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Jon Leuer is on the move – analysis of a minor NBA Trade
“Because of his salary (a 1.059 million option for next year), players like Leuer will be hotter commodities than previously thought – and the Grizzlies have to hope he can be a serviceable back-end-of-the-rotation contributor for that price. As a Badger hoops fan and a Minnesota resident, my biased view is that he will turn into a serviceable role player. He was blocked in Cleveland by Anderson Varejao (a terrific center) and other young bigs with better pedigrees who need minutes (Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller). Hopefully, more opportunities come his way in Memphis.”
Link to full article:
“In the interest of full disclosure (and before I lose my Minnesota-centric audience) let me insist that I’m doing my best to speak as an unbiased observer, and not merely a (spiteful) Packer fan. If you stick around, you’ll find I am just as critical of the award Rodgers won in 2011 as I am of the Peterson/Manning dual candidacy of 2012. The fact that Rodgers isn’t even in the discussion as a viable candidate says a lot about how sportswriters and other prominent NFL pundits think, and trying to peel back the layers can teach us a thing or two about the problems with the process.”
Link to full article:
“We shouldn’t let the numbers define Rubio’s season – the eye test is also important. It’s easy to forget just how athletic he was before the knee injury, in part because the cerebral parts of his game are so celebrated (and rightfully so). What’s missing from post-injury Ricky’s game is the ability to get to whatever part of the floor he desires. Last year, Rubio showed he could see openings in the defense and attack them. He certainly sees the floor the same way this year, but he doesn’t have the speed to exploit defensive holes… yet.”
Link to full article:
A Packer fan comes to terms with the sublime brilliance of Adrian Peterson
“What you did was very spiteful, but it was also very brave and very honest and I respect you for doing that. But the content of what you said has made me hate you. So there’s a layer of respect, admittedly, for your truthfulness, but it’s peppered with hate. Hateful respect.” – Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), ‘Get Him to the Greek’
As much as it pains me to admit it – I love watching Adrian Peterson play football. I don’t particularly enjoy when he plays against the Green Bay Packers, and it’s not as though I want the Vikings to win, but when he carries the ball, the sport feels different. A methodical game of ebbs and flows receives a jolt of electricity, everything else stops, and unbridled athletic skill, made manifest in ferocious determination and desire, is embodied in number 28 in the purple helmet.
When the blocks are lined up, and Peterson hits a hole in stride, there’s a sound that happens in a crowded room of people watching the game. If it’s a group of Vikings fans, there’s excited chatter, followed by shouts, followed by the usual pleas and unnecessary reminders (“GO! RUN! GO!”). If it’s a group of opposing fans, there’s a noise not unlike that of air being let out of a balloon, a gasp, a collective muttering of “fuuuuuuuuuuu…” under the breath. Heck, even when he doesn’t get blocks – even when he’s wrapped up, and he’s going down, he never seems down. It’s possible he’ll toss a grown man aside like a plaything and keep chugging along. Or if it’s late in a game, and you need to stop him on a third down – and you stand him up at the line of scrimmage – there he is, again, somehow forcing his way through, diving across the “unofficial” yellow first down line.
Even if you’re a Packer fan who loathes everything about the Minnesota Vikings –their dumpy stadium, the obnoxious color scheme and fight song, their woefully irrational radio play-by-play announcer, as well as that infernal horn that sounds after each first down – you ought to learn to appreciate Adrian Peterson. Other than possessing a lead foot[i] and occasionally being tardy[ii], the guy’s done nothing to incur your wrath. By all accounts, he’s humble, kind and the hardest working man in football.
Now he’s on a historical run, a quest to break the NFL’s all-time record for rushing yards in a single season. Considering the fact that he began the season at less than 100%, and that his workload was reduced in weeks one through six, this might be the most remarkable individual feat in NFL history. After all, he eclipsed the century mark in rushing just once in the Vikings’ first six contests, and according to Vikings beat writer Tom Pelissero, was unable to make lateral cuts as recently as October 7th.[iii]
My appreciation for Peterson is not a symptom of Stockholm Syndrome, nor is it a sign that I’m slowly losing my love for the green and gold. I’ll argue with anyone who says Peterson’s the best ever (more on that in a minute) and I still take great delight in Viking maladies… especially watching Christian Ponder play quarterback. Since I moved to Minnesota, I’ve been immersed in the cult of AP, but I haven’t participated – merely observed, and appreciated the talent. Nothing more.
