Harper: Is the reported Derrick Williams trade a good move for Wolves?
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With the reported trade between the Sacramento Kings and the Minnesota Timberwolves swapping Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for Derrick Williams, the Wolves have begun addressing depth on a poor bench that could eventually become a strength for them.
It will take quite a while for Wolves fans to get over missing out on a number two pick and sending him away for a straight-up trade that only yields a defensive role player who was once selected 37th in the draft. However, the expectations that come with being the second pick in the draft have to change dramatically when we start getting context for what it would take for that potential to be realized.
While many people will wonder why the Wolves sold so low on Williams and his "potential," it looks to me like the Wolves are finally figuring out how to shape this bench. Granted, they're going to need some help in the health department with Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf both coming back to full strength in the next month or so. But the potential for this rotation rounding out is higher than what could have been with Williams.
The emergence of Robbie Hummel over the course of training camp and the early parts of the season pretty much made Derrick Williams expendable. Instead of trying to fit a power forward into a small forward position that required moving without the ball and outside shooting, the Wolves were able to just slide Hummel into that role. Hummel's ability to stretch the floor* for the offense is one of the rare things in the second unit the Wolves don't have with Williams on the floor.
*Hummel's shooting percentages are low but everybody knows he's a threat.
A lot of fans hung onto the outside shooting Williams showed when he was at the University of Arizona, but really they were basing his ability to shoot the 3-pointer on 74 attempts with a closer line. In the NBA, he was very inconsistent with his shot.
We view Williams as having more potential than someone like Luc Mbah a Moute, which means he must be more valuable. While his potential is there, this Wolves team isn't looking for potential in a player; they're looking for a player that can definitely help them more in a push to end an embarrassing playoff drought of nine years.
I agree that Williams is more offensively skilled than Mbah a Moute but that doesn't mean he's used it properly. Let's take a look at how they score the ball:
While Williams is certainly a more likely scorer, Mbah a Moute's percentages are pretty much right around what Williams has performed through two-plus seasons. They're comparable in the restricted area. Mbah a Moute is a better scorer in the paint outside of the restricted area but neither player takes a significant amount of shots there. Williams is a slightly better midrange shooter and Mbah a Moute is a slightly better corner 3-point shooter. Both are terrible above-the-break 3-point shooters but Mbah a Moute has take 11 of those shots in his five-plus years in the NBA. Williams has taken 276 of them in 155 games.
Mbah a Moute knows his strengths and weaknesses. He's a solid rebounder that plays phenomenal defense at both forward positions. He has a 7-foot wingspan to go with his 6'7" frame to bother some of the best wing scorers in the league. It takes the onus off of Corey Brewer to be the only plus wing defender on nights in which he has to battle Kevin Durant, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and the other great wing scorers in this league.
Mbah a Moute primarily sticks to shots around the basket, where more than half of his attempts in his career have come. He's not going to stretch the floor, although turning him into a midrange threat that can stretch to the corner does seem possible by next season. That's where the rest of the rotation starts to get rounded out.
We know J.J. Barea is going to be the backup point guard at around 20 minutes per game. The Wolves currently have Robbie Hummel to stretch the floor for 15 minutes per game until Chase Budinger comes back. When Budinger is back, that gives the Wolves a definite sixth man to throw out there for 25 minutes and switch up a lot of the rotation and looks on the wings. Instead of hoping Alexey Shved brings it on any given night, the Wolves can know Budinger will split time at the 2 and 3.
Mbah a Moute and Dante Cunningham will be the dirty workers at the forward spots and let the matchups of the night determine where they spend their time. There will be nights in which they can go small at the 5 and 4 with Cunningham and Mbah a Moute. There will be times in which they can go to the 4 and 3 with DC and LRMAM. And when Turiaf is back from his elbow injury, he'll be a solid defensive option off the bench at the center position.
The Wolves can mix and match lineups based on what works best for the defensive end of the floor, instead of just throwing players out there they hope can handle the tasks of that night. In texting with people around the NBA last night from outside the Wolves organization, they loved the move for the Wolves because the consensus was that Mbah a Moute for Williams brought in a playoff-level rotational defender that a lot of teams would love to add.
He's versatile in a way that Williams should have been in theory but wasn't in application. If the Wolves want to run 10-deep in some games to give the starters more of a rest, they can do that when Budinger and Turiaf come back. The Wolves continue to add versatility and options for themselves to adjust to the night's matchups, which is something most playoff teams can do.
This isn't a sexy pickup by any means. Williams was the second pick in the draft and with that came expectations and potential. Instead, the Wolves are rolling with two second round picks in Hummel and Mbah a Moute that can provide both things Williams didn't give this team: outside shooting and defense at both forward slots.
It's not that Williams is a bad player and destined to be bad somewhere else; he just didn't fit the Wolves' rotation in their quest to return to the playoffs.