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.

Clippers become scarier through blockbuster trade, Suns rebuild, again

Oddly, J.J. Redick and I have the same facial hair pattern

The Los Angeles Clippers, yes those Los Angeles Clippers, have had perhaps the NBA’s best offseason thus far. The Clippers landed on the league’s top coaches by prying Doc Rivers from the Celtics (a massive upgrade from the “coaching” provided last year by Vinny Del Negro) and reached an agreement on a maximum contract extension with one of the league’s very best players, point guard Chris Paul. Today, they gave Doc more talent to shape and CP3 a better supporting cast with which to work. In a blockbuster three team deal, the Clippers agreed to trade promising guard, Eric Bledsoe and aging small forward Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for 3 and D swingman Jared Dudley, while simultaneously sending a second round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks in a sign and trade for shooting guard J.J. Redick. The Bucks will also receive a second round pick from the Suns for their trouble.*

Redick’s new deal is reportedly for 4 years, $27 million, which feels right for a floor-spacing shooting guard who does a little bit of everything while shooting very well from deep (39% for his career). Redick’s numbers did slip overall last year, but it was primarily due to the pretty miserable situation in Milwaukee into which he was traded. J.J. Redick things are meant to be done for a smart team with smart teammates, and well, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are not smart basketball players. They make lots of bad decisions and take bad shots and waste opportunities created by the off-ball movement of a player like Redick. That should change in L.A. where Redick will be playing for a great coach and with one of the league’s smartest players in CP3, Redick should see many more open looks and should really shine for the Clippers. It is worth noting, though, that Redick’s production did slip this year, as he will be 29 in the first year of this new deal and many a shooting guard has seen his production slip starting at around age 30. Should Redick follow that path, the numbers on this deal might end up seeming a bit bloated, but for a team that is clearly all in and going for it with superstar Chris Paul, this is a minor worry. In addition to shoring up the shooting guard position, the Clippers are getting an upgrade at small forward swapping out the declining 34 year old Caron Butler for career 40.5% 3 point shooter and solid defender, Jared Dudley. Dudley doesn’t have the ball-handling or penetration skills of Butler, but he’s younger, on a very friendly deal, and will be a great offensive fit with CP3 dribble drives and pick-and-roll dives to rim by DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin resulting in the collapse of the opposing team’s defense inside freeing Dudley for open looks in the corners. This trade is a big win for the Clips.

For the Suns, the deal is an opportunity to rebuild, yet again. This time they’re betting on Eric Bledsoe to be a star. Bledsoe has certainly shown flashes that he could be that guy. Bledsoe is an athletic freak, who can do things like this:

Goodness

And perhaps more impressively, he did this to Dwyane Wade:

Get that out outta here. Gif via SBNation.com.

Phoenix, and its new GM Ryan McDonough, are hoping that Bledsoe can develop into the next Russell Westbrook: an incredible athlete who is a terror on both ends with whom opposing point guards must deal. At just 23 years old, Bledsoe has shown improvement in leaps and bounds and this year posted a solid 17+ PER while also becoming a terror on the defensive end. The Clippers were nearly 5 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Bledsoe on the floor versus when he sat, which is doubly impressive when you realize that the player he was usually replacing was CP3, who made the NBA’s All-Defensive Team this year. This is a smart move by the Suns, as they sacrificed relatively little (Jared Dudley’s talents are mostly wasted on a bad team like the Suns and taking on Caron Butler’s deal is not that onerous) in order to acquire a guy who has the potential to be an impact player on both ends of the court. Bledsoe is the sort of talent you bet on. Good job by Mr. McDonough.

*The Bucks have to be disappointed to receive just two second round picks for Redick after giving up promising rookie combo-forward Tobias Harris to acquire Redick for just the back half of this past season, especially given how well Harris played in Orlando following the trade. On a brighter note, Redick was going to leave the Bucks either way so prying two second round picks out of the process is not nothing, but it probably feels pretty close to Bucks’ fans right now.

The San Antonio Spurs do a smart thing, lock up Tiago Splitter

In news that will surprise no one, the San Antonio Spurs just made a smart decision. The Spurs locked up free agent big man Tiago Splitter to a 4 year deal, worth $36 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. The big Brazilian won’t make many headlines or sell many jerseys, but what he does do is defend expertly, score quite efficiently, make the right pass almost always, and just generally make the Spurs better when he’s on the floor.

