Tuesday, June 23, 2009


If you are familiar with the television show Lost, you know that there is a series of numbers (4-8-15-16-23-42) that continually show up in various situations that seem to hold the key to all of the craziness that happens on and around that island. Similarly, there are a series of numbers that hold the key to the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves: 6-18-28-45-47. These are the five draft picks that the Wolves currently hold for Thursday’s NBA Draft.

5 picks in this year's draft could be the beginning of a new regime

As a team that has missed the playoffs for four consecutive years (a streak likely to continue for at least one more season), has only 2 consistent assets (Love and Jefferson), and has been quickly losing its fan base, the 2009 draft is easily the most important draft in the history of the franchise thus far. Five picks in one draft can bring in a wealth of talent to a ballclub, especially when three of those are first rounders. What follows is a breakdown of potential picks at each of the five positions we currently hold. Obviously this is extremely subject to change, as it seems incredibly unlikely that the Wolves will hold on to all five.

The Wolves first selection is the 6th overall pick in the draft. Obviously this is the most important one, as it is likely to involve the most talented, NBA-ready player of the five picks. There has been much discussion lately about whether the team will try to move up in the draft, or sit tight at 6. Rumors surrounding this pick have been rampant: Al Jeff and the 6 for Amare Stoudemire (terrible idea), Kevin Love and the 6 for the 2 pick (awful), and so on. Rather than try to guess what kind of wheeling and dealing new VP David Kahn will do, let’s break down some of the players who might be available.

Not only the Best Available, but possibly just The Best

In a perfect world, UCONN’s Hasheem Thabeet would fall into the Wolves’ lap at 6. He is the perfect shot-blocking, defensive-minded compliment to Jefferson. Plus, there is a wealth of guards available in this draft, and the Wolves could theoretically use their next two picks on guards to compliment Corey Brewer, Randy Foye, and company. Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, so barring a trade, this will never happen. If I had my choice of guys who are likely to be available at 6, I’d take Tyreke Evans out of Memphis. A 6-5 shooting guard who can absolutely fill it up is exactly the kind of player the Wolves need (and have never had). Unfortunately, his stock seems to be rising quickly, and it is likely that he’ll be gone by the time we pick (or worse, we’ll pass over him for someone else).

The 6th pick in the draft, or will he be gone?

There are three players who have been slotted to the Wolves in various mock drafts more than any others leading up to Thursday night: James Harden (Arizona State), Demar DeRozen (USC), and Stephen Curry (Davidson). Personally, I want nothing to do with any of them. Harden was a streaky player (at best) at ASU and a lack of work ethic is something that follows you to any level you play at, and won’t cut it in the League. DeRozen is a poor man’s OJ Mayo who, after being the consensus #1 high school player in the country, showed very little of that brilliance as a freshman for the Trojans. USC is notorious for developing shoot-first, stat-driven guards (Mayo, Harold Miner, etc.) who do very little to improve NBA teams. Everyone sucks Curry’s Popsicle because of all the hype he and ESPN created. Yes, he had a great tournament two years ago. Yes, he’s a fantastic college shooter. However, can he handle the rock in the League? Can he create his own shot? Can he play a lick of defense? I don’t have an answer for those very important questions, which is why I’m very wary of him and would not be ecstatic if the Wolves took him at 6. Two other names to look for in this spot: Ty Lawson (UNC)—a poor man’s Ray Felton, who would be a ridiculous reach here, and Jonny Flynn (Syracuse)—in my opinion, a tough PG with a lot of potential; risk-reward type pick.

The 18 pick is far more subjective and far less easy to project. Whereas with the 6 pick, you know that you’ll be getting one of the top ten prospects, 18 is much more difficult to predict. As you start to move through the middle of the draft, there are many surprises that shake everything up. A team might really covet a player and draft him 5 or 6 spots earlier than he was projected, thus changing the way the following teams will pick. There are many more trades in this area of the draft as well. All of this leads to quite a bit of uncertainty about the Wolves second first-round pick.

