The Timberwolves add shooting, likely at a cost to their defense

New Timberwolf, Kevin Martin

The Minnesota Timberwolves agreed to terms with free agents, Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger, the latter of whom spent this year as a member of the ‘Wolves squad. Budinger’s deal runs 3 years, for a total of $16 million, according to, who else, Woj. Martin, for his part, agreed to a deal for 4 years, $28 million. The Wolves were clearly interested in fixing on of the team’s biggest problem areas on the offensive end last near, namely that they had very little ability to stretch the floor or shoot beyond the arc. They were dead last in 3 point shooting percentage at a pitiful 30.5% as a team and were 28th of 30 teams in 3 pointers made.

Budinger struggled with injury this past season and only managed to play and his absence surely didn’t help the Wolves’ lack of shooting. In addition, when Budinger was on the floor he shot just 32% from three, likely, again, owing to his injury woes. The Wolves are betting that Budinger will be closer to the high volume, medium efficiency 3 point shooter that he’s been for most of his career, as a career 36% three point shooter on 5.9 threes attempted per 36 minutes. A deal that sees Budinger making basically a smidge above the league’s average salary for 3 years, given his status as a league average wing (in just about every way), feels like the right value, especially given the salary bump that shooters, rightly, receive for their floor spacing value which goes even beyond their box-score contributions. The Wolves may have been wise to make this deal a bit longer, given how young Budinger is, and his room for improvement, as he gets set to enter his prime years. All in all, this deal is a good one and it seems obvious that the Wolves did well to retain Budinger at a solid price.

Less obvious is the merit of signing a 30 year old Kevin Martin for a 4 year deal that will pay him an average of $7 million a year. Martin is a hyper-efficient guard who can shoot the lights out, and as mentioned above, the Wolves really need the shooting and floor spacing that Martin has provided for his whole career. There’s reason for worry here, though. Thirty years old tends to be the point at which many shooting guards, historically, have begun to decline.  Often, that decline is precipitous. Martin has never been a superstar. He has been an above average player whose ability to score many points without taking many shots has managed to balance out his, frankly, terrible defense. If Martin’s offensive ability declines as he ages, he could easily become a liability to have on the floor. Paying $7 million a year for a player who could become a liability on the back half of his newly signed contract is obviously not great. Unfortunately, Martin has already shown what may be indicators of athletic decline. He’s getting to the line much less frequently than he once did. In his seasons four seasons from age 24 to 27, he averaged well over 9 free throw attempts per 36 minutes three times and the one season he didn’t he still got to the line for a healthy 7.5 attempts per 36. Over his last two seasons, Martin has averaged 5.1 and 4.1 FTAs per 36 minutes, respectively. Last season, Martin was able to counteract that lack of attempts at the line to retain his normal hyper-efficiency by simply making even more shots per attempt than normal, shooting 45% from the floor and 42.6% from three, topping his career averages of 44.3% and 38.5% respectively. It should be noted, though, that Martin likely shot so much better due to the quality of looks he was getting playing alongside two of the league’s very best players in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. His looks are unlikely to be quite so open in Minnesota. The Wolves front office has to hope that Martin can buck the historical trend and the trend he himself appears to be on by relying even more heavily on his highly effective, highly ugly looking three point shot. If the years on Budinger and Martin’s contracts were reversed, these would be pretty perfect deals for Minnesota. For this year, though, the Wolves appear to have done much to fix their absolute biggest weakness on offense.

Unfortunately, in order to pull the move to sign Martin, it appears the Wolves will be sacrificing one of last year’s team’s relative strengths. The Wolves were 13th last year in Defensive Efficiency, just above average. One of the biggest reasons for the Wolves relative strength on defense was the presence of veteran swingman and current free agent, Andrei Kirilenko. Given the money Minnesota has just doled out to Martin, along with a likely extension for restricted free agent big man and Superman villain Nikola Pekovic, it appears unlikely Kirlienko will be back with next year’s team. Two steps forward, for one step back, it appears for Minnesota President of Basketball Operations, Flip Saunders, this offseason. It will be interesting to see if Coach Rick Adelman can get this squad to defend, despite a lack of obvious stoppers. On point rotations with very few, if any mistakes will be what’s required. Time will tell if these Wolves are up to the task.

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