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Basketball philosophy

A Eulogy for David Kahn’s Timberwolves lotto picks

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Jonny Flynn of the Minnesota TImberwolves look...

Jonny Flynn of the Minnesota TImberwolves looking to make an entry pass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

News broke this morning that Flip Saunders will replace David Kahn as GM of the Timberwolves. David Kahn did a fine job collecting assets and using the cap, he just failed miserably in the draft. And on a small market team that outweighs everything else.

Here’s my talent breakdown of Kahn’s draft picks and what went wrong, using these rubrics in physical impact, skill impact and feel for the game categories:

11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Above average, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Below average, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

Here are what the overall grades mean:

25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent

2009:

Ricky Rubio – 5th overall pick

Talent grades:

Physical impact talent grade: 5 / Average

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 7 / Above average

Feel for the Game talent grade: 11 / Transcendent

Total talent grade: 23 (Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent grade)

Analysis: Kahn’s successful draft pick. Rubio’s strength is his feel for the game where he’s arguably a generational caliber freak for his position, with impossible to teach ahead of the game instincts. In physical impact, he has decent speed and strong ballhandling which should help him attack the basket and length defensively albeit he is not a blazing athlete and struggles to finish in the paint right now. Grading him in skill impact is difficult for me because there are very few players who are elite passers but struggle to shoot, to compare the value of that combination of skills to. Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo are two recent players who show a passing-orientated skill game can have strong value. Rubio is also showing signs of a spot up jumpshot eventually clicking. It is enough for me to give him an above average grade in the skill impact category overall. As a whole Rubio’s electric feel for the game, size, length, decent speed and ballhandling and his combination of passing and spot-up shooting upside, make him a clear blue chip talent if not star.

Jonny Flynn – 6th overall pick

Talent grades:

Physical impact talent grade: 6 / Decent

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 2 / Very poor

Feel for the Game talent grade: 3 / Below average

Total talent grade: 11 (Deep bench player talent grade)

Analysis: Jonny Flynn is a strong athlete and ballhandler, albeit his lack of size hurt his finishing at the basket, diminishing how strong his talent to physically impact the game was. However the bigger problem is Flynn’s pound for pound game. During his brief run in the NBA his 3pt shooting was very poor for an NBA PG, the most skilled position in the league. Nor did he impress as a passer or true PG. In addition to this, Flynn did not have a natural feel for the game and often drove to the rim out of control, without the ability to sense his teammates around him or adjust fluidly. The combination of skill impact and feel for the game was low for Flynn. What really drove Flynn out of the league however, is when Flynn’s hip surgery hurt his ability to drive to the basket as recklessly with his undersized body, which lowered his physical impact.

David Kahn, why u do dis? Flynn was one of the big stars of his college year including the Syracuse 6 overtime game getting him a lot of publicity. In college Flynn dominated the competition physically by attacking the rim and finishing at will. In the bigger, more athletic NBA he couldn’t rely on his physical tools alone to be an impact player. This look like a case of Kahn taking a PG who produced in college and assuming his youth and athleticism made him a good bet to translate, while ignoring the holes he had in his talent level.

2010:

Wes Johnson – 4th overall pick

Physical impact talent grade: 3 / Below average

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade: 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 16 (Rotation player talent grade)

Analysis: Although he is a strong athlete, Johnson struggles to physically impact the game on the offensive largely due to a lack of ballhandling. As a result he is a perimeter orientated jumpshooter, rather than someone who can slash and score points at the basket. His length and athleticism does give him the talent to physically impact the game defensively. Wes Johnson has been a mediocre 3 point shooter in the NBA so far in his career, with a lack of ability to create his own jumpshot. Due to the relative lack of 3 point shooting SFs, I would call Wes’ skill impact average. Wes’ biggest strength is an above average feel for the game and fluidity, with when added to his length, makes him a high upside defender. Wes started to show signs of life with the Suns this season and if he can continue to improve his 3 point shooting and defense, likely has a future in the NBA as a useful role player that Minnesota gave up on too early. Wes’ situation reminds me a lot of former Minnesota lottery pick Corey Brewer, who has used an improved 3pt shooting stroke and defensive length to carve out a role in the NBA.

David Kahn, why u do dis? I see the Wes mistake as coming down to to things. One, the value of his physical tools were overrated because he lacked the ballhandling to slash and take advantage of his athleticism. Wes had indeed been projected as a jumpshooter and not a slasher from the beginning, but connecting this to a lack of physical impact was not made by pundits at the time. Secondly, Wes had played a Shawn Marion/Richard Jefferson like role at Syracuse as a strong transition defender and finisher. I do not believe transition play is a strong bet to translate from NCAA to NBA, where there are less specialty up-tempo systems and the league is too athletic for players to just outrun their peers. But the biggest reason the Wes evaluation failed in my opinion, is assuming he was a sharpshooting 3pt player in the making. Although Wes shot 41.5% from 3 his final year at Syracuse, it came on a small sample size of 123 attempts, if he made 10 3s less over the course of the year he’d have averaged 33.3%. Furthermore Wes had only shot 29.4% and 33.3% from 3 his first two years in college and his FT% was in the 75-78% range all 3 seasons, an average number. If Wes had actually been the 40%+ sharpshooting 3pt SF he’d been projected as coming out of college, I believe he’d have been the player most expected him to, not a star, but a high end role player as a 3pt shooter and spacer, with strong defense due to his length and feel.

2011:

Derrick Williams – 2nd overall

Talent grades:

Physical impact talent grade: 5 / Average

Skill impact talent grade: 8 / Great

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Above average

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Analysis: Williams is a nice all around talent at PF. Physically while he is undersized for his position, he does have solid explosiveness and strength, allowing him to attack the basket off the dribble at a respectable level. Defensively his size leads him to likely struggle. Williams however is a skilled power forward, with long shooting range out to the NBA 3pt line, albeit he’s not a sharpshooter from there yet. His shooting game gives him unique skill impact talent. Finally, he is also a relatively fluid and feel for the game friendly player. Although he’s not dominant anywhere, the combination of skills, feel and respectable athleticism, should make him a long term starting power forward in the NBA. David Kahn’s mistake was believing Williams could play small forward in the NBA, or that Williams had separated himself in talent from other prospects enough that he had to take Williams, despite how poorly he fit with Love.

David Kahn, why u do dis? Derrick Williams is another player who shot an exceptional 56.8% from 3 his final year in college, but that he shot 25.0% his first year from 3 and 68.1% and 74.6% from FT line in his 2 years, made him a less trustworthy shooter. Furthermore it takes high end mobility and ballhandling skill to typically playing the 3. Williams himself also believed he’s a SF, which delayed his development until he learned the hard way what he is. As for Williams separating himself as the “consensus” #2 pick, his college production in part elevating by hot shooting, created a hype situation. The move for the Timberwolves was probably trading down for a prospect or veteran who fit building around Kevin Love more. I don’t believe Kahn got fired for the Williams pick, but after the Flynn and Johnson disasters he needed to nail the pick to make up for his draft record and he didn’t.

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Written by jr.

April 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm

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