A sight hopefully coming to Target Center soon

The other contributing factor is the 6 pick. The guy drafted there will greatly affect who gets taken at 18 (and for the rest of the picks as well). For instance, if the Wolves move up and grab a guy like Thabeet, then 18 HAS to be a guard, preferably of the point variety. If they take Evans at 6, then 18 is a bit of a crap shoot. You could still go after a talented point guard if one that you like falls to you. You could also go after a hybrid 3 guard such as Austin Daye (Gonzaga), Earl Clark (Louisville), or Sam Young (Pittsburgh). It would also make sense to look at any potential centers in this situation as well. Of course if we take BJ Mullens (Ohio St.) here, a McHale-like move, I will set my hair on fire. Then again, if you take a point with the 6, then 18 should be a big man, unless you like one of the aforementioned swing guards.

Personally, I’d like to see us take Evans at 6, and then go after a guy like Young at 18. I feel like there will be some quality point guards available at the end of the first round (more on that in a second), and you have your scorer, plus a project, risk-reward type talent at the 3, just in case Brewer turns out to be a bust (likely). Sure, that means that you don’t get the big man that you covet/need, but you can always look at free agency or a trade (such at the rumored Mike Miller for Chris Kaman or Marcus Camby deal).

Much like the 18 pick, 28 also depends a lot on what moves other teams make, who falls to you, and what positions/players you have already drafted. There can be gems found in the latter part of the first round if you scout well enough, especially overseas. Though it’s highly unlikely that the Wolves hold on to both 18 and 28, we’ll look at some possibilities with this pick, just for argument’s sake.

NBL--Natural Born Leader

It is my belief that the Timberwolves should wait until the end of the first round (this pick) to go after a point guard. I know that guys like Lawson and Flynn are projected to go much higher, but I think there is talent available in this position, and there isn’t that much of a drop off in talent from those higher picks. The two guys I especially like that are projected to be available at 28 are Darren Collison (UCLA) and Patty Mills (St. Mary’s). Collison has been a leader and distributor on the last few UCLA teams, which have had a great deal of success. He has always seemed to understand exactly what the role of a point guard is—distribute the ball to your teammates in spaces where they can create/score, and occasionally keep the defense honest by taking it to the tin or hitting an open jump shot. He just strikes me as a natural leader who would fit perfectly with the other pieces of the puzzle we are trying to put together.

Mills, on the other hand, is a bit of an unknown commodity. First of all, he played at a school that does not get a lot of national media hype. Second, he injured his wrist and missed a large portion of the season last year. Nevertheless, from the times I have seen him, he looks like a natural scorer with an incredible touch from the outside. To me, he is a better, less heralded version of Steph Curry (who got more love than he deserved based on his dad and one tournament run). I’m not completely sold on his ability to run a team (which is why I like Collison better), but he’d be a great value pick at 28.

There is one other scenario for many teams picking at the end of the first round/beginning of the second: drafting a player from overseas and “stashing” him away for a couple years. There are some incredibly talented players over in Europe that could come in and contribute on an NBA team right away. Unfortunately, many of them are locked into unbreakable contracts for the next few years. They can, however, be drafted and have a team own their rights once they are able to sign. Many teams, especially those with cap problems, love this idea. They get a prospect that probably is just as likely to pan out as any college kid they could take, but they don’t have to pay any money until a couple years later. Under the McHale regime, this would be an absolute certainty to happen with the 28th pick this year. Now that most of the Country Club is gone, though, no one can be sure what will happen.

The second round of the NBA draft is a complete crapshoot. Not only to players taken in the second round rarely make a significant impact on teams, most of them won’t even make it out of training camp. The more intelligent and successful franchises use these picks to take a chance on an established college player who has already proven himself at that level. Teams like the Wolves usually use these picks to continue to take chances on “project” guys that have a very low probability of working out.

A guy that does this to Duke can play for the Wolves any day

If we still have picks 45 and 47 late Thursday night, I’d like to see us go after a couple of guys with established college careers. Preferably, it would be one post and one guard. Here are some guys that I like that are projected to be available at this point in the draft:
Danny Green—6’6” SF (North Carolina)
Dante Cunningham—6’8” SF (Villanova)
Jeff Adrien—6’7” PF (UCONN)
Curtis Jerrells—6’1” PG (Baylor)
Nick Calethes—6’5” G (Florida)

As I patiently wait for Thursday night (even I, a hardcore baseball fan, crave some variety in my sports watching during this time of year), I will constantly be listening to KFAN and reading all of the various sports, and especially basketball-heavy, websites to see if the Wolves have brokered some kind of deal to move up early in the draft, package pick together to move up in the middle of the draft, or made some other sort of deal with members of the current team: there’s nothing sports fans like more than speculation and rumors.