Splitter struggled a bit against the Heat in the finals due to the lack of a traditional big man for Splitter to match up with. Tiago, also rather famously, got obliterated at the rim by, the world’s best player, LeBron James. In case you forgot, it looked like this:

Yiiiikes. Gif via SBNation.com

What’s not immediately apparent from that quick look on the gif is that the reason LeBron is in position to crush Tiago so badly is that Kawhi Leonard was too close to the paint, allowing LeBron to protect the rim. Kawhi should have been in the corner, forcing LeBron to guard him. If Kawhi does his job, Tiago, having done everything right to this point, gets an easy dunk. Instead, Tiago ends up on the wrong end of a SportsCenter highlight. Poor guy. But this play shows you two things about Splitter. He knows where to be offensively and is unafraid of challenging shot-blockers at the rim with a strong finish. Against just about anyone else, save a LARRY SANDERS!, a healthy Dwight Howard, or in this case, an engaged LeBron freaking James, Splitter finishes that dunk through contact. That finishing ability and knowledge of where to be is a big reason why Splitter has a career True Shooting Percentage of 61% and sports a nifty 18.7 PER along with a pretty great .188 WS per 48 minutes. Splitter also will turn just 29 early this coming season and will be on a solid contract until he is 33. As a result, the Spurs can expect Splitter’s excellent production to continue relatively unabated for the duration of the deal. Just another solid, smart move from the team that makes them seemingly always.

The Indiana Pacers will, unsurprisingly, keep David West

Here’s hoping there’s less of this

The Indiana Pacers signed free agent power foward David West to a 3 year, $36 million deal today, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. The soon-to-be 33 year old power forward was never considered a serious threat to leave Indiana but that lack of surprise doesn’t make this signing any less important for the Pacers, coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

West was, arguably, the Pacers most important player this season, both from an on the floor perspective and, perhaps more importantly, as a leader in the locker room and beacon of professionalism for a relatively young playoff team making its deepest playoff run since the days of Reggie Miller. The Pacers were significantly better with West on the floor versus when he was on the bench – an eye-popping 8.9 points per 48 minutes better. It’s no wonder, then, that the Pacers were eager to hold onto the veteran 4-man, whose mid-range shooting opens things up for Roy Hibbert’s emerging post-game and Paul George’s slashing attacks towards the rim. It will be interesting to see if West will be able to live up to his contract towards its end, as he will be 36 years old in its final year.

As it stands now, West has shown no signs of decline. Last year, he posted a Player Efficiency Rating and WinShares per 48 minutes which outpaced his career averages, while at the same time playing more than his career average in minutes for the year. West’s jump shooting should keep him from losing too much of his effectiveness as his athleticism wanes but its worth keeping an eye on as West is a player who was never terribly explosive to begin with and is undersized at his position. Fortunately for Pacers’ fans, the Pacers are competing to win this year and West should be well equipped to keep them in the mix near the East’s top tier, nipping at Miami’s heels. Additionally comforting for the Indiana faithful should be the fact that Andrea Bargnani’s albatross contract was able to be moved, and given the short duration of this deal, it’s exceedingly unlikely West’s deal will become a millstone, should his play somehow careen off a cliff.

The Chicago Bulls have, wisely, agreed to sign Mike Dunleavy Jr.

Boozer and Lil Dun’ reunited!

I like the Chicago Bulls. Okay, that’s a lie. I love the Chicago Bulls and I have for basically my whole life. In the past, the team’s ownership and front office have done a lot of things to make me question my loyalty to the red and black. They signed Ben Wallace to a massive free agent deal, as his athleticism was waning, and then compounded the mistake by trading away the young, promising Tyson Chandler for basically nothing besides an expiring contract, which they then failed to use in a trade to make the team better. They refused to re-sign Ben Gordon because of money (which it turned out was the right move). They signed Kirk Hinrich last off season for 2 years, $8 million, when there were younger, healthier, better options. They dismantled the Bench Mob that was so great in 2011 and got nothing in return for it. They didn’t match Omer Asik’s restricted free agent offer sheet from Houston. They avoided paying the luxury tax every year in its existence, until last year, where they only ended up paying it because they couldn’t find any team with cap space interested in absorbing the (dumb) contract to which they signed Rip Hamilton. Their GM just recently fired their amazing head coach’s lead assistant, Ron Adams, over some petty in-fighting, power playing nonsense. So, yeah, I have had a lot of complaints, over the years, about the people running things for my favorite basketball club. But not today; because today, why today they have done something pretty great. Today, the Bulls agreed verbally to sign Mike Dunleavy Jr. for 2 years, $6 million, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein.

