June 28, 2005

Timberwolves Draft Stuff (and some Twins notes)

Did anyone else not realize until just now that the NBA Draft is tonight? Anyway, having watched my fair share of college basketball games and read over nearly every possible article devoted to this year's draft, here is my wish list for the Timberwolves:

1) Chris Paul
2) Marvin Williams
3) Andrew Bogut
4) Deron Williams
5) Raymond Felton
6) Danny Granger
7) Gerald Green

Those are the seven guys I would be thrilled about landing. Of course, the Wolves don't pick until 14th, so the odds are against any of those guys being there. After that, I'd settle for Jarrett Jack. And yes, if you can't tell from the above list, I'm a big believer in point guards being crucial to success in the NBA.

More than any specific player, however, the Wolves simply need to get younger and more athletic. Not drafting a stiff tonight would be a good start, because as ESPN.com's John Hollinger wrote about in an outstanding series of articles on the draft yesterday, finding talent in the draft is what has separated the Spurs from the Wolves (and the rest of the NBA) in recent years.

Both the Spurs and Wolves have a Hall of Fame power forward who can score, pass, rebound, and defend. So why did one team just win their third NBA title while the other is drafting in the lottery tonight? It's fairly simple, I think. The Spurs, despite constantly picking at the bottom of the first round, surrounded Tim Duncan with young, athletic talent from the draft in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Meanwhile, the Wolves' last quality draft pick, through a series of bad decisions both in and out of the draft, was Wally Szczerbiak.

Surrounding a franchise player with veteran talent via trades and free agency can certainly be effective, as the Wolves showed two years ago in getting within a game of the NBA Finals. But now it is clearly time to reload (I don't want to say "rebuild" because the team will always be competitive with Kevin Garnett around), and that all starts with finding someone with the 14th pick in tonight's draft.

Whether it is a big man to compliment Garnett, a young point guard to run the team, or an athletic swingman to give the team some much needed speed and defense, Kevin McHale, brand-new coach Dwane Casey, and brand-new general manager Rex Chapman can't afford to come up empty tonight. Finding a potential starter in the second round (as opposed to wasting picks on guys like Rick Rickert and Marcus Taylor) might not be a bad idea either, especially considering that's where the Spurs found Ginobili in 1999.

Just so I can check back in a few years to see if I was about any of these guys, here are some players I would go after if they lasted until the 47th pick: Eddie Basden, Monta Ellis, John Gilchrist, David Lee, Aaron Miles, C.J. Miles, Jason Maxiell, Salim Stoudamire, Louis Williams. Or, like the Spurs have done, take a flier on a foreign player with a unique set of skills. Some random European guy who can shoot and dribble can't turn out any worse than Blake Stepp, right?

A couple Twins-related notes ...

For all the panic and doomsaying going on right now among Twins fans, the fact is that if the postseason started today the Twins would be in it. Seriously. Take a look at the Wild Card standings as of this morning:

                W      L     WIN%      GB
Minnesota 41 33 .554 --
Baltimore 42 34 .553 --
Cleveland 40 34 .541 1.0
Texas 38 36 .514 3.0
New York 39 37 .513 3.0
Detroit 36 36 .500 4.0

Well, there'd be a one-game playoff with Baltimore for the Wild Card spot, but you get my point. I don't like the idea of having to hold off the Yankees for a playoff spot, but for all that has gone wrong this season (and all that has gone right in Chicago) the Twins aren't exactly in a terrible spot at the end of June.

Of course, that isn't to say things are running smoothly. It sounds as though Glenn Williams has taken over for Michael Cuddyer as the starting third baseman based almost entirely on a dozen good games. From Joe Christensen's article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune this morning:

Michael Cuddyer has lost his hold on the Twins' everyday third baseman job. Glenn Williams got his fifth consecutive start at the position Monday against the Kansas City Royals.

Cuddyer was on the bench again Monday but likely will start at second base again tonight, manager Ron Gardenhire said. Though Gardenhire hasn't come out and said it, Cuddyer appears to have slipped back into a utility role.

"He can move around," Gardenhire said. "He's moved around before. Everybody wants to play every day in the big leagues -- we all know that. You know what? We also want to win baseball games."


"I'm just going to mix them up the best I can," Gardenhire said. "Michael was struggling a little bit at third base. He'd have a good day and then a bad day. I'm going to put some people out there who can get it done and are a little more consistent out there. That's what we're after right now -- a little consistency."

I'm not complaining about Williams and I hope he keeps it up for as long as possible, but he has one extra-base hit and one walk in 40 plate appearances, and has looked every bit as bad as Cuddyer defensively. His .421/.436/.447 performance is a fluke. Two straight 0-for-4 games would have him at .347/.354/.369, which is almost exactly what Cuddyer has hit this season (.260/.331/.388).

It is as empty a batting average as you will ever see. Basically, unless Williams is some sort of Australian Ichiro!, his singles-hitting hot streak will end soon. Which is why it's amusing that Ron Gardenhire equates "consistency" with an 11-year minor-league veteran coming up from Triple-A and hitting .421 with 15 of his 16 hits being singles.

On the other hand, if this means more playing time at second base for Cuddyer that's fine with me. I doubt it will in the long run, however, and the truth is that with Nick Punto coming back next week and Luis Rodriguez playing well, the Twins will have plenty of second-base depth for once even without Cuddyer in the picture.

I have no inside information on this subject, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Twins traded Cuddyer. I still think he can be a solid regular at third base or second base, but he has botched every chance the Twins have given him. And regardless of how legitimate some of the chances have been, he was handed the third-base job this spring and allowed to play there nearly every day for three months despite poor hitting and fielding.

Cuddyer is hitting around .285/.350/.435 since April, which is why I think yanking the third-base gig away from him at this point and giving it to Williams based on a dozen fluky games is a mistake. Still, it feels like he has worn out his welcome in Minnesota. I'd like the Twins to keep playing him, but short of that, trading him for someone they can (and actually will) use would be the next best thing.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Franchises at Birth: The Angels and the Senators (by Steve Treder)
- Runs Per Game (by Dave Studeman)

Today's Picks (66-56, +$895):
Chicago (Buehrle) -140 over Detroit (Robertson)
Cincinnati (Claussen) +185 over St. Louis (Mulder)

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