Kahn’s Early Bid for Exec of the Year

The following is a cross-post of an article I posted on TheNBAGeek last week, in which I reluctantly admit that David Kahn has had one hell of an offseason.

So, here’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever write: I think David Kahn is an early candidate for executive of the year. I’ve been a heavy and frequent critic of Kahn, but in this offseason, the Timberwolves have made a brilliant roster turn around.

Instead of Kirk raging at Kahn, Kahn raging at the world now seems more appropriate.

The last few weeks, I had been working on a GeekGM article because I thought the Timberwolves were in an interesting space, and much like Charlotte, they had a bad team but good salary situations, and there were many interesting ways that the team could be made better. I had a lot of scenarios planned out. Then the wolves started dealing. Each time something happened, I thought it made sense to wait for the dust to settle. Now the dust has settled, and…well, I don’t think Kahn needs any of my suggestions because the Wolves suddenly have a very good team.

Going into this offseason, the Timberwolves had 3 glaring issues. They were, in order of importance:

  • The wing play was terrible, at both small forward and shooting guard. Martell Webster was the only player that played competently here. Ridnour gave some great effort but he was overmatched defensively because he just isn’t tall, strong, or fast enough to defend a competent NBA 2.
  • The backup front-court players were very bad. Anthony Randolph and his staggeringly bone-headed decision making drove Adelman crazy, Derrick Williams wasn’t rebounding the way he should, and he took too many contested long 2-point shots. Michael Beasley, although better when he played the 4 than at the 3, made William’s shot selection look conservative by comparison. Darko was just outright awful.
  • The backup point guard spot was bad. This is partly a consequence of Ridnour playing shooting guard, but it should be noted that Barrea is simply not a good point guard.

Another way to put it is that the Timberwolves had 2 great bigs, a promising rookie, a decent backup PG, and a lot of players ranging from terrible to bad:

Min WP48 Wins PTS DRB ORB REB AST TO BLK STL PF
Webster 1140 .097 2.3 13.6 5.3 1.8 7.1 1.7 1.9 0.7 1.3 3.6
Randolph 517 .078 0.8 23.4 7.5 3.9 11.4 1.8 3.7 3.2 1.2 5.2
Williams 1418 .044 1.3 19.7 7.9 2.6 10.5 1.3 2.6 1.0 1.0 3.2
Miller 146 .016 0.0 11.5 4.9 1.3 6.2 7.9 3.9 0.7 1.3 3.3
Milicic 472 -.071 -0.7 13.6 6.3 3.6 9.9 1.7 3.3 2.5 0.9 6.0
Beasley 1087 -.014 -0.3 23.9 7.4 1.7 9.1 2.0 3.5 0.8 0.8 3.7
Johnson 1469 .018 0.5 12.8 5.0 0.8 5.8 1.9 2.0 1.6 1.1 3.8
Ellington 973 .042 0.9 15.3 4.2 0.7 4.9 1.6 1.3 0.5 1.3 2.8
Barea 1032 .061 1.3 21.5 4.7 0.7 5.3 10.8 4.8 0.0 1.0 2.8

*Ok, Webster wasn’t terrible or bad. But he made about twice as much salary as one needs to pay for average production.

To my astonishment, Kahn did not re-sign a bunch of these guys to bad Kahntracts. Instead, management went nuclear on them, and two weeks later, Barea and Williams are the only ones left standing in the crater. Keeping Williams is a solid gamble; he’ll get better as young players do, and in the new roster he’ll get to play more at his natural power forward. Barea is…well, whatever. As long as he doesn’t get starter’s minutes, and doesn’t play shooting guard, who cares? Someone has to back up the point until Rubio is healthy.