I’ll leave you with my Best Case draft list and my Worst Case draft list (assuming we keep and use all five picks):

Best Case Scenario: 6—Tyreke Evans, 18—Sam Young, 28—Darren Collison, 45—Curtis Jerrells, 47—Danny Green

Worst Case Scenario: 6—James Harden, 18—BJ Mullens, 28—European, 45—Jerel McNeal, 47—Wesley Matthews

***UPDATE: The Wolves have reportedly traded Randy Foye and Mike Miller to Washington for the 5th pick, Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila, and Oleksiy Pecherov (who?). My guess? We'll trade either the 5 or 6 pick, packaged with the 18 pick, to move up to #2 and grab Thabeet. Oh, and at least two, if not all three, of the throw in players will be cut. Regardless, this definitely solidifies my belief that this draft will make or break our franchise for the next 10 years.

Read More......

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Things Ron Gardenhire and I Don't Agree On

For a very long time my baseball philosophy has clashed drastically with that of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. His idea of how to use the players on my favorite team is very different than my idea (which matters a lot seeing as he’s the one with the job and I’m the one blogging about it). Some of these things have been mentioned on this site before, but I wanted to get everything into one list to finally air all of my grievances about the way the Twins are managed on a day to day basis.

1. Gardenhire’s love affair with Nick Punto.

Someone's getting a BIG hug in the dugout...

My dislike for Punto is well documented, so I won’t go into too much detail here. I just don’t understand how you can consistently put a player on the field that hits .200 and is average defensively night in and night out. It’s gotten to the point where I get physically angry when I see the man now.

2. The Lefty vs. Lefty thing.

Guaranteed this was off of a righty

Hey, I get it. Hitters fair much better when they face a pitcher of the opposite hand. But when you constantly alter your lineup when facing a left-handed pitcher, you do three things to hurt the team. One, you take some of your better hitters out of the game. Two, you hurt the confidence of the younger players. Three, you stunt the growth/maturation of your hitters. How is a left-handed hitter supposed to get any better against left-handed pitching when he’s never allowed to face it? Do you ever wonder why it has taken so long for Kubel to finally start to live up to the hype he got in the minors (other than the obvious knee injuries)? Or why our record against lefty pitchers is so terrible? Or why opposing teams can completely shut us down late in ballgames? It all comes back to the fear of allowing our left-handed hitters to consistently get at-bats against their southpaw brethren.

3. His late inning use of starting pitchers.

It's ok Bake--I would have taken you out sooner

I firmly believe there is no manager in the league who is worse at deciding when to pull his starting pitcher than Ron Gardenhire. Did you know (sponsored by Sports Center circa 2007) that the Twins have the 3rd longest active streak without a complete game from their starter? It’s almost as if Gardy has absolutely no feel for how well/poorly a guy is pitching. The only time he’ll let someone try to finish a game is when they have a shutout going. Blackburn could have given up 2 first inning runs and been lights out the rest of the game, but he’s coming out in the 8th (if not sooner) to give way to our vaunted bullpen. Conversely, Baker could be laboring through 8 innings, but if he hasn’t given up a run, Gardy will send him out there to get shelled in the 9th. For a guy who’s been in and around baseball as much as Ron has, you’d think at some point he’d develop a sense for how his starter is throwing that isn’t based on pitch count or runs given up.