Part of this appreciation comes from the random, historical nuggets that can be uncovered when discussing Peterson’s recent 8-game run of dominance. To wit: in 1998, Hall-of-Famer Curtis Martin of the New York Jets rushed for 1,287 yards on 369 carries and scored 8 touchdowns, all over a full 16 game season. In his past 8 games, Peterson has rushed for more yards (1,313) and scored more touchdowns (9) on FEWER THAN HALF AS MANY RUSHING ATTEMPTS (176).
He has exactly as many yards in his past 8 games as Arian Foster has gained on the entire season. His average of 129.4 yards per game is the sixth best single season mark of all time – and all of the top five players in that category (O.J. Simpson, Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson and O.J. Simpson, again) completed their feats before Adrian was born in 1985. Even if his pace “slows back down” to his season average, he’ll still break the record; if he continues at his recent clip, he’ll obliterate it.
His production has him in the hunt for several awards. I don’t know if the ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ award can be split between two players, like the MVP award can, but it should be given equally to Peterson and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. I can’t pick between the two. If they want, the NFL can go ahead and skip the award next year to compensate – shoot, they can just cancel it after this. One of the five greatest quarterbacks of all time, as well as the best running back in the NFL, returned from potentially career-threatening injuries in the same season. Nothing as impressive as that will ever happen again.
As for the MVP… that’s an entire column unto itself, and in the coming weeks, you’ll get plenty of chatter about that from folks who are far smarter and more passionate about it than I am. Suffice it to say, he’s in the mix – an impressive feat for any running back in today’s pass-happy NFL.
There’s also chatter that this season is proof that Peterson is the best halfback to ever play the game. Before I comment, here’s a chart of the other running backs in AP’s stratosphere, with production through their first six seasons, to show you how they compare with the Vikings’ star:
The gentlemen listed above are, in some order, the greatest running backs in NFL history.[v] Peterson will add to his total yardage in this season’s final two games, surpassing Barry Sanders (whose overall numbers are remarkably similar). He’s also second in yards per carry and third in yards per game. A common argument derived from these factors goes like this: “Peterson’s playing in the wrong era – he’s a dominant back at a time when passing is more prevalent than ever. If he had been around two decades, or even one decade earlier, his numbers would look like Eric Dickerson’s.”
There are two problems with this line of thinking – first of all, rushing statistics haven’t dipped significantly in recent seasons. In fact, they’ve been stagnant ever since 1990, when Barry Sanders was in his second season and Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson had yet to wear an NFL uniform. Teams are not running the ball less often than they did before – though the ratio of runs to passes has certainly shifted in favor of the aerial attack.[vi]
So the same number of rushing attempts are available to running backs… but nowadays, of course, multiple backs from each team get the carries. This makes the evaluation of Peterson tricky – while he’s the closest thing we have to an “old-school” bell cow, he’s kept fresher by the newfangled strategy of “running back by committee.” That’s the second issue with the argument that AP is the best ever – he was kept fresh by his backups. We can’t merely extrapolate his numbers and assume he’d have reached 10,000 yards on 2,000 carries. It doesn’t work like that.
And while it’s superficially stunning to consider how good Peterson’s been despite the futility of Minnesota’s passing attack, in historical terms, it’s hardly unique. It’s important to note that O.J. Simpson, especially, was stuck with putrid signal callers for much of his career. In Simpson’s all-time best 1973 campaign, Buffalo’s run-to-pass ratio was 605-to-213. You think defenses didn’t know that number 32 was going to get the ball?
