The 2017 first-round picks owed, ranked by drama

The NBA season is almost here. Several teams made major tweaks to their rosters over the summer, which makes it feel like there are more teams with playoff hopes in 2016-17. Eventually, though, the playoff race will narrow and be joined by the tankathon and additional excitement thanks to draft picks traded years ago. Going into the 2016-17 season, there are six first-round picks that could change hands, and I ranked them in terms of drama they could generate. That seemed a little goofy, but it made sense after writing this up. The draft pick Golden State owes to Utah, for example, will be as unexciting as it gets, which kicked off the #rankings. A number of sites go into detail about draft picks up in the air because of trades, but I prefer RealGM.

6. Golden State Warriors to Utah Jazz, unprotected

This was part of the July 10, 2013 trade that sent Andre Iguodala from the Denver Nuggets to the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors dumped a lot of salary (most notably Andris Biedrins’ contract and his Magic Beans) and multiple draft picks as the price to open up the necessary cap space to fit in Iguodala.

Since then, Iguodala’s been wonderful. The Warriors have been wonderful. It could’ve gone south whether from Stephen Curry‘s ankles, David Lee preferred over Draymond Green, Green not developing into a freakishy well-rounded player, a possible Kevin Love trade that goes horribly wrong, Mark Jackson, or whatever. Everything’s nice in Golden State, and it turns out that this will very likely be the 30th pick in next summer’s draft. There’s little to sweat over.

Maybe it’s a trade piece for Utah for something huge in the summer, but it’s also cheap enough to keep for what will become an expensive roster soon. Regardless, it feels like Utah’s approaching the one-player-away territory and finding that piece is never easy, but at least they have outs through the draft. Long shots, but still.

5. Los Angeles Clippers to Toronto Raptors, lottery protected

There were two poor trades that involved this pick. In the summer of 2014, Milwaukee initially received it from the Los Angeles Clippers to get Jared Dudley off Roc Divers’ books. A year later, Toronto got this draft pick from Milwaukee (and Norman Powell) in exchange for Greivis Vasquez.

The Clippers could fall off this year, making this a little dramatic by turning a late-20s pick into, well, an early-20s one. Not great, but hey, a good team like Toronto with multiple first-rounders is cool. They have opportunities for sustained success even after Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are past their peaks. Wild cards lurk on their roster in Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, and Jonas Valanciunas, but it would obviously help if they nail next summer’s picks or use them in a nice trade, whatever that would be.

4. Memphis Grizzlies to Denver Nuggets, top-5 protected

The hidden treasure of a January 2013 trade between the Cavaliers and Grizzlies that involved four future Hall of Famers: Jon Leuer, Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, and Josh Selby. The Cavaliers eventually added this pick in a trade to acquire Timofey Mozgov.

This trade probably played a part in Memphis paying huge sums of money to keep Mike Conley and acquire Chandler Parsons. It’s just really hard to tear down a roster in one season and guarantee a top-five pick. Finish the season outside of the worst four records, and it’s a coin flip at best whether top-five protection works its magic. Memphis also owes a top-8 protected 2019 pick to Boston, because of course, Boston. Because of these draft obligations, the Grizzlies didn’t have much of a choice in which direction to go this summer.

For Denver, there’s still some drama here. Memphis could very well win over 50 games and put this pick in the mid-20s, but they could just as likely be a late-lottery team. Conley, Parsons, and Marc Gasol are injury risks thanks to all those body parts in the legs that need to be banned. Even at full health, the wing depth is shaky.

Overall, though, Denver will get few to no lottery balls out of this, but every additional draft pick helps on the rebuilding path.

3. Sacramento Kings to Chicago Bulls, top-10 protected, or to Philadelphia via swap rights

This draft pick changed hands starting at the 2011 Draft, attached with Omri Casspi to Cleveland for J.J. Hickson. Sacramento eventually acquired Casspi through free agency, and this pick has fallen in its protected range every single season. Over time, this draft pick changed hands again, as it was a trade piece to Chicago to acquire Luol Deng.

I flip-flopped between this pick and Memphis’ being third, but this got the nod because it could go down to the last few weeks and would be an amazing hold if it doesn’t convey next summer. Six seasons of Sacramento keeping their pick is possible, instead handing over a 2017 early second-round pick. It’s so hard to be bad for that long. Very, very Timberwolves-like to attach a first-rounder to a dumb trade and then hang onto it for a half-decade. After the Deng trade, which happened in January 2014, I wrote that it was a coin flip whether the Bulls would ever get to use this first-rounder. I mean, really, a coin flip if a top-10 protected pick would convey over the next four seasons. Any other team would be a near lock.

Chicago’s going to need that pick, though. They have nearly $70 million committed this season to players 27 or older. Sooner or later, a rebuild will probably have to happen, and using their pick with an additional one in the ~11 to 16 range would help. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bulls and Kings with identical records by March, but Chicago making sure they have a worse record by the end of the season. The Kings are going to finish 10th? Nah, the Bulls are getting there and putting Sacramento at 11.