What is further remarkable is that the Wolves have managed to replace all that chat with bona-fide players:

Min WP48 Wins PTS DRB ORB REB AST TO BLK STL PF
Budinger 1298 .133 3.6 20.6 6.6 1.4 8.0 2.7 2.0 0.3 1.1 2.4
Stiemsma 766 .181 2.9 10.1 8.1 3.0 11.1 1.8 2.1 5.3 2.3 9.0
Cunningham 1124 .182 4.3 14.2 6.6 3.9 10.5 1.6 1.2 1.5 1.8 4.2
Kirilenko (10/11) 1996 .209 8.7 18.0 5.4 2.4 7.8 4.6 2.8 1.8 1.9 2.7
Roy (10/11) 1310 .047 1.3 21.0 3.4 1.0 4.4 4.7 2.0 0.4 1.4 2.8
Average SF 1326 .099 2.7 19.5 5.8 1.6 7.4 3.4 2.5 0.8 1.6 3.4
Average C 1141 .099 2.4 17.9 9.0 4.2 13.2 2.3 2.7 2.0 1.3 4.8
Average PF 1307 .099 2.7 19.6 7.9 3.6 11.5 2.4 2.4 1.6 1.3 4.5
FG% 2FG% 3FG% FT% eFG% TS% FGA 3FGA PPS FTA
Budinger 44.2% 47.6% 40.2% 77.1% 53.5% 55.6% 17.4 8.1 1.18 2.6
Stiemsma 54.5% 54.5% 0.0% 70.7% 54.5% 57.9% 7.6 0.0 1.33 2.6
Cunningham 51.6% 52.0% 0.0% 65.2% 51.6% 53.8% 11.9 0.1 1.19 2.9
Kirilenko (10/11) 46.7% 48.9% 36.7% 77.0% 50.0% 56.7% 13.0 2.4 1.38 6.5
Roy (10/11) 40.0% 41.8% 33.3% 84.8% 43.6% 49.1% 19.2 4.2 1.10 5.1
Average SF 43.5% 47.0% 35.8% 78.4% 49.1% 53.1% 16.5 5.2 1.18 4.2
Average C 49.9% 50.5% 25.0% 67.5% 50.2% 53.7% 14.5 0.4 1.24 5.0
Average PF 47.3% 48.9% 35.2% 71.8% 49.4% 53.1% 16.3 1.9 1.20 4.8

*Yes, Brandon Roy is a huge asterisk here.

Here’s something I have talked about a lot on this blog. One way to improve your team is to go out and grab a superstar to replace your average level punters at some position. Another way to improve your team is to go grab an average level punter, and replace somebody who is terrible, and the effect on your wins is just as impactful. In other words, if you upgrade from bad to average, it’s just as meaningful as going from good to great. Sometimes bad is an upgrade. That’s what OKC did when it replaced Nenad Kristic (very bad) with Kendrick Perkins (meh), and it took them from decent to good. Sometimes, however, you upgrade from terrible to really good. That’s what OKC did when it replaced all of Jeff Green’s minutes (bad) with Serge Ibaka (really good), and it took them from good to contender. If you upgrade from terrible to really good, you get a huge boost to wins, and that’s what the Timberwolves have done for their small forward position. The folks at Canis Hoopus put it best:

Many have asked if Kirilenko is really worth $10 million per year. The answer is an emphatic yes. Let’s take a short look:

Season Min WP48 WP PTS DRB ORB REB AST TO BLK STL PF
01-02 UTH 2151 .259 11.6 19.6 5.6 3.3 9.0 2.1 2.4 3.5 2.6 3.5
02-03 UTH 2213 .306 14.1 20.9 5.9 3.2 9.1 3.0 2.9 3.8 2.6 4.0
03-04 UTH 2895 .261 15.7 21.3 6.7 3.7 10.4 4.0 3.6 3.6 2.5 2.9
04-05 UTH 1349 .296 8.3 22.8 5.9 3.2 9.1 4.7 3.2 4.8 2.4 3.6
05-06 UTH 2604 .295 16.0 19.4 7.2 3.0 10.2 5.5 3.7 4.1 1.9 3.0
06-07 UTH 2049 .219 9.3 13.7 5.6 2.1 7.7 4.7 3.2 3.4 1.7 4.0
07-08 UTH 2217 .264 12.2 17.1 4.7 2.6 7.3 6.2 3.0 2.4 1.9 3.6
08-09 UTH 1831 .184 7.0 20.3 6.2 2.2 8.4 4.6 3.2 2.0 2.2 3.3
09-10 UTH 1681 .266 9.3 19.6 5.4 2.2 7.5 4.5 2.3 2.0 2.4 2.9
10-11 UTH 1996 .209 8.7 18.0 5.4 2.4 7.8 4.6 2.8 1.8 1.9 2.7
Career Avg 2098 .257 11.2 19.2 5.9 2.8 8.8 4.4 3.1 3.2 2.2 3.3
Average SF 1792 .099 3.7 20.5 5.7 1.9 7.6 3.5 2.6 0.8 1.6 3.8
FG% 2FG% 3FG% FT% eFG% TS% FGA 3FGA PPS FTA
Kirilenko 01-02 45.0% 48.8% 25.0% 76.8% 47.0% 55.3% 14.1 2.2 1.39 8.3
Kirilenko 02-03 49.1% 52.7% 32.5% 80.0% 51.9% 59.8% 13.9 2.5 1.50 8.0
Kirilenko 03-04 44.3% 47.1% 33.8% 79.0% 47.9% 55.9% 15.4 3.3 1.38 8.2
Kirilenko 04-05 49.3% 53.6% 29.9% 78.4% 52.0% 59.9% 14.9 2.7 1.52 9.2
Kirilenko 05-06 46.0% 48.9% 30.8% 69.9% 48.5% 55.6% 13.5 2.2 1.44 9.1
Kirilenko 06-07 47.1% 52.8% 21.3% 72.8% 49.0% 55.8% 9.8 1.8 1.40 5.6
Kirilenko 07-08 50.6% 54.0% 37.9% 77.0% 54.6% 60.3% 11.8 2.5 1.46 5.6
Kirilenko 08-09 44.9% 47.5% 27.4% 78.5% 46.7% 54.9% 14.9 1.9 1.36 8.2
Kirilenko 09-10 50.6% 55.5% 29.2% 74.4% 53.3% 58.8% 13.8 2.5 1.43 6.7
Kirilenko 10-11 46.7% 48.9% 36.7% 77.0% 50.0% 56.7% 13.0 2.4 1.38 6.5
Kirilenko (career) 47.0% 50.5% 31.2% 76.3% 49.8% 57.1% 13.5 2.4 1.42 7.6
Average SF 44.9% 47.8% 36.0% 78.0% 49.3% 54.1% 16.7 4.2 1.23 5.2

Yes, Kirilenko is one of those players that “those wins produced geeks” consider a genuine superstar. Relative to the average, he is a fantastic shot blocker, rebounder, passer, and defender. He’s above average in nearly every statistical category — his 3-point shooting is a little shaky, and he’s a little turnover prone (but not horribly so, and less so in recent years), but otherwise he is simply stellar. He’s a great defender who can guard 3 positions, he is an efficient scorer, and he’s a facilitator who won’t need the ball in his hands a lot, which will work great with Rubio, Love, and Roy on the floor. All that for the price of $10 million? Yes, please, may I have some more?

Age has been brought up, but this contract is only 2 years. This is exactly the type of contract that the Nets should have given Gerald Wallace (wouldn’t they feel much better about 2 years for $22 million?), and it’s a better deal than Batum’s. Batum will likely be better than AK-47 in two years time, but he isn’t now, and in two years, the team can go buy itself another wing, rather than paying a premium for “potential” in the meantime.