A more modern example, LaDainian Tomlinson, had the following quarterbacks at the start of his career: Washed Up Doug Flutie, Drew Brees Before He Was Really Drew Brees, Ancient Doug Flutie, Almost the Great Drew Brees, and Rookie Philip Rivers. Sounds pretty comparable to Peterson’s list: Decent Tarvaris Jackson, Gus Frerotte For Some Reason, Vengeful Brett Favre, Post-Sexting Scandal Brett Favre, Fat Donovan McNabb, and Christian Steele-Ponder.
Speaking of Tomlinson, there’s also the problem of pass-catching for Adrian Peterson, shown in the following chart:
Some don’t like including receiving statistics in the evaluation of running backs – but it’s an integral part of playing the position. In this respect, Peterson’s output is pedestrian, especially in comparison with Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson.
I’m not ready to stand on the table and say, definitively, that I know who the best running back of all-time is. What I do know is this – it’s not Adrian Peterson, and there’s no shame in that. Tomlinson, Simpson, Brown and (maybe) Eric Dickerson are ahead of him. At least, that’s what the numbers say to me.
At the same time, I realize that football isn’t played in statistical models or football-reference websites. The point of sports is to watch the games, to get excited, to appreciate the subtleties and debate about intangibles. I am too young to remember Simpson or Dickerson, and Brown played before most of the games were even caught on film. LaDainian Tomlinson never scared me the way Adrian Peterson scares me. The numbers might say he was better – I’m afraid my eyeballs tell another story.
The tug-of-war between the objective and subjective forces in our brains is part of what makes discussing and writing about sports so much fun. We (usually) get the fun payoff of debating without devolving into the partisan bickering that any political discussion inevitably descends into. Black and white facts stack up against full-color replays, and we’re left to sort through it all. Do you think Peterson’s the best of all time? Well, he scares the BeJesus out of me, so I guess I see your point.
I guess there’s no harm in saying he “could” be. His career isn’t finished, yet. He could be like Earl Campbell and simply wither away at 29, beaten and bruised and used. Or he could be Emmitt Smith, productive and remarkably healthy until he’s in his late 30s. The debate will rage for years to come, and he’ll be a source of pride for Minnesotans, and a source of envy for those of us who love the Green and Gold.
How should Packer fans handle it? It’s not like the Vikings are a threat to Green Bay’s standard for success – Lombardi Trophies. A team whose best player is a running back can’t win the Super Bowl anyway; what harm is there in letting our poor, snakebitten rivals to the west have a little fun now and again?
Hopefully, Packer and Viking fans both found something they loved and loathed about what I’ve said, here. It’s possible to feel both at the same time, you know.
BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below
*One more thing. Every nice thing I said about Adrian Peterson is hereby null and void if his urine or blood is ever found to be dirty in the teeniest, tiniest sense. I might appear to be a rational fan, full of respect for a truly wonderful player on my favorite team’s arch rival, but if he’s on horse steroids or HGH I will unload self-righteous hell on every purple-wearing Minnesotan dumb enough to come within earshot. Not that I think he’s using, or anything…
[iv] This is actually Jim Brown’s first seven seasons – since they played only 14 games per year back then, it helps the math work out a little better.
[v] O.J. Simpson didn’t fit neatly into the chart because he had an odd career; he followed three seasons as a backup with six transcendent years (which included 1973, the greatest season by a running back, ever) and finished his career with three injury-riddled years. His “apex” numbers would’ve slotted him just ahead of Barry Sanders – 87 games, 1800 rushes, 8849 yards, 4.9 yards per attempt, and 46 touchdowns on 101.6 yards per game. He also had the best statistical season of all-time by a running back, in 1973.
[vi] It’s worth mentioning two other small points – first, the average gain per rushing attempt is at an all-time high this season, and second, this rushing success likely has something to do with the fact that contact practices are limited, and tackling technique has gone the way of the dodo bird. I wanted to include this in the article, but it seemed too “hater-ific” and I chickened out. Oh, well. It made it into a footnote.
Kevin Love’s foibles and Minnesota’s predicament
“People, you know, have their blogs, and can sometimes hide behind their computer screen, but, you know, you have people that, that, you know, can type out things that are derogatory towards a person…” – Kevin Love[i]
“Well, Kevin, you know, I have no athletic ability or discernible life skills, and some free time, so, you know, what do you expect?” – Yours Truly
A few years ago, at an old job, there were three of us of similar age and education levels, who were all hired at roughly the same time. It was an entry level position, but I loved the job and was interested in making a career of it. I felt my work was comparable to my peers, and was given good reviews reflecting this belief.