Chicago and Denver could own four of the five picks between 10 and 14, by the way. Fun times.

2. Brooklyn Nets to Boston, swap rights

Brooklyn could’ve made the 2014 Finals after shipping a ton of draft picks (and dead salary, by the way) for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry. Maybe they were something along the lines of a solid, deep squad like the 1999-00 Blazers, but a bit older. It flamed out almost instantly. Brooklyn eventually found success going “small” in one of the craziest differences in performance from pre-January 1st to after, but it was too late to get very far with it.

That feels like forever ago. Now, the Nets are torn down and Boston’s reaping the benefits, now in the good-team-with-a-high-draft-pick scenario that’s been pretty rare until now. They have too many draft picks to know what to do, so maybe this is when they unload a few for a player who could make a defense that could be the best in the league even stingier. Or, because of Golden State, they play the long game of drafting moar prospects. Either way, it’s hard to go wrong here with Brooklyn in the early stages of rebuilding. They’re on the right track, but Boston’s still headed for a top five pick and possibly another in 2018.

1. Los Angeles Lakers to Philadelphia 76ers, top-3 protected

This obligation finished first because of the pick protection that Lakers and Sixers fans will sweat over all season. Boston’s getting Brooklyn’s pick, but we won’t know until the lottery results whether the Sixers get Los Angeles’. It’s the last piece of the trade with the Phoenix Suns that brought Steve Nash to Los Angeles, then was attached in a trade that brought, among other players, Brandon Knight to Phoenix, Michael Carter-Williams from Philadelphia to Milwaukee, and that draft pick to the Sixers.

And the pick has refused to convey. This will be the second-straight season of top-three protection (it was top-five protected in 2015). Even the worst team in the NBA has a 36 percent chance of finishing fourth in the draft lottery. The Lakers held on last year despite Philadelphia clearly being the worst team last season, giving Los Angeles a 44 percent chance of losing their pick but winding up with Brandon Ingram. The Lakers would’ve no longer been favored to keep their pick if they were third-worst, a 47/53 percent coin flip, but the lottery played out exactly where teams were slotted, so the protection would’ve held up anyway.

The Lakers should be terrible yet again, especially if Deng doesn’t play at power forward, but they will be without Kobe Bryants chucking and Byron Scott’s, well, everything. They will be less frustratingly terrible, though because of the pick protection there’s always a decent chance they hand over their draft pick to Philadelphia, giving the Sixers possibly two top-five picks in what should be a solid draft.

Another layer of drama is if the Lakers lose this year’s draft pick, they’ll have to give Orlando an unprotected 2019 first-rounder as part of the Dwight Howard trade. Both teams need that pick. Neither has been the same since that trade.

There could be a few more draft picks added to the list before the trade deadline, though Cleveland, Miami, Minnesota, and Oklahoma City are unable to trade theirs because of their 2018 firsts going elsewhere.

Stabs at Westgate SuperBook’s 2016-17 Over/Unders

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook released their over-under lines for win totals for all NBA teams recently, which means it’s time for predictions. I finished the 2015 season 17-13, which I still maintain meant that I was better than 17 out of every 30 NBA players back then. 2016 was a year of rebuilding, finishing 11-19. Being better than only 11 out of every 30 players was unacceptable.

It’s time to bounce back in 2017.

One problem, though. I honestly have no idea where most teams will finish. It seems very top heavy with Golden State and Cleveland set for a third straight meeting in the NBA Finals, though San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers loom, and maybe Toronto and Boston can make things interesting by grabbing home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Everything after that is so murky, though, so to help with predictions I created a win projection model. The model takes into account various statistics that may or may not be important. Results are private, but many of the statistics used were cited for why I took the over or under for each team, which you can find below.

Atlanta Hawks (2015-16 record: 48-34, 2016-17 over/under: 43.5)

No surprise they didn’t win 60 games like in 2015. Part of that was because it’s possible they simply overachieved two years ago, but also because they made the most substitutions in the league last year (2,527). The model read that as fear and over-analyzing. It expects the Hawks to get worse, but still over 43 wins.


Boston Celtics (48-34, 51.5)

They had the lowest shot clock violation total in the league last season (20), which is all on Brad Stevens. What a genius. My model loves him.


Brooklyn Nets (21-61, 20.5)

Abbreviated as ‘BRK’ on some sites, ‘BKN’ on others. The model penalized the Nets for this stupid problem when analyzing play-by-play data, and projects another bad season in Brooklyn.


Charlotte Hornets (48-34, 39.5)

They will struggle with jump balls thanks to Roy Hibbert (32-59 last season) and Cody Zeller (20-47), but that didn’t stop the Hornets last season.


Chicago Bulls (42-40, 38.5)

The model likes their strong net attendance (home attendance – road attendance), but that hasn’t helped in recent seasons. Will it change thanks to a backcourt of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler? The model says yes, but I’m overriding it. My eyes say no.


Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25, 56.5)

Lowest strength of schedule last season (-0.55, via Basketball-Reference), which clearly means the Cavs will have a setback during the 2016-17 season.


Dallas Mavericks (42-40, 39.5)

Averaged the most minutes per game in 2016 at 48.8, which clearly meant they were run into the ground. Trading for Andrew Bogut was a questionable move.


Denver Nuggets (33-49, 34.5)

Just seven shot clock violations in 4th quarters and overtimes, tied for the lowest in the league, which the model loved. They are basically the Boston Celtics of the West.


Detroit Pistons (44-38, 45.5)

Stan Van Gundy has the Pistons headed in the right direction. One obvious reason was leading the league in most attempted end-of-quarter heaves (30). They also had the most team rebounds with 832. Domination.


Golden State Warriors (73-9, 66.5)

Lost a lot of jump ball skills in Andrew Bogut (44-30) and Festus Ezeli (9-9), but the model despised Harrison Barnes just because, and liked Kevin Durant strictly for his foul-drawing (4.5 team fouls drawn per 36 minutes last season).


Houston Rockets (41-41, 41.5)

2,020 substitutions last year. Dope. The model likes fancy numbers and gave Houston a few extra wins as a result.


Indiana Pacers (45-37, 43.5)

Called over 500 timeouts last year, which the model read as fear.


Los Angeles Clippers (53-29, 53.5)

Most technical fouls per game, but also the highest shot distance at 14.2 feet, which the model interpreted as more heaves in 2016-17.


Los Angeles Lakers (17-65, 24.5)

Toughest strength of schedule last season (0.64), which the model doesn’t expect to change anytime soon. Wonder why?


Memphis Grizzlies (42-40, 43.5)

They forced the most defensive three second violations last season (0.585 per game, via NBAminer), a clear sign of an offense that should be elite with a healthy roster.


Miami Heat (48-34, 36.5)

31 goaltending violations last season, tied for third worst. Hard to see Miami being a top five defense if that continues.


Milwaukee Bucks (33-49, 37.5)

Most defensive three second violations (0.451 per game). No wonder they had a terrible defense last season.


Minnesota Timberwolves (29-53, 41.5)

If the Wolves are going to have any chance at making the playoffs, it will come down to Karl-Anthony Towns‘ improvement in jump balls (45-64 during rookie campaign). Maybe Thibs will set him straight.


New Orleans Pelicans (30-52, 36.5)

Most kicked ball violations (72), and then New Orleans drafted a 22-year-old whose only hope at competent defense is kicking balls out of bounds.


New York Knicks (32-50, 38.5)

Going to ignore the model and roll with blog momentum.


Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27, 45.5)

Lowest shot distance allowed at 11.7 feet, which meant they prevented heaves, which means a top 10 defense even without Kevin Durant.


Orlando Magic (35-47, 36.5)

So much jump ball potential with Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka, and Bismack Biyombo. A lineup of all three, with the live jump balls they could force, is why the model projects Orlando as an elite defense.


Philadelphia 76ers (10-72, 27.5)

Highest free throw percentage allowed last season (78.6 percent), which is hard to turn around in just one season.


Phoenix Suns (23-59, 26.5)

Same problem as Brooklyn. Phoenix is sometimes ‘PHO’ and other times ‘PHX’ on websites. Unnecessary issue that’s held the team back for decades.


Portland Trail Blazers (44-38, 46.5)

Lowest Adjusted Distance Traveled: (Distance traveled on offense) – (Traveling violations * 10) at 713.9. Pathetic.


Sacramento Kings (33-49, 32.5)

The model projects Sacramento to win over 60 games because of how much penalty time DeMarcus Cousins generates for their offense (second-highest last season). At the least, they’ll have a decent offense again.


San Antonio Spurs (67-15, 56.5)

Losing Tim Duncan hurts, but not that much. Nobody talked about how he was a jump ball hog.


Toronto Raptors (56-26, 49.5)

Most shot clock violations (71), which means Toronto could slip a bit this season, but stay in the 50s.


Utah Jazz (40-42, 47.5)

They fouled a ton while defending in the penalty, 5.1 more fouls in the penalty per 48 minutes compared when not in the penalty, which is a wordy way to say the timing of their fouls were really bad. That will keep them from winning 60 games.


Washington Wizards (41-41, 42.5)

Second-most and-1s last season with 141, but the model worries about the jump ball chemistry between Marcin Gortat (84 jump balls) and Ian Mahinmi (82).


My model projects these predictions to go undefeated.

Michael Olowokandi never attempted a three-pointer, which was weird

The three-point line has been a part of the NBA for 37 seasons. Since its introduction, 2,773 players and logged at least one minute in the NBA and 1,120 tallied at least 5,000 minutes.

