Welcome to Wednesday Weekly, where I go over your need-to-know water cooler talk, provide some of my favorite upcoming wagers, and have a bit of fun with things I like and dislike. If you’re not a fan of sports, gambling, politics, pop culture, or fun, then still read it anyway because I do it for the pageviews.
I apologize for dropping a Wednesday Weekly on a Thursday, but it was my birthday this weekend so deal with it.
New Look Timberwolves
On Saturday, the Timberwolves finally traded Jimmy Butler, pulling the trigger on an offer from the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite Butler being a top 15 player in the league in the middle of his prime, the Timberwolves only received 2 rotational players in Robert Covington and Dario Šarić, neither whom is likely to ever be an all-star, and a draft pick. To make the salaries work, Jarryd Bayless’s expiring contract was also included. This is pennies on the dollar for what Jimmy Butler is worth, especially considering Josh Richardson and a pick was on the table from the Miami Heat just last month.
To add insult to injury, the draft pick isn’t for the upcoming draft, and it isn’t even a 1st round pick! For context, 33% of 2nd round picks never even play a single game in the NBA! Of those that do play, more than half don’t even play a full season’s worth of games. So while a second round might land you a Draymond Green or Manu Ginobili, they’re much more likely to land you a Nick Johnson, Marcus Brown, or Jason Jones. And one of those three I just made up, but I’m guessing you don’t know which one. Exactly.
Addition by Subtraction
While the haul was less than ideal, the negative cloud in the locker room is finally gone. In the two games since trading Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns has averaged 25 points and 18.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 64%/75%/91% splits. Compare that to 19 points and 11 rebounds per game shooting 46%/41%/91% prior to Butler’s departure. Wiggins, similarly, scored a season-high 23 points, grabbed a season-high 6 rebounds, and swiped a season-high 3 steals last night alone. More importantly than his numbers, Wiggins has looked pedestrian all season, content to float around the perimeter and launch jump shots. Last night he wasn’t. Even in the broadcast Jeff Van Gundy asks “why is this an aberration? What’s stopping him from doing this [all the time]?” And he’s right. Wiggins should be doing this every night. With Butler gone, hopefully we’ll see more of the fire that has been clearly lacking over the past season.
New Players, New Fit
Robert Covington and Dario Šarić will never be as good as Jimmy Butler. But they’re both a better fit for the Timberwolves than Butler ever was. Neither needs to play on the ball to be effective as both are mainly 3-point shooters and take a much higher percentage of their shots off passes than Butler does. Both also shoot 3-pointers more often, and better, than Butler. This allows Teague, Wiggins, and Rose to initiate the offense more often (which is where they are at their best) and also gives better floor-spacing for Karl-Anthony Towns to be the focal point of the offense.
Dario Šarić has a higher ceiling between the two, and has space to grow as a scorer. He’s already a very good shooter, and has shown an ability to drive and be a playmaker at times. He’s not the best defender, but he’s strong in the post and bigger than people realize. He holds his own when defending the perimeter and is rarely out of place. It will be interesting to see what lineups he gets paired with in Minnesota to maximize his talents. (Or not, knowing Thibodeau).
I’ve long been a big fan of Robert Covington. He’s a defensive stud (NBA All-Defensive 1st Team last season) and is a solid 3-point shooter. Covington is prone to carelessness with the ball, but he’s perfect for his role as a spot-up shooter. Every team he’s played with (yes, I know he’s only played with the 76ers prior to the Timberwolves, but look at that roster from the 2014-15 season, and tell me it’s the same team he just got traded from) has been significantly better when he’s on the court vs. when he’s sitting. That doesn’t happen to bad players. Covington is a solid starter.
Speaking of players whose teams are significantly better when they’re on the court, Tyus Jones looks like he might be on the way out of the rotation along with Anthony Tolliver. Coach Tom Thibodeau rarely extends his rotation past his 9 guys. Tolliver, who has averaged over 19 minutes per game, played exactly 0 last night as Thibodeau opted to give those minutes to Šarić. It makes sense, Šarić is a young, solid player who looks to be part of the future of the Wolves, while Tolliver is an aging veteran who is only there for one year.
Unfortunately, this loss of playing time looks like it will be the case with Jones as well. Derrick Rose was out last night, so Jones played his usual backup role, but saw his minutes drop to only 11 from his season average of 19. This is likely due to the starters playing more minutes in a close game, but when Rose returns, he will continue to play over Jones as we’ve seen throughout the season. Jones is a restricted free agent at the end of this season. If he’s the player who is getting cut from the rotation, then it makes sense to search out a trade for him. Minnesota fans love Tyus, so this probably wouldn’t be a consideration, but unless Thibodeau can fill a deeper rotation (and he should – it’s not that difficult) Jones does no good gathering dust on the bench prior to leaving next summer. As much as I don’t want to see him go, this would also give Tyus a bigger role on a growing team, and he deserves it.
