The mood around the Twin Cities today was a fairly dark one, after Flip Saunders and the Timberwolves traded down and selected Shabazz Muhammad at #14 in the NBA Draft. How dark? Let's go to the Star Tribune's Jim Souhan: "Muhammad makes Kris Humphries look like Magic Johnson." I don't think that's accurate, if one can figure out if Souhan actually means that comparison, or whether he's been hyperbolic in that funny and helpful way that sportswriters like to be. But we can at least agree that it wasn't meant to complimentary, yeah? (For the record, I've had an up-and-down (in a non-sexual way) relationship with Souhan)
Every local media analyst seems pretty convinced the Wolves made a huge mistake. But there's a couple of problems with that, problems that have very little to do with how good Muhammad will be as an NBA player.
The first problem is that this wasn't a great draft. Everyone said so. There wasn't a guaranteed impact player in the bunch. Nerlens Noel, the guy everyone thought was going to be Top 2 fell to #6, and Anthony Bennett, a guy most people had sliding down the board went #1. There wasn't even a consensus Top 2. That's rare.
So, in a draft like that, how upset can anyone get? How can it go from "This draft doesn't feature a ton of talent, so it's kinda anyone's guess" to "OH MY GOD THE WOLVES HAVE REALLY SCREWED UP THIS TIME". (See MPR's Newsman Bob Collins' Twitter feed to see how little I'm exaggerating that). I'm not sure when CJ McCollum magically transformed from an undersized, injury-prone two-guard to the Savior of the Franchise, but that's the player most of these guys feel like we should have gotten.
The second problem is the bigger one in my mind, especially for those of us who listen to the experts on the radio, read their columns in the newspaper (they still print those!) and assume, because they are in the media, that they have some insight that we don't. Sometimes they do - particularly the inside politicking of a franchise. KFAN host Dan Barreiro and Star Trib Wolves writer Jerry Zgoda had a quick Twitter exchange in which it was clear that both had been told that Muhammad was not going to be a member of the Wolves. They had inside dope, but it was wrong, or rather the circumstances changed to make Muhammad a reasonable pick-up (namely, getting a second first-rounder to go along with him). But when it comes to evaluating talent, when it comes to judging ability, these experts on the radio and in the newspaper aren't any better at it than the average schmo.
They are often rather brazen about it. This morning on KFAN's morning show, with Paul Allen and Paul Charchian (a veritable nexus of credulous boobery, as has been discussed previously), they were "analyzing" Shabazz Muhammad's game, and both admitted they were basing it on some limited information. How limited? Paul Allen was basing everything he was saying on the one game that UCLA played against the Gophers in the NCAA's. Charchian was going off what he saw on YouTube. FOR REAL. Without doing a lick of work, I have researched Muhammad's game more thoroughly than the guys paid to talk about it? By watching 2 UCLA games last year? Incredible. Jim Souhan's article is more of the same.
Hell, Britt Robson, a basketball writer I love to no end, basically admitted to be working off completely received knowledge, because he doesn't watch college basketball. To his credit, Robson also points out that anyone thinking this draft was the Most Important Thing ever are kinda crazy.
Sometimes, they are just outright wrong. I can't believe these sentences are still up on the St. Paul Pioneer Press website, for example. Tom Powers writes the following about Muhammad: "And it was discovered that his birth certificate was purposely falsified and that he really was a year older than everyone thought. That's a big deal when you're a teen and able to dominate younger kids."
That's just factually wrong. His birth certificate was not falsified. It was his birth certificate that lead the LA Times to conclude that Muhammad's age was incorrect in the UCLA media guide. Finding this out takes about 30 seconds of Googling, which Tom Powers just doesn't have time for, because he's too busy not doing anything resembling basic research. Why should facts be important to a member of the media? I guess budgets cuts mean that Tom Powers, who was/is/will always be a Stupid Fat Fuck is allowed to write whatever he wants. And I'm not really sure how it is that big of an advantage Muhammad got all through his years in basketball, playing against people younger and older than him throughout high school and college. Was he beating up 10 year-olds on the court when he was sixteen? Nope. Again, Tom Powers is a Stupid Fat Fuck, who could maybe get sued for getting this very, very basic fact of the story so very wrong.