The first guy was promoted and given a decent raise. The second guy was promoted and given a modest raise. I was given a lateral transfer to a similar department and received no raise. What do you suppose happened?
I looked for another job, and took the first one which was suitable, even though it paid only a pittance more than what I had made at my original place of employment.
Why do you suppose I did that?
Clearly, my work wasn’t quite as good as I thought it was – I was young, and a little immature, with how I handled it – but the whole experience changed my perspective on athletes and their public discourses regarding salary disputes and “respect.” I felt as though I deserved something similar to what the other guys got, and I didn’t get it, so that was that. I was a poisoned apple. I let it bother me, and as soon as the opportunity arose, I bolted.
Kevin Love found himself in a similarly sticky predicament last summer[ii] – only in a far more exciting setting. Instead of a middle class job, he was yearning for the finest compensation an NBA franchise could offer him – a maximum (“max”) contract extension, roughly $80 million for 5 years. LaMarcus Aldridge, a similar player two years his senior, got a max deal from Portland. Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, who were in Love’s draft class and were viewed similarly in the league (as franchise players), also got max (or near-max) contracts from their respective teams.
Due to a new wrinkle in the collective bargaining agreement, franchises were only allowed to give one of these “max” deals at a time – and, citing this restriction as their reason, the Wolves withheld offering it to Love. His consolation prize was a four year, $62 million deal with an “opt out” clause after the 2014-15 season – meaning he could be on a new team three years from today, and the Wolves would be left with nothing to show for it.
Disgruntled about the way it was handled, the residual ill will between Love and the front office simmered, but remained largely hidden, until it finally boiled over in the form of a piece published Tuesday by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The story quotes Love as saying the following:
-GM David Kahn is unprofessional
-Love is unsure if the organization has a “plan” for constructing a roster
-He’s miffed that owner Glen Taylor didn’t regard him as a “superstar”
-He was hurt by the fact that some within the organization questioned whether he really injured his hand in the preseason by doing knuckle push-ups
-And most importantly, Love was upset that he didn’t receive the “max” offer when it was time to negotiate an extension, calling the Wolves’ possible strategy of saving the “max” deal for guard Ricky Rubio “a projection over a sure thing”
Naturally, Love downplayed the comments the day after they were made public – but didn’t back off of them. He did express frustration with the fact that positive tidbits he had offered about the Wolves hadn’t made it into the article, and concluded his remarks on the entire subject with the old “I want to retire a Timberwolf” platitude.
First of all, let’s set one thing straight – Adrian Wojnarowski hates David Kahn’s guts, and this fact is widely recognized by front offices and media members around the league.[iii] Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press, who’s as about as non-confrontational as it gets, called the piece “sensationalized” and “a bit irresponsible”, which coming out of his mouth was as shocking to these ears as Mr. Rogers dropping an ‘F’ bomb. The story drips with condescending potshots at the Timberwolves’ organization, and its fans, for treating Kevin Love so poorly – and goes way over the top in doing so. Love’s comments were bad enough, but pair them with Wojnarowski’s agenda, and it’s hardly surprising things blew up the way they did.
As far as Love questioning Kahn’s competence – well, that’s sort of like calling the sky “blue.” Only after coach Rick Adelman came aboard did the roster begin to reflect any sort of plan. The Timberwolves, loaded with smart players who fit Adelman’s system, have built more buzz around the franchise than they’ve had since their last playoff appearance in 2004-05.The timing of the piece was the biggest buzzkill, especially because of imminent return of the sensational Ricky Rubio.
Love’s comments beyond mere organizational gripes. One way to alienate a fan base, especially a blue collar one such as Minnesota’s, is to “complain” about money when you’re making $13,668,750 this year. Reading the full article by Wojnarowski, it’s clear that Love’s got the summer of 2015 on his mind, and that’s depressing. Instead of focusing on this season, when he’s surrounded by teammates with winning pedigrees (Andrei Kirilenko and J.J. Barea, especially) he’s looking ahead to when and how he might finagle his way out of Minnesota.