Only seven of those players did not attempt a three-pointer, difficult to accomplish given that last-second heaves count as legit field goal attempts even if a miss flies several rows into the bleachers. Shaquille O’Neal went 1-for-22 from three over his career. The amazing Manute Bol attempted a few of them from 1986 to 1988 before going 20-for-91 in 1989. Bismack Biyombo, stone hands and all, hoisted one last season.

Michael Olowokandi played 13,129 minutes, technically the second-highest total among all players whose careers started after the 1978-79 season and finished without a single shot from beyond the arc. James Donaldson nearly doubles Olowokandi’s minute total at 26,222 without a three-point attempt, but his career lasted from 1981 to 1995, his last season when NBA teams finally surpassed 10 attempted threes per game in part because the league shortened the distance of the above the break three-point shots from 23 feet and nine inches to 22 feet. The league was slow in their transition to today’s pace-and-space era, but it was even slower to get teams comfortable with, like, shooting a three-pointer once in a while.

Below is a look at Donaldson, Olowokandi, the other five players with no attempted three in over 5,000 minutes, and a variety of stats to help get a feel for the typical skill set involved (click to enlarge):


These players are typically low-usage players who score around the rim, possibly a good chunk of those opportunities from their own offensive rebounds given their above-average offensive rebounding (five percent is about average) and below-average assist percentages (12 percent is about average given AST/FGM/5). They also make up for their lack of spacing on offense with their rim protection on defense.

Nikola Pekovic is an exception, a career that is or nearly is done at this point, but at his best he was an absolute load to handle in the post and a wonderful compliment on offense to Kevin Love’s shooting. The tradeoff was his defense because of his flat feet and lumberjack body, but he made up for it somewhat by not fouling.

By multiple measures, Olowokandi was the worst player of the seven, the largest liability on offense by Offensive Box Plus/Minus (OBPM) and racking up not just the worst Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) of the bunch, but the worst VORP dating back to 1974. He was a very fitting center to play with prime Kevin Garnett , who I wrote about yesterday.

Going forward, both Joel Anthony and Pekovic won’t add on too much to their minute totals, if at all. Below is a look at other high minute totals from active players who have yet to an attempt a three, or heave:


All of the players below Anthony and Pekovic seem to have multiple seasons ahead of them, allowing them to surpass those top two players. Boban Marjanovic, a backup center with over 6,000 minutes to go, probably won’t get there, though.

The player I would most watch out for is Hassan Whiteside, 27 years old and a lock for major minutes next season, but also a player obviously conscious of his statistics. Sure, that means he’ll have plenty of opportunities to get a defensive rebound in the final seconds of a quarter, but taking a slight hit to his field goal percentage to attempt a full-court heave doesn’t seem like something he would do.

An Andrew Bynum-like three is a different story, however:

For now, Olowokandi’s minute total without a casual three or half-court heave looks untouchable, and then there’s James Donaldson’s 26,000+ minutes. Whiteside would have to play five, maybe four full seasons to reach Olowokandi, but he would need over 10 to reach Donaldson. By that time, the NBA will have a four-pointer, probably.

This record might be unbreakable until a rule change allows for only tallying half-court heaves that are made.

All stats are from Basketball-Reference. I love you.

When Did Kevin Garnett Play Center For Minnesota?

I’m going to note right away that I loved Jonathan Tjarks’ article published two days ago about Kevin Garnett. Once in a while, I tweet that Chris Webber’s best years came in the early-2000s, the most boring era possible for a player like him. It’s a shame, but Garnett is another player who would’ve been even better had his career started 10 years later. Tjarks’ article (you can follow him on Twitter here) covers Garnett and his versatile skill set, a seven-footer who could guard every position and thanks to his shooting, handles, speed, and passing, he could use up offensive possessions from any position if his team was decimated at one.

Unfortunately, the prime of Garnett’s career was often spent playing alongside disappointing centers such as Rasho Nesterovic, Michael Olowokandi, or Mark Blount. This also happened in Boston as he started with a solid, pre-injury Kendrick Perkins but also the final days of Rasheed Wallace and Shaquille O’Neal. The Celtics’ core was strong enough and the NBA was slow enough with their transition to the pace-and-space era that it was fine. Damning because Garnett never played with a Lamar Odom-type player like Tjarks noted, but it was fine.

Garnett’s positional versatility after his first stint in Minnesota narrowed. It’s debatable, but by the time he came back to Minnesota he was (or still is?) playing like a full-time center. In his first 12 seasons, he played small forward through center, though the ranking in memories of each probably goes:

  1. Power Forward: Where he mostly played from 2004 to 2007 with a space-eating big.
  2. Small Forward: Paired with Tom Gugliotta and a space-eating big from 1996 to 1998, then with Joe Smith and a space-eating big from 1999 to 2003.
  3. Point Guard: Because of the 2003-04 playoffs when Minnesota held on for dear life as the backcourt dropped like flies.
  4. Center: This happened in moments spread out across all 12 seasons, but still happened nonetheless.

