs to find a team for current starting point guard Ricky Rubio.
Rubio is coming off a productive campaign, though he only played in 22 games in 2014-15 due to injury. He averaged 10.3 points, 8.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds to go along with 2.9 turnovers a game in 31.5 minutes of action last year. He shot a career-worst 35.6 percent from the field, as well as a career-low 25.5 percent on three-pointers. Rubio’s true shooting percentage of 45.2 percent was also the worst of his career.
Many Rubio trade questions. Still would bet against. But a reminder that Dal. & Sac. had interest in him last summer + both still need a PG.
— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) June 4, 2015
Being injury prone and shooting are two knocks on Rubio’s game.
The former 2009 first round draft selection has only played in 202 of a possible 328 games in his four NBA seasons, and shoots 36.7 percent from the field for his career. According to Basketball-Reference, Rubio’s career effective shooting percentage is 39.9 percent, which is mainly due to the fact to his inability to finish at the rim. He makes 31.4 percent of career three-point attempts, but only converts 46.7 percent of his shots around the rim into baskets (less than three feet) and 26.1 percent of his shots from three-to-10 feet out.
Saying all that, Minnesota went 16-66 last year, and Rubio is still just 24-years-old. He is an elite distributor and a very good rebounder on the defensive end. He is also a better-than-average defender.
Rubio is far from being untouchable, but at this point it makes no sense in attempting to trade him unless the Wolves can get a hefty return — which is hard to imagine considering his four-year, $55 million extension that he signed on October 31 kicks in this year. Also, would Saunders really want to turn the keys of a potentially exciting team over to a 20-year-old (Zach LaVine) or a rookie in Russell?
LaVine is a tremendous player who is suited better to play the shooting guard position. He averaged 10.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists, as well as 2.5 turnovers a game. The 6-foot-5 combo guard shot 42.2 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from long-range for an effective shooting percentage of 46.5 percent and true shooting percentage of 51.5 percent. While these numbers are not horrible, they are not No. 1 point guard statistics.
Delving into Lavine’s stats last even more, you find that he was awful on the defensive end and didn’t protect the ball that well. He had a defensive rating of 114 — which was four points worse than Rubio’s rating of 110 — and his defense won’t improve until his body completely matures physically. While Rubio’s offensive rating was below average, LaVine’s rating of 96 was even worse. LaVine had an assist ratio of 26 percent and turnover ratio of 20 percent.
Russell, like LaVine, has the ability to play both the point and shooting guard positions. However, the 6-foot-5 guard is seen as a point guard by most general managers.
“He’s the most creative passer in the draft,” one GM told ESPN. “The way he sees the floor is special. I have no doubt he’ll be a point guard in our league.”
However, Russell is more of a scorer than distributive. He is an excellent shooter with lots of range. He also can get into the lane at will and has a nice floater. Russell has a 6-foot-10 wingspan and could develop into a solid defender once he gets stronger. He also needs to protect the ball better, and that should come with experience.
For Ford’s part, he said that all signs point to the Wolves taking Duke’s Jahlil Okafor with the No. 1 pick instead of Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns. Chris Johnson and Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated also agree with Ford’s assertion that Saunders prefers Okafor over Towns.
“While most analysts consider Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns this year’s top prospect, there are reasons to think the Wolves will select Jahlil Okafor instead,” Johnson and Woo wrote. “Flip Saunders isn’t a big proponent of three-point shooting-Minnesota ranked dead last in the league in attempts last season-but is a fan of traditional post play.”
Lakers Nation is now reporting that the Timberwolves could be looking to swap picks with the Los Angeles Lakers, who hold the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
Rubio is not the only Timberwolf on the trade market, as Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 recently reported (via Twitter) that 2010 second round pick Nemanja Bjelica wants a three-year, $15 million deal to come over from Turkey. The 27-year-old averaged 12.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.3 steals for Fenerbahçe Ülker this past season.
— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) June 1, 2015
Minnesota has 10 players under contract, and four of those players are front-court players. Kevin Garnett, who is one of the team’s two unrestricted free agents, is expected to re-sign with the team and, if the Timberwolves do indeed draft either Okafor or Towns with the top overall pick, that would give them six front-court players under contract. Restricted free agents Justin Hamilton and Arinze Onuaka also could be back. Plus, Minnesota has the No. 31 overall and No. 36 selection, which they could use on a front-court player, so there may not be room for him on the roster this year.
[Photo by Alex Goodlett / Getty Images]