I don’t believe Love’s festering issues are strictly about money, either. He’s an All-Star, and it’s a star-driven league. Finding one, and holding onto him, is very hard to do. Love knows he holds the cards, now, and it’s crystal clear that he feels as though he was disrespected in a big way by the Wolves’ organization. Fans might be looking at a three year window of possibility before he’s lost and gone forever, to the Lakers, or the Knicks, or the Mavericks.
For better or worse, it’s not always about how much money a player makes – it’s about “respect.” And while it seems silly, if you apply it to your own work situation, it makes sense in a strange way. The fact that Love is a millionaire adds a different element to it, but he’s still human – he feels slights, and maybe he’s a little insecure. It’s probably what’s motivated him to become the player he is – reshaping his game, and his body, to become an All-Star.
I know this – it’ll be way tougher for the Wolves to replace Kevin Love than it was for anyone who’s ever had to replace me… at anything. And if you’re honest, you’ll admit the same thing, swallow your pride, and hope that the Wolves can patch things up with Kevin Love and keep him in Minneapolis for a long, long time.
It’s a superstar league. If you want to win in the NBA, you have to play by their rules, as tricky and unsavory as that can be at times.
BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below
[ii] This is the first and last time I’ll compare myself to a professional athlete. I know, I know, my life experience and his aren’t in the same stratosphere, really, but I have a point to make. I think.
A Russian expatriate is becoming a Minnesota fan favorite
This past offseason was one of tremendous upheaval in the offices at the Target Center. Malcontents and inconsistent buffoons were jettisoned in favor of long, athletic and intelligent wing players. Out went Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, Martell Webster, Anthony Randolph, Wayne Ellington and Wes Johnson; in came Andrei Kirilenko, Greg Stiemsma, Dante Cunningham, and Chase Budinger. Brandon Roy, sans knee cartilage and all, was also signed to (hopefully) fill the void at shooting guard, the caveat being – “if he can stay healthy.”
The Roy experiment lasted five games before knee pain, and another surgery, sidelined him indefinitely. The risk was well worth it: the dearth of talent at shooting guard has made it a premium position in the NBA. If Roy could have managed to be 75% of his former self, for 24-28 minutes per night, his $5 million salary would’ve actually been a bargain.
The answer to the Wolves’ shooting guard deficiency, or at least part of the answer, came in the form of their least heralded offseason pickup: Russian guard Alexey Shved. Lured away from his Euroleague club, CSKA Moscow, Shved was an unproven commodity. A combo-guard with good length, he was seen in the Olympics playing for the bronze-winning Russian national team along with fellow Wolves’ newcomer Andrei Kirilenko.
It isn’t often that impact foreign players go completely undrafted – usually, someone will take a second-round flier on an international guy just in case he develops into a back-of-the-rotation contributor – so what happened with Shved? How come he was an international free agent, ripe for the plucking?
Shved was draft eligible in 2010, at the age of 21. According to scouting reports from around that time,[i] concerns about his wiry frame, as well as his perimeter shooting, held him back. According to Wolves’ beat writer Jerry Zgoda, there were also some doubts about his maturity.[ii] Oddly enough, it seems as though his game wasn’t suited for the Russian leagues in which he played, which are known for their slow-it-down, half-court style of play. Shved is more of a slasher, which is possibly attributable to his time with American players such as Trajan Langdon, a former Duke star who wound up with CSKA Moscow after his college days were over.[iii]
All that was enough for Alexey to slip through the cracks – that is, until his 2011-12 Euroleague and club season, in which he broke out in a big way. In 21 Euroleague games (Europe’s highest level of competition) he averaged a 10.6/2.6/3.6 line on 49%/50%/81% shooting splits. In club games, he went for 11.6/2.9/3.3 on 46%/39%/78% shooting. Two years older, and having addressed his perimeter shooting woes, Shved was now a free agent, thanks to the fact he’d gone undrafted in 2010. It was a blessing in disguise.