4. His apparent ignorance of fielding statistics.

You gotta keep a glove like this in the lineup

Nick Punto’s fielding percentage this year is .971—good for 15th among American League shortstops who’ve played at least 15 games at the position. His Range Factor (putouts + assists/innings) is 4.39—that would be 13th among AL shortstops with at least 15 games. His Zone Rating (number of plays made/number of balls hit into his zone—compared to the average among all players for a plus/minus number) was 5.629—that puts him at 16th among all AL SS’s with at least 15 games played. Keep in mind that there are 14 teams in the American League…

5. The use/overuse of our bullpen.

The MOST common sight at Twins games for the last 3 years

Pat Neshek was really good—until he pitched every other day, blew his arm out, and has been out for two years. Matt Guerrier pitched in 149 games over the last two seasons and is currently the league leader in appearances for 2009. Jesse Crain, despite having an 8.51 ERA and allowing 11.2 hits per 9 innings, has appeared in 23 games this year. Luis Ayala has a 1.432 WHIP and a 10.7 H/9, yet he’s been in 26 games this year. The latter three guys are all in the top 20 for appearances this year (as is Joe Nathan).

6. His consistency (or lack thereof) of playing younger guys.

I don't care how far that ball goes, you're not playing tomorrow

Typical Gardy formula: call up a guy from the minors (usually a utility infielder), start him on his first day with the team, bat him second, bench him for the next week (other than pinch hitting or running) regardless of his performance, and send him back down. And people wonder why our prospects haven’t been panning out for the last number of years.

7. He finds Nick Punto attractive.

This is actually framed and hanging in Gardy's office

I mean, that’s the only way to explain his playing time, right?

8. His batting orders.

This is a far more common sight when he's hitting second in the order

For the last few years, Gardy has insisted on batting one of our 6 utility infielders in the 2 hole. He has decided that placing a .240 hitter in the middle of the few guys who actually hit well consistently is a great idea. I know this may come as a shock, but it has not worked. I realize that we have a number of light-hitting (to put it nicely) players most days, but I’d rather have them all get out in a row than have one of them kill any kind of rally that our best hitters could generate. Never has this been more obvious than this year. For a bulk of the year, Span, Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel have been hitting at least .300 (with Cuddyer close behind). And guess when we were hitting our best and having our most success of this young season? When they batted in that exact order. When it was happening, I was both amazed and confused. Could it be that Gardy had finally figured it out? Of course not. He reverted back to his old ways just a couple of weeks later and now, surprise, we’re struggling to hit consistently again.

9. His love of utility infielders.

There's nothing better than a light hitting infielder

The following is the list of infielders who have played for the Minnesota Twins since 2007 (2 + years) not named Justin Morneau: Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, Joe Crede, Matt Tolbert, Brian Buscher, Mike Lamb, Adam Everett, Michael Cuddyer, Randy Ruiz, Matt Macri, Howie Clark, Luis Castillo, Jason Bartlett, Jason Tyner, Luis Rodriguez, Garrett Jones, Tommy Watkins, Josh Rabe, and Matt LeCroy. That’s 21 guys for four positions in a little over 2 years. Cool.

10. He thinks Nick Punto is good at baseball.

I am so tired of seeing this...

Read More......

Sunday, June 7, 2009

NBA Notes

Ok, so with TK 2.0 starting up at the very end of the NBA season, there isn’t a whole ton of topics to cover that aren’t already covered by more mainstream media outlets. However, as I sit here watching Game 2 of the NBA Finals, I realized that I do have a few takes on some smaller League-related topics. So I give to you “Random Thoughts About Basketball—Mostly From The National Basketball Association Finals Playoffs Series, But Also Including Other Players Who Have Already Been Eliminated From Contention” (which is way too long, hence the shortened title above).

*Game 2 of the Finals is two days after Game 1, which is completely and utterly ridiculous. Everyone knows that the NBA Playoffs drag on and on, but the one smart thing they’ve done in recent years is to team ESPN and TNT together to bring us at least one game every single night from the beginning of the first round through the end of the Conference Finals. Then the Finals come around and we have two full days in between games when the teams aren’t traveling? Do they really think this is a good idea? I know that the company line will be that they want the highest level of basketball being played on its most important stage, so they want everyone rested and in peak physical condition for each game. But that line of thinking is extremely flawed for two very important reasons: first, your league is based on fans and television ratings. After giving the people “40 Games in 40 Nights” leading up to the Finals, you give them “(Maximum) 7 Games in 40 Nights” for what is supposed to be the most important part of your year.