This sort of reaction to a guy signing for the mini-midlevel exception might seem surprising. Well, it’s no overreaction, and here’s why: the Bulls have one glaring weakness on offense and it’s that they can’t shoot straight from three and Mike Dunleavy is a dead-eye three point shooter. Dunleavy shot a blistering 43% from three last year for the Milwaukee Bucks on 5.5 threes attempted per 36 minutes. Dunleavy also fits the Bulls offense to a T. He is excellent at moving off the ball, in the sort of pin-down actions that the Bulls have been quite fond of running with Kyle Korver, then Rip Hamilton. With Derrick Rose back, Dunleavy should see even better looks than the ones he got for a pretty mediocre Bucks team last year, playing alongside chucking guards, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Dunleavy also rebounds the ball well for a wing player, passes the ball deftly, and is a solid, if unspectacular defensive player. Dunleavy is basically a perfect fit for what the Bulls need in a backup wing player and should have coach Tom Thibodeau’s trust right away. The commitment to use the MMLE also seemingly indicates a change in the team’s stance on spending. After committing to Dunleavy’s $3 million dollar salary this year, the Bulls will be deep into the luxury tax, with the new CBA’s harsher luxury tax penalties kicking in this year, it’s very nice to see ownership not shying away from paying out some of their league leading profits to pay for a winner. Maybe Derrick Rose’s brother Reggie’s comments about the need to improve the roster had their intended effect. Finally, the Bulls have clearly made an offseason priority of shooting. Coach Tom Thibodeau mentioned the need for better shooting several times in interviews following the season’s end. Then, the Bulls drafted Tony Snell (a wing who shot 39% from distance in college), Erik Murphy (a floor stretching big man who shot 45% from 3 in the SEC), and now the signing of an elite shooting wing in Dunleavy. The Bulls probably need one more big man, in addition to Nazr Muhammed, who they are likely to re-sign for the veteran’s minimum, again, but this off-season is shaping up quite nicely for the team from Chicago – aside from that bit of nastiness between the front office and the coaching staff linked above, which is admittedly very troubling.

And now just for fun, here’s highlights from Dunleavy Jr. dropping 29 points on the Cavs early this past season. Good times!

The New York Knicks trade for Andrea Bargnani because they’re the Knicks

The New York Knicks completed a trade over the weekend for former number 1 pick and all-around terrible basketball player, Andrea Bargnani from the Toronto Raptors. Not only did the Knicks trade for Bargnani’s hefty $10 million per year contract, but they paid 3 draft picks (1 first rounder and 2 second rounders) for the privilege. Bargnani is a 7 footer who plays like a (bad) shooting guard.  He doesn’t rebound the basketball, he shoots poorly from distance, despite a reputation for being a “stretch” big man, and he plays poor team defense (he’s actually a solid man-to-man post defender, despite his overall terrible impact on the defensive end).

This feels like a huge overreaction from the Knicks to the Nets blockbuster trade on draft night. But it’s not a reaction that really makes the Knicks any better on the floor. In many ways, Steve Novak and Marcus Camby, the players New York surrendered for the Italian big man, are better players than Bargnani. Camby is a better defensive presence and scores more efficiently, while taking many fewer shots. Novak is a specialist shooter, but he’s actually, you know, good at shooting the basketball, which is not true of our man Andrea. Even still, this trade, were it just a swap of on-court players, might be justifiable. Bargnani is a former first overall pick, with size, who has shown flashes of the potential that lead him to be drafted so high. Maybe a change of scenery is what he needs and he will finally come close to living up to his contract. But the Knicks needn’t have surrendered the draft picks they did in order to grab him.

Giving up the rights to future first round draft picks under the new collective bargaining agreement is the height of foolishness, unless you’re getting a proven star player in return. Andrea Bargnani could hardly be further from a star player. This is a bad, bad deal for the Knicks and they will almost certainly regret it in the future. This is now the second time that Masai Ujiri, the head man in Toronto and former head man in Denver, has fleeced the Knicks of valuable assets for a “name” player. At least last time the Knicks got Carmelo Anthony, a star player who falls short of being a superstar. This time they’ve sacrificed future assets for a player whose contract was thought by many to be such an albatross that it would necessitate the trading of assets for the Raptors to be rid of it. A word of advice to Glen Grunwald: the next time Masai Ujiri calls you, don’t answer the phone.