But wait, there’s more! Kahn made a flurry of really good moves this summer:

  • The trade of Wes Johnson and a protected 1st for 3 2nd round picks was made mostly to clear salary, but it’s a great trade in it’s own right. As Arturo has pointed out, 2nd round picks are among the best values in the draft, because talent always falls through the cracks, and these players have enourmously cheap contracts that are only guaranteed for 2 years. 2nd round picks are much more valuable than late first-round picks because the players’ talent levels are similar, but the contracts are more favorable to management. Any time you can trade a bad player making $4+ million and a 1st rounder that will likely become an overpaid player for 3 2nd round picks, you should do it.
  • Brandon Roy is a good gamble. If he’s a shadow of his former self, he’s an average shooting guard. If the miracle cure works, he’s an all-star. If he’s a bust, insurance pays his contract, and you trade him next year as an expiring deal. Plus, he hoses over the finances of a rival team, because if he plays, Portland must pay his previous salary, which an insurance company is paying because his retirement was medically related (I’m not referring to the cap hit, since Roy was amnestied, just the money). That’s a big business win!
  • Greg Stiemsma is a great pickup for the money. I’ve wrote before about how the Celtics should have been giving him more minutes instead of (at the time) a gimpy Jermaine O’Neal. And it is baffling to me that Boston only signed the guy for one year, without putting in a team option or anything. He defends well and shoots efficiently. Perfect for a guy coming off the bench behind Love and Pek.
  • Cunningham is another solid addition to the bench. Last year his stellar play may have been an outlier, but he has a longterm trend of not turning the ball over and making the other guy turn the ball over, all while not chucking bad shots. This makes him a perfect role player on this team. And incidentally, the opposite of Ellington, who took lots of bad shots and didn’t get many steals. He’ll fit in great in Memphis because he plays just like OJ Mayo.
  • Budinger is a solid-but-not-spectacular wing, who even if he is just a specialist will bring some welcome competence at that position. This is pretty much the best-case scenario for what most 18th picks in the draft become, without the two-year wait for them to get better.

To be sure, the Wolves have some big questions. Will Rubio get healthy? When he plays, how good will he be? As a rule, players aren’t anywhere as good in the year just afer a major injury, and don’t recover form until the year after that. This may be especially true for Rubio, who relied so much on his defense to be an effective player, and defense is hard on the knees. Will Pekovic be healthy? He struggled with bone spurs all year. Will Pekovic continue to crush his opponents in the paint and munch on their bone marrow during time outs? Who the heck is Alexy Shved, and can he play?

But…consider this table I just whipped up in excel pulled out of my ass:

Minutes 11/12 WP48 12/13 Guess WP Guess
Pekovic 2400 0.242 0.220 11.0
Love 2800 0.226 0.230 13.4
Stiemsma 1640 0.181 0.150 5.1
Budinger 1200 0.133 0.100 2.5
Rubio 1200 0.131 0.100 2.5
Williams 1600 0.044 0.075 2.5
Roy 1800 0.050 (10/11) 0.075 2.8
Kirilenko 2200 0.209 (10/11) 0.175 8.0
Cunningham 1200 0.182 0.120 3.0
Shved 900 n/a 0.075 1.4
Ridnour 1600 0.078 0.090 3.0
Barea 1200 0.066 0.050 1.3
56.5

I make all kinds of wild assumptions here, like that Roy is a not-quite-average SG, Barea doesn’t play too much, Ridnour gets a little better because he doesn’t play SG, Rubio isn’t his old self and doesn’t play lots of minutes, Williams gets a little better, Kirilenko is a little worse thanks to age, Love and Pek stay about the same, and lastly, I’m a little optimistic about Shved (in fairness, if I’m wrong and he’s terrible, he won’t get minutes). And somehow I forgot Malcom Lee, but is he going to get enough minutes to move the needle either way? If he does, he’ll only be taking minutes from Barea or Shved, so it’s unlikely to make a big difference.

And…somehow, I pulled 57 wins out of that hat. Seriously, if that doesn’t win Kahn executive of the year than we need to ship out the voters to a private island to battle to the death, Battle Royale style.

I’ve posted a follow-up over at The NBAGeek as well, if the Timberwolves intrigue you.

-Patrick

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