That’s a great way to lose viewers in a hurry if I’ve ever seen one. A perfect example of this came earlier today. I was talking to Fuzz about Lakers-Magic and he wanted to know who won the night before. I explained that they were playing tonight (Sunday), not yesterday (Saturday). His immediate response was, “Oh, Game 3 is tonight?” This from a guy who is a very dialed in and informed sports fan. He, like most others I assume, was floored at the idea that two days of rest were needed between games with no travel involved.
The second reason why this makes no sense is because you have conditioned the players throughout the playoffs that the only days off they get is on a travel day (singular) and in between series.

Now for the crown jewel of your sport, the schedule changes completely and you expect them to benefit from this? Athletes thrive on things like rhythm and adrenaline. How are you supposed to get into any kind of rhythm or build any momentum when no one can even remember what happened in the previous game because it took place so long ago? The NBA needs to stop believing that they have to show games in prime time on Sunday (which could still have easily happened had they played Game 2 on Friday and then Game 3 on Sunday—you know, like the playoff schedule has been until now). It’s things like this that are causing the League to become less and less popular.

*One of the most talked about subplots (which tend to get focused on more than the actual games at this point in the year) is how this year’s Finals will define Kobe Bryant’s legacy. It is said that he needs to win a ring without Shaq in order to vault him into elite company as far as NBA history goes. This seems completely irrational to me. Just because he’s not playing with a Hall of Fame counterpart shouldn’t affect his perceived legacy one way or another. If anything, this current Lakers team might be more balanced because they aren’t so reliant on two guys to do absolutely everything. Not to mention that no teams with the Finals with one amazing player and virtually nothing else: Jordan had Pippen, Duncan had Robinson and later Parker/Ginobili, Magic had Kareem/Worthy etc., Bird had Parrish/McHale, LeBron has…well I guess that kind of proves the point. Would a title bolster Kobe’s resume? Of course it would. But would not winning one without Shaq tarnish his legacy? Definitely not. At the very least, Kobe will have 3 rings and 6 Finals appearances at the age of 30. That in itself should define how great of a player he is, not who has or has not won with.

*On a quick and semi-related note, has there ever been a more overrated player than Dwight Howard? I get it, he’s funny, likeable, and looks like a cartoon character with his massive arms and tiny head. But the guy can basically do two things—block shots and dunk. Please don’t try to sell me on the fact that he’s one of the top superstars in the League.

*On the other hand, everyone knows that LeBron James is possibly the most uniquely gifted basketball player of all time. He has the fame and scrutiny that naturally goes along with it as well. But could his whole “storming” off the court at the end of the Eastern Conference Finals been more overblown? I read articles stating that he forever tarnished his reputation and set a poor example for sportsmanship for children all over the country. Since when did pretending to be happy about losing get confused with sportsmanship? Kevin Garnett used the F word 789 times on live television during the Bulls-Celtics series (in which he did not play) and no one said a word about him ruining his reputation or setting a bad example. If you ask me, that’s much worse than what LeBron did (especially the times he would yell at guys like Ben Gordon as the game was going down—as illustrated below).

Look, I’m not saying that what James did was right, but it’s also not the end of the world that the sports media would have you believe. The kid (he is only 24 years old after all) made a mistake—by all accounts the first one he’s made in his career. People need to quit making news on unimportant issues.

*Speaking of the media hype machine, much was made earlier this week about the possible return of Jameer Nelson to the Orlando Magic after being hurt for most of the second half of the season. I get that this is a big story given that they were pretty big underdogs and getting back your All-Star point guard could help in winning a title. The problem I have is that I never saw an article anywhere about how this could be a very bad idea. I mean, even a network like ESPN, which thrives on contrasting viewpoints (see: Around the Horn, PTI, First Take, Cold Pizza (is that even on the air still?), and any NBA/MLB/NHL/NFL/NASCAR/Golf/Soccer segment on Sports Center) never went with the “Jameer Nelson will mess up the momentum that Orlando has gained throughout this playoff run” angle? Very disappointing.

*There will be an NBA Draft article coming in the next couple weeks. It will be mostly focused on the Wolves, but will include a Mock Draft—just in case you cared.

Read More......