In this post, I listed some notable times when Garnett played at center during his youth and prime. It isn’t meant to #WellActually Tjarks. I’m all for any column that goes over how Garnett’s career, while amazing, should’ve been so much more enjoyable for so many reasons. I also appreciate any column that helps remember his peak since it’s been so long since it happened. Garnett’s been in the league since 1995. His prime happened when over 10 years ago. In one game during his rookie season, he played against Magic Johnson.

This post was just out of curiosity, a long time in the making, but Tjarks reminded me to get that done while it’s still the off-season. The moments with Garnett at center were fascinating upon discovering them because it had been so long since they happened. For other fans of Garnett’s career, maybe this will refresh their memories, too.

All lineup statistics were from I love you (or them, or it) but this also went against your (or their, or its) positional estimates that don’t make a ton of sense for several players. All I’ve heard is that there’s a preference to height when determining positions. Garnett played 99 percent of his minutes at power forward last season, according to those estimates, but that doesn’t seem true when watching who he’s guarding and his overall skill set.

The 1998 Playoffs (available on YouTube

I noted earlier that at Garnett’s best, he could play any position if his team was decimated at one. This is remembered best in the 2003-04 postseason, when the Wolves’ point guards turned to dust as they were eliminated in the Conference Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The first-round series of the 1997-98 playoffs against the Seattle SuperSonics was another example, this one being the postseason Garnett played primarily center. The Wolves were without Tom Gugliotta, Dean Garrett, Cherokee Parks, and Stanley Roberts. Tom Hammonds was the only other option left, and during that season Minnesota went as far to keep Garnett from guarding centers as to start Hammonds and Roberts alongside him. Against Seattle, Flip Saunders instead rolled a starting lineup of Garnett-Sam Mitchell-Anthony Peeler-Terry Porter-Stephon Marbury

The results were unfamiliar with even today’s Wolves. During the 1997-98 season, they took 12.8 percent of their field goal attempts from three-point range, but that jumped to 24.6 in the five games against Seattle. The 2015-16 Wolves finished the season with a three-point rate of 20.2 percent. Sam Mitchell, the coach of last season’s squad, recorded 43 three-point attempts in 81 games during the 1997-98 season. In the five playoff games, he attempted 14.

Most shooters for Minnesota saw increases in their shots from beyond the arc.


Possibly because of injuries, possibly because the SuperSonics were one of the stretchiest teams in the regular season with shooting bigs like Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins, the Wolves rolled with only a seven-player rotation. They also routinely doubled off the strong side shooter and gave up open threes, though that may have been because of the illegal defense rules. Double-teaming was pretty straight-forward. Going to double-team, then stopping halfway to run back to a defender might result in an illegal defense technical. Simply put, defenses these days are far more advanced. Also, Stephon Marbury looked out of control 99 percent of the time. It was maddening to watch him.

Minnesota held a 2-1 lead over Seattle at one point, but lost narrowly in Game 4 at home and lost by 13 at Seattle. 1997 probably would’ve been a similar result with small ball lineups , but it would’ve at least been interesting to watch them against Houston a year earlier, a roster of players in their mid-30s.

Unfortunately, lineups that small rarely appeared again.

1999 and 2000: The occasional frontline with just Kevin Garnett and Joe Smith

With the acquisition of Joe Smith, Minnesota routinely started both he and Garnett, but also Garrett or Rasho Nesterovic.

Doing some quick math of available minutes at the center position in each season, most of 1999’s went to Garrett, Tom Hammonds, Bill Curley, and a few bigs with tiny minute totals, leaving little room for Garnett to be placed there unless the Wolves somehow rolled with a Garrett/Hammonds combo or whatever.

2000 was a little different. With 3,936 available minutes at center over 82 games, Rasho Nesterovic, Dean Garrett, and Tom Hammonds took up only 2,699, leaving plenty of room for Garnett and Smith, the latter who came off the bench, to take up minutes there.

Basically, this comes down to when it’s just Smith and Garnett on the floor as the bigs, who would you peg as the center? Garnett has the height, but also the versatility.

2001 (0/45/55 SF/PF/C position percentages, via Basketball-Reference’s estimates) 

Not a fun year for Minnesota for multiple reasons, but in this post we’ll note that they lost Joe Smith and three first-round picks thanks to the procedure of his free agent deal. At this point, Nesterovic, Garrett, and Reggie Slater were the Wolves’ centers alongside Garnett with Wally Szczerbiak playing small forward.

Depending on where you position LaPhonso Ellis, the second-most common lineup from the Wolves in 2001 featured Ellis and Garnett together and the fourth-most common lineup had them with both Chauncey Billups and Terrell Brandonand Szczerbiak. Unfortunately, that lineup had a net rating of -11.8 points per 100 possessions, but the Garnett-Ellis combo played 1284 minutes with a net rating of +2.6.

Looking back, a Brandon/Billups/Szczerbiak/Garnett combo could’ve done some damage, but Brandon’s injuries ended his career during the 2001-02 season.