Top 5 of the Week
This week’s top 5 will focus on the 5 most borderline Hall of Fame players in the NBA. This will not include players like LeBron James, Steph Curry, or Anthony Davis. Those players will all definitely get in. It also won’t include bench players or non-All-Stars. Obviously. This is for the players who make me hesitate the longest when asked if they will make the Hall of Fame. Simple enough? Great.
5. Klay Thompson/Draymond Green
I lumped these two together because they have very similar arguments in my opinion. It’s unlikely that either of these two will ever be the best player on a NBA team. That’s a pretty rocky start. But they will both also likely play key roles in at least 4 championships. That evens it out. Each of them has a very specific skill that allows the Warriors to do things nobody else can. Draymond Green is arguably the most important reason small-ball in the NBA ever started. He revolutionized the way a team can play because he has the ability to guard multiple bigger positions than he plays. He also has gone 2nd, 2nd, 1st, and 6th in voting for Defensive Player of the Year over the past 4 seasons, and will likely stay near the top for the foreseeable future. Klay Thompson scored 37 points in a quarter on perfect shooting, and once scored 60 points while taking just 11 dribbles and holding the ball for just 90 seconds. You know what he can do. Overall, their counting stats (especially for Draymond) will likely not get to the thresholds most players in the Hall of Fame get to. But their excellence at their specific tasks and their sustained success will get them in à la Dennis Rodman.
4. Kevin Love
It’s wild to me how little respect Kevin Love seems to get. He was the best player on the Timberwolves and scored 23.5 points per game and grabbed 13.7 rebounds per game over a four year stretch prior to his role changing when he was traded to the Cavs, a championship team. He has a ring, and he’ll have the raw numbers to get there as long as he can stay healthy. Unfortunately, injuries have marred his career and he’ll likely be remembered as somebody who can’t win without LeBron. It hurts to say, but he’ll probably end up on the outside looking in.
3. Lamarcus Aldridge
He has a pretty similar argument to Kevin Love, except that he’s been able to sustain his success longer through the teams he’s been on, despite his heights being a bit lower than Love’s were. For example, that four year stretch I mentioned before is more points per game AND rebounds per game than Lamarcus has reached in a single season for either stat. He’s been the best player on his team for most of his career, and has put together a ridiculous 12-year stretch where he averaged at least 17 points and 7 rebounds every season. He’s been the picture of consistency, and that consistency has been at an all-star level. That being said, despite him playing excellent in playoffs, he’s never gone to a championship. That hurts, and I don’t think he’s gonna sneak in, unless he can add something special to his résumé before he finishes.
2. Derrick Rose
This is almost the complete opposite of Lamarcus Aldridge. Where Aldridge has been great for a long time, but was never a superstar, Rose shined as bright as the sun, but burnt out too quickly. He’s been in the NBA for 11 seasons, yet he’s only played 508 games (just over 6 seasons worth) due to his injuries. And of those, 229 have been played after his first major injury. Rose hasn’t been an All-Star, or even looked close to playing at his former levels since then. (And until very recently, meaning 2018, he’s actually been very bad). There are a few trends I consider when thinking about Rose: first, no NBA MVP has ever been left out of the Hall of Fame. Second, nobody with as poor of a performance over the bulk of their prime has been considered for the Hall of Fame.
This could all be rendered moot if Rose continues to play how he has been thus far this season. He’s averaging the most points on the best shooting percentage of any season since he was injured back in 2012. He’s also averaging a career-high 3-point percentage (by a whopping 14% over his previous career best!). If he can put together a few seasons of late-career success, he’ll probably make it. If he can’t, he probably won’t. As of now, I lean toward him being left out.
1. Rajon Rondo
This is my favorite player to talk about when discussing Hall of Fame qualifications. Mostly because people have very strong stances one way or the other to the point that it sounds like people are talking about different players, and in some ways, they are. I’ve heard claims that he was the leader of the 2008 Celtics when they won the championship (he wasn’t) and his performance in the playoffs tells you all you need to know (it doesn’t). I’ve also seen that he’s never scored even close to 15 points per game for a season, and the one time he averaged that during the postseason, it was only for 2 games with the Mavericks. While true, this does tell the whole story either.
I think there’s a middle ground. Rondo really is two different players. When he’s invested in his team and engaged in the game, Rondo is one of the most gifted passers this league has ever seen. He has actually earned the ‘Playoff Rondo’ moniker. That’s only been one part of Rondo though, and we don’t see it during every playoffs. He also has been a locker room cancer at times. Remember his only postseason averaging more than 15 points per game? Well, that relationship ended particularly badly with Rondo being unceremoniously thrown out of Dallas 2 games into their playoff run, with teammates electing not to give him a share of playoff earnings.
Despite his problems, I think Rondo eventually ends up getting in. He’ll be more remembered for the greatness he showed and the successes he had than for the times he quit on his team, pouted, or refused to put in any effort. Plus he’ll end up in the top 20 (and probably top 10) on the all-time assist leaderboard. That will push him in.