So, with that said, here are more observations from a person who doesn't know that much more than you do about the Wolves picks, but probably just as much as anyone else you've listened to (aside from the crazy people who run the full time Wolves blogs like Canis Hoopus or A Wolf Among Wolves - those guys use analysis and shit. (that sounded mocking. it wasn't. I love those blogs. They make charts, and I don't know how to do that)).
#14 - Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA). Perhaps one of the more divisive picks of the entire draft, leaving aside #1 Anthony Bennett, which made Bill Simmons poop himself a little, and Noel falling down to #6. Muhammad is a bit of a conundrum. But without getting into all the stats, he is a good to great midrange shooter, and was 42% from the three-point line in his one year at UCLA. The Wolves were the worst three-point shooting team in the league, needing to get hot at the end of the year to get above 30%. For every person who says he lacks a work ethic, there's another person who will swear up and down that he works as hard as anyone. For every critic who says he's a black hole on offense, and points to his terrible assists numbers at UCLA, there's a proponent who points out that his job was to shoot, not pass. My guess is that between Ricky, KLOVE, Rick Adelman, Shabazz will get sorted out in that regard. He's great in transition, but some folks worry that his high scoring percentage in transition means he's terrible in the half-court. Not from what I've seen. On a team where he'll be coming off the bench for at least his first year, if not first two, he'll be asked to do what he does well, which is score. He needs to work on his defense, but his cause there will actually be aided by the Wolves 2nd First Round pick:
#21 - Gorgui Dieng (Louisville). He's already the press' preferred first round pick (He loves cold weather!). Quick aside - remember when people argued that David Kahn screwed up terribly by drafting Ricky Rubio, because he'd never come here, because the winters are too damn cold? No? IT HAPPENED. I like Dieng, too. Here's why I like him - I have watched a ton of Big East Basketball (oh, and I hate Louisville), and I watched Dieng transform himself from awkward tall guy who could block shots into a much more complete player. He can absolutely block shots - his timing and wingspan (Jay Bilas says,"drink!") are a great combination. But over the past couple of years, he's learned to pass well, often triggering plays on the baseline from the top of the key. He's limited offensively, but he's learned that at his height, he just needs to go up aggressively to make a difference. He reads the floor extremely well. He's just a smart player, who is still learning and willing to do so. The Wolves haven't had a great shot blocker since Kevin Garnett. Dieng will provide a defense in the paint not predicated on taking charges, and we can applaud that, as taking charges is the kind of bullshit stat that the Joe Smith's and Shane Battier's of the world got their money. And with a shot-blocker in the middle, maybe Muhammad's perimeter defense doesn't have to be spectacular right off the bat. Put them on the floor together, and let Muhammad just filter his man into the middle into the waiting, go-go-Gadget arms of Gorgui. And it should be noted I haven't seen a player who doesn't appear at least 25% better offensively just by being on the court with Ricky Rubio (see Derrick Williams). Gorgui better like alley-oops (spoiler: he does)
#52 - Lorenzo Brown (NC State). I wish I could say I was shocked that Brown was still there at #52, but there's one thing College Basketball doesn't lack, and it is athletes. The fact that Rodney Williams of Minnesota and Khalif Wyatt of Temple are both signing free agent deals speaks to that. But I have watched a lot of Lorenzo Brown, more than any talking head in the Twin Cities, and I'm here to tell you that this kid is going to be something. He's a steal here. And I think he'll contribute right away - he's a tall-ish combo guard (6' 5") who gives the Wolves some options outside of the Short Combo of Luke Ridnour and feisty but annoyingly inconsistent JJ Barea. While not crazy explosive (no one the Wolves picked will be in the Dunk Contest) he's athletic enough to finish at the basket. He's not a great shooter, but the Wolves system is probably just fine with that at the moment, considering that their plan seems to be to run a traditional point. But I really can't wait for this kid's first steal and dunk in transition. I don't think I'll have to wait long.
#59 - Bojan Dubljevic - Essentially, no one in America outside of Pro Scouts know a thing about this guy. I'll just link to DraftExpress and leave it at that.
In my mind, the Wolves got three guys who will contribute something pretty much right away. They won't be starters - this wasn't a starters kind of draft. But they got three players who are worthy of more optimism than is being sent their way currently, particularly at the local level. (notable exception: the aforementioned geeks at A Wolf Among Wolves).
It wasn't a tranformative moment, but Michael Jordan wasn't in this draft. The Wolves did just fine, in my humble opinion. And at the very least, I know more about that Tom Powers, who is still just a stupid fat fuck.