Definitely not 2002 to 2004 (2/84/14, 6/81/13, 0/95/5)

With Joe Smith back, the 2002 Wolves played the three-man combo of Garnett/Smith/Nesterovic a little over 1,000 minutes, but with great success at +12.6 points per 100 possessions. A lineup with Billups and Szczerbiak at the backcourt gave them good size at each position, and Minnesota placed second in defensive rebounding percentage and sixth in offensive rebounding percentage. Gary Trent also played a few minutes alongside Smith and Garnett, but with break-even success.

In 2003, the Garnett/Smith/Nesterovic trio logged only 446 minutes, but Smith had missed a lot of action this season. A lineup replacing Smith with Trent logged 480 minutes. Both were small net positives. There were actually 11 games where Garnett started with Nesterovic and Loren Woods.

Despite those awkward lineups and a horrific three-point rate, Minnesota was in the top five in offensive efficiency both seasons. They even had the Lakers on the ropes in 2003, but ultimately fell in the first round in both playoff appearances.

2004 was Minnesota’s breakout season, and they had plenty of bigs in case they went up against Shaquille O’Neal again. Mark Madsen, Gary Trent, Ervin Johnson, Michael Olowokandi, and Oliver Miller combined for over 4,600 minutes. It is almost sad that the Wolves didn’t find a single big who traded considerable beef for floor spacing. A team like the Dallas Mavericks, who were terrible defensively but gave Dirk Nowitzki minutes at center, would’ve been a fascinating matchup for Minnesota, or even the Los Angeles Lakers with their shooting. The Mavericks torched the Timberwolves with it a couple seasons earlier.

The 2004 Wolves crushed a lot of teams despite frontcourt combos like Madsen/Trent, which was -10 points per 100 possessions over 218 minutes. Five of their seven most frequent lineups, all with a stiff at center to go with Garnett, Sam Cassell, and Latrell Sprewell, had a net rating of +10 to +20 points per 100 possessions.

The small ball lineups from the 1998 playoffs could’ve came back, though. A healthy 2004 Wolves squad had enough depth to deploy a Garnett/Szczerbiak/Sprewell/Cassell combo with a choice of Trenton Hassell for defense or Fred Hoiberg for shooting.

2005? (0/54/46)

The main thing to note from 2005 was Garnett with Eddie Griffin. Only 22 when he arrived in Minnesota, a healthy Griffin could’ve been a great long-term fit with Garnett. Griffin shot the three with break-even success, 4.9 attempts per 36 minutes on 33 percent, and averaged 2.8 blocks and just 1.3 turnovers per 36. The duo was +8.8 points per 100 possessions while the best lineups over 50 minutes featured them and at least one of Sprewell/Szczerbiak. The Garnett-Griffin-Spree-Wally-Cassell lineup was +27 points per 100 possessions, but only over 123 minutes.

There were also a few lineups with Garnett as the lone big and either Hassell or Szczerbiak playing as the power forward that yielded success over small samples. The small ball lineups finally came back.

2006 and 2007, if only (0/83/17, 0/71/29)

The dark ages, but the best lineups of 2006 featured Garnett as the center and Hassell or Justin Reed at power forward. However, the minute totals for each are between 30 and 60. In 2007, Garnett played most, if not all of his minutes with Mark Blount, Craig Smith, or Madsen. Sigh.

Though entering the slight downtick of his career at this point, Garnett at center during 2006 and 2007 could’ve been the best choice of attack. The Wolves were never going to be completely terrible with Garnett on the floor, but there was finally risk to pair him with a flawed center. The draft picks lost from the Joe Smith deal and the blown draft picks they kept caught up to them. They also lost the offense they typically got at point guard. There was no more Stephon Marbury, Terrell Brandon, Chauncey Billups, or Sam Cassell. There was only Marko Jaric, Marcus Banks, and Mike James.

Minnesota struggled on the boards despite their size. Going smaller may have forced a few more turnovers and led to jacking a couple more threes on offense. Still, Garnett carried these teams to near-.500 records going into February of each season. Eventually, they would fade, and sometimes they obviously tanked. With Garnett at center, maybe it would’ve only worsened their lottery odds, but it would’ve been more enjoyable to watch.

In Garnett’s second time around with Minnesota, he’s debatably played center with the starting lineup and would likely to do the same if he came back for the 2016-17 season. Garnett playing with Tyus Jones would be mindblowing, though.

Other Wolvesy notes from Garnett’s peak

  • The Gary Payton for Terrell Brandon, Wally Szczerbiak, and Rasho Nesterovic trade rumor in 2001. Minnesota’s depth, factoring in the effects of the Joe Smith deal, would’ve been cooked with that trade, but the defensive potential of Garnett and Payton before the latter aged would’ve been something. Especially if Garnett played center.
  • Speaking of defensive potential, switch Garnett and Tim Duncan with their teams and you get Garnett with an aging David Robinson, but the All-Defensive seasons from Bruce Bowen.