Overall Record: 5-2-0
NFL Record: 4-1-0
NBA Record: 1-1-0
Pittsburgh (-5.5) at Jacksonville
The Steelers are coming off a long week from the Thursday Night Game last week, where they absolutely bullied the Panthers all over the field. With Le’Veon Bell firmly out of the organization, they’re ready to focus and get fully behind James Conner. Big Ben has been playing well, but it’s been their offensive line that is absolutely dominating teams. The Jaguars have not played well, and I don’t trust them to keep up with the Steelers.
Atlanta (-3) vs. Dallas
Even after the embarrassing loss to the Browns last week, I’m going to stick with my gut and go with the Falcons. They’re just a better team than the Cowboys. A big piece of their defense is injured, but Dallas runs the most predictable offense in the league, and their offensive line hasn’t looked right. Dallas has a decent defense, but I don’t see them stopping Atlanta. The Falcons have scored less than 20 points 3 times this season (all 3 on the road, including last week). They followed up the first 2 times with home wins, scoring 31 and 34. I see a similar pattern happening this week.
Minnesota (+2.5) at Chicago
The top two teams in the NFC North (a group that doesn’t include the Packers) face off at Soldier Field on Sunday Night. But to be clear, the Vikings are better than the Bears. Despite the Bears being 6-3, they’ve only played 1 likely playoff team (a 7-point loss at home to the Patriots). The Vikings have a much better offense than the Bears, and even with his improved play, Mitch Trubisky ain’t getting it done against the Vikings pass rush.
Philadelphia (-3) vs. Utah
As you may have heard, Jimmy Butler now plays for the 76ers. They lost in Orlando in his debut, but that was his first time playing with the team and his fit with Ben Simmons looked awkward. They’ll have a couple of days for coach Brett Brown to figure out a gameplan and better incorporate Butler. Plus, in a home opener, the Wells Fargo Center will be very loud. The crowd noise plays a big role for momentum in the regular season, and despite the Jazz being close talent-wise, on Butler’s home debut, the 76ers will take the night.
Minnesota (+1.5) vs. Portland
The Trail Blazers have been great, but they have flaws, and their last 7 games were played on the West coast. Flying East on one day of rest isn’t easy. Since the Butler trade, the Timberwolves have played with a renewed sense of optimism and excitement, and they should only get better as chemistry improves. I’ll take a home dog with similar talent any day of the week.
Chicago (+14) at. Milwaukee
The Bulls still have a huge fan base throughout the country, but especially in the Midwest. This game will have a lot of Bulls fans in attendance, and it will limit the crowd’s effect. Chicago loses a lot, but their young roster is still in a lot of close games. The Bucks have been great, and will almost assuredly win, but 14 points is a lot. Give me the points for a Bulls team that should put up a fight.
Things I Like and Things I Don’t Like
NFL Schedule. It’s objectively cool to have one day a week that has all of the NFL games. RedZone is awesome, and if you don’t like it, you’re probably no fun to hang out with. 6 straight hours of NFL, with a short break before the Sunday Night game is damn near perfection.
I don’t like
Thursday Night Football. Players hate it, fans hate it, and sucks for fantasy football having to guess whether someone will play 3 days later. Can we swap an 18-game season for getting rid of Thursday Night Football? Deal. (Obviously, there’s an exception for Thanksgiving, I need all the Thanksgiving football you can give me).
NBA Schedule. There are games every single night. It literally can’t get any better than that.
I don’t like
NBA Teams’ Schedules. It’s 2018 – there shouldn’t be any back-to-back games. They recently eliminated the hated 4-in-5, and they should get rid of back-to-backs too. Or at a minimum, settle on a happy medium, where both games of every back-to-back are in the same city. Playing a game, then traveling to a new city to play another game the following night is an absurd strain to put on the most valuable assets in the sport: the players’ bodies. Fix it Adam Silver.
Respecting the Jersey Number Unwritten Rules. Timberwolves rookie Keita Bates-Diop initially took number 33, and when the Timberwolves traded for Covington, Bates-Diop (who has yet to play an NBA game) was switched to 31 so that Covington could keep 33 as his number. I’m not sure whose decision it was, but hopefully it was mutually agreed upon, and hopefully Covington, who makes $10M/year compared to just $850K/year for Bates-Diop, bought him something in return for the number. (Full disclosure – I have no idea if Bates-Diop agreed on the change or if Covington or the organization forced it through).
I don’t like
Not Respecting the Jersey Number Unwritten Rules. Cordarrelle Patterson had his moments as a Viking, but it’s completely and totally indefensible that he wore the 84 jersey. At least nobody wore Kevin Garnett’s 21 (but seriously, why is it not in the rafters?). The 84 should have been retired, and prior to it’s retirement, nobody should have been allowed to wear it. Because when you say “pull your 84 jerseys out” we all know who we’re talking about.