To be fair, the Wolves weren’t the only team who approached Alexey with a contract offer – Memphis and Cleveland were also in the mix – but he chose to come to Minnesota, and it’s difficult to believe Andrei Kirilenko didn’t have something to do with it. The two came as something of a package deal – 3 years, $9-$10 million for Shved, and 2 years, $20 million for Kirilenko, with both deals signed within two days of each other at the end of July.
Andrei Kirilenko has arguably been the Wolves’ most important player to this point, but Shved’s contributions to the back court cannot be understated. Though he has yet to start a game, Shved has played more minutes than the nominal “starting” shooting guard in 11 of the team’s 18 games, including the last 7 in a row. The Wolves are 6-5 in such games, and 3-4 in the rest.
Shved’s non-starting irks some Wolves fans who’d like to see him on the floor at the opening tip – but Adelman’s handling of his backcourt rotation is anything but conventional. Most teams start their best players and rest them from the 3:00 mark of the 1st and 3rd quarters to the 10:00 mark of the 2nd and 4th quarters. Adelman, however, starts Malcolm Lee at the 2-guard, plays him until there’s about 3:00 left in the 1st and 3rd quarters… then Alexey Shved comes in, and rarely leaves the court afterward. Shved ends halves and games on the floor – a sign that the coaching staff trusts him a great deal.[iv]
The trust in Shved makes sense – he’s hardly your typical rookie. He’s been playing professionally since he was 17 years old. This season, he’s averaging 10.6/2.7/3.6 on 40%/33%/79% shooting splits – remarkably similar to his production with CSKA Moscow last season. While a 33% mark from the perimeter is nothing to write home about, he’s had to become more of a gunner with the absence of Chase Budinger (out with a knee injury) and the struggles of Kevin Love (22% from 3-point range).
Despite the low Field Goal and 3-point percentages, he’s still an efficient player, with a 14.3 PER.[v] For some reason, he’s labeled as a point guard in all the NBA statistical databases, which is odd, because he’s rarely the primary ballhandler on the floor; almost all his minutes come with Barea or Ridnour on the court with him. If he were labeled as a shooting guard, that 14.3 PER would be good for 23rd in the league, ahead of big money guys like Joe Johnson ($19.7 million salary) and Andre Iguodala ($14.7 million). He’s about on par with J.J. Redick ($6 million) and Jason Terry ($5 million) in that category.
I’m not saying he’s as good as those four guys, but if he’s in the conversation with them, and for half the cost, it’s pretty clear the Wolves found a diamond in the rough when they snagged him out of Mother Russia. If you insist on calling him a point guard, his efficiency looks a little worse, but is still higher than Ty Lawson, Devin Harris and some guy named Jeremy Lin – and again, Shved makes significantly less money than all of them.
What remains to be seen is how Shved meshes with Ricky Rubio when he returns. Malcolm Lee has abysmal as the starting shooting guard, and should see a significant decline in minutes once the Spanish prodigy is cleared to play. But time will tell how Adelman distributes the minutes in a crowded backcourt, with Shved, Barea and Ridnour all viable options at the guard spots.
The potential lineup that really excites many Wolves fans – most of all, me – is Rubio, Shved, Kirilenko, Love and Nikola Pekovic. It would be fun to see players with the passing skill sets they possess take the floor at the same time – the unselfish ball movement, playing within Adelman’s offensive system, would be a sight to behold.
Will Adelman agree with our premise? Would that lineup even be successful? Hopefully, we start to get some answers on Wednesday night.
BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!
[ii] Personal correspondence via Twitter. Jerry Zgoda is a must-follow for Wolves fans – he’s engaging, pleasant and sticks strictly to Wolves-related business.
[iii] Also in the Draft Express article referenced in footnote 1.
[iv] As of December 3rd, Shved had played in 86% of the team’s 4th quarter minutes, per 82games.com.
[v] PER stands for “Player Efficiency Rating”, a statistic developed by ESPN’s John Hollinger that is a little like WAR in baseball. There’s an explanation here: http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/statistics