Other PFs playing SF or C during Garnett’s peak

  • It wasn’t just Garnett who started his career at small forward. During his rookie season, Duncan routinely started alongside both David Robinson and Will Perdue. Meanwhile with the Washington Bullets, one of Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, and, in 1996, Rasheed Wallace started at small forward alongside bigs like Gheorge Muresan, Terry Davis, and a young Ben Wallace.
  • Webber did not like playing center at Golden State, which might’ve been a lesson for teams with other franchise-changing bigs. It’s also worth noting that while Webber had some amazing years in Sacramento, he couldn’t stay healthy. Rick Adelman routinely played a young, frosted-tips Hedo Turkoglu in his place.
  • One example of power forwards playing one position up was in 1998 when Antonio McDyess played center for his one season in Phoenix. The Suns won 56 games that season but the statistics do not exactly match what you’d expect with McDyess at center with Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson, Rex Chapman, and a stretchy power forward in Clifford Robinson. They were 10th in pace, 12th in offensive efficiency, and sixth in defensive efficiency.
  • As for McDyess, he averaged 6.7 attempts around the rim per 36 minutes, the highest of his career according to available data going back to 1998 on He made 69% of his attempts, one of his highest, nicest marks.
  • In 2004, Dirk Nowitzki logged time at center for the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas ended up having the most efficient offense ever, relative to league averages, but their defense fell off a cliff, from ninth in 2003 to 26th. It wasn’t just Nowitzki’s fault. Most of the roster was heavy on scoring and light on perimeter defense or rim protection. The following off-season was an overhaul, most notably losing Steve Nash, but the Mavericks bounced back to ninth in defensive efficiency and went from 52 wins to 58.
  • There are plenty of more examples scattered across the last 20 seasons, but the amount of space-eating centers who made a great deal of money to guard players like Shaquille O’Neal was too much to ignore. It wasn’t just Garnett who was held back by bad centers. Because of O’Neal, Greg Ostertag and Jim McIlvaine will live forever. So, too, will draft prospects compared to O’Neal like DeSagana Diop and Eddy Curry.

The 2015-2016 All-Bizarro Leaders in Minutes

It’s about that time of the year to construct this season’s five-man team made up of unusual players who led their respective team in total minutes, though my last construction of one (or nine, going back to 2006-07) was in late-July instead of May. Whatever. In both situations, the season was already over and that’s all that really matters.

I started this mainly because guys like LeBron James, James Harden, and Jimmy Butler are likely to lead their respective teams in total minutes, but there are also a handful of players each season who are unusual sights at the top. Sometimes teams go into a rebuilding mode and need someone, anyone to be a key cog during that phase. For other teams, an aging player may have fresher legs than expected, and others may see their minutes rise due to injuries and/or depth issues.

For example, below was my 2015 squad:

2015 Tm MIN G MPG
Shane Larkin NYK 1,865 76 24.5
Ben McLemore SAC 2,670 82 32.6
Solomon Hill IND 2,381 82 29.0
Wes Johnson LAL 2,245 76 29.5
Pau Gasol CHI 2,681 78 34.4

Shane Larkin somehow led the Knicks in minutes with just 1,865, which has to be close to the record for least amount of time on the floor to lead a team. Solomon Hill went from 226 minutes during the 2013-14 season to 2,381 partly thanks to the freak leg injury to Paul George between those seasons. Meanwhile, Ben McLemore was one of the main constants for a Kings squad that was a playoff contender through the first five weeks before falling apart without DeMarcus Cousins. Wesley Johnson made the list, though just about any Laker who ended the season as the minutes leader would’ve looked unusual. Rounding out the squad was Pau Gasol, who at 34 years old played nearly 2,700 minutes, the most since logging over 3,000 in 2010-11 and the most minutes per game (34.4) since 2011-12.

So that’s a quick explanation and example of how these teams are formed. I also want to say that while I’ve started to ignore most counting and per game stats, minutes are still valuable to me. An easy example is a look at the Boston Celtics which have Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Isaiah Thomas all under contract through the 2017-18 season for a combined $20-22 million, but all three provide above-average production for a combined ~95 minutes per game. That’s huge. Above-average production at, thanks to a booming salary cap, below-average salaries for that kind of talent. There will be some contracts next summer paying that much for just one above-average player. The salaries and minute load of that Celtics trio allow them to overpay for minutes at other positions, too, or for shooting off the bench.

Enough about all that, though, and a look into this season’s bizarro minutes squad. Here were my picks:

Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers, 2552 minutes

Not every year gives me a wide variety of players to choose from, but I try to make these teams as realistic as possible with a point guard, a collection of wings, and a center. According to Seth Partnow’s playing time estimates by position, Clarkson played 42 percent of his minutes at point guard, so he’s my choice here.

He beat out C.J. McCollum, Portland’s leader because I thought there would be more in the way of Clarkson with the mix of veterans and rookies in the backcourt. Kobe Bryant, Louis Williams, and even Nick Young would get their minutes, but so would D’Angelo Russell. Clarkson ended up starting every one of the 79 games he appeared in, though, and Bryant played 98 percent of minutes at small forward. Williams played most of his 1,907 minutes at shooting guard, but Young played in only 54 games and saw his minutes per game finally drop below 20.

For McCollum, Portland traded Will Barton in the middle of last season for Arron Afflalo, who was also off the roster before this season got started. Of course, they also let Wesley Matthews go in free agency. A lot more available minutes opened up for McCollum. On a bad team like the Lakers, there were plenty available for Clarkson, too, but also veterans and developing players who needed to get their minutes.

Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic, 2,566 minutes

This spot was a toss-up between Fournier and Gary Harris. The former averaged 28.6 minutes per game in 2014-15, but the Magic had more likely choices to lead their team in minutes this season such as Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton, and Tobias Harris. For Gary Harris, he went from 719 minutes in his rookie campaign to 2,439, but just about any Denver Nugget would’ve made for an unusual leader in minutes including Danilo Gallinari, who averaged just 24 minutes per last season.

Someone on a lottery team has to lead their team in minutes, and I went with Fournier as the most unlikely between the two. Along with the teammates already mentioned, Fournier logged only his second of four seasons of over 70 games played, and it looks like there was something of a ripple effect to his minutes after Harris was traded to Detroit. The total games and minutes from this season should help Fournier this summer when, at just 23 years old, he’ll be looking for a new contract. That new contract feels more terrifying than other major raises in salary, but he shot 40 percent from three, is not a great playmaker but is at least decent, and has trimmed his turnover and foul rates since his time with Denver.

Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks, 2,644 minutes

Matthews returned to NBA action less than eight months after tearing an Achilles tendon, then proceeded to log a minute total and per game rate right in line with the rest of his career. There’s value in that despite his usage rate being the lowest since his rookie season and his true shooting percentage the lowest since the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign. Hopefully 2016-17 brings upticks in three-point percentage (36 percent, down from 39 percent from 2010 to 2015) and around the rim (50 percent, down from 60 percent from 2010 to 2015).

Matt Barnes, Memphis Grizzlies, 2,190 minutes

Barnes is 35 years old, but his two highest minute totals in a season have been in 2015-16 and 2014-15, the latter when he logged 2,271 for the Clippers. This season’s total probably wasn’t what the Grizzlies planned. They cycled through 28 players and stayed afloat despite missing a total of 70 games to Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolph. That trio combined for over 7,000 minutes in 2014-15 but about 5,600 this season. Courtney Lee and Jeff Green were also minute eaters, for better or for worse, who are now on the Hornets and Clippers, respectively.

Like Fournier, Barnes will be a free agent this summer, but at 35 his earning potential just isn’t the same. He should be able to make more than he did in 2015-16, though, which was $3.5 million and somehow the most he’s made in a single season. The minutes he’s been able to log should help with that.

Also, Barnes played 362 minutes at power forward. That’s enough to slot him here.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans, 2,164 minutes

We need a possible center, so Davis makes the cut. There’s still reason to put him here despite being a top-10 player when healthy. The main one is that Davis logged only 2,164 minutes, which typically shouldn’t be enough to lead a team. Divide that by 75 games, a reasonable amount to get out of at least one player on a team, and that’s 28.9 minutes per game. Unfortunately for New Orleans, the only player to go over that 75-game total was Dante Cunningham, a gluey player and a constant for a team marred by injuries and the Matt Barnes for the Pelicans, or something. I have no idea. I have no idea about anything related to the Pelicans this season…

Honorable Mentions

Marcus Morris, Detroit Pistons, 2,856 minutes

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson seemed more likely to be the Pistons’ leader, but Detroit was top-heavy with their minute totals all season.

Paul George, Indiana Pacers, 2,819 minutes

Because, yeah, freak injuries and stuff. What a comeback.

C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers, 2,780 minutes

As mentioned above, quite a few minutes opened up for him this season, but 2,780 is still, well, a lot. Perfectly fine to swap Clarkson for him.

P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns, 2,540 minutes

It was just that kind of season for Phoenix, but Tucker’s 28th in total minutes since the 2013-14 season. Some bizarro names ahead of him are Jeff Green (23rd), Thad Young (21st), and Trevor Ariza (4th).

Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets, 2,439 minutes

Mentioned above and a very reasonable pick, especially after his rookie season when he had FG%/3P%/FT% lines of 30.4/20.4/74.5. Maybe he gets some votes for Most Improved Player?

Maybe I should change my pick from Fournier to Harris. Welp, too late.

Hollis Thompson, Philadelphia 76ers, 2,154 minutes

The Sixers’ leader was probably going to be weird no matter what. For that, Thompson’s penalized and dropped to the honorable mention. Still, he only started 17 games. 

Until next season. Hopefully Boris Diaw has 4,000 minutes in him.

Stats via Basketball-Reference unless noted otherwise.

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