Derrick Williams barely ever played for the Timberwolves anymore, and when he did play, it wasn’t well. Yet it still took just about everyone by surprise on Monday when multiple reports claimed Minnesota had agreed to trade Williams to Sacramento for forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
Williams, a former No. 2 overall draft pick who is just one season removed from averaging 12.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, is headed west for a defensive specialist whose defensive numbers aren’t eye-popping. An undersized power forward standing 6-foot-8 and weighing 240 pounds is being kicked aside for a player who is even lighter.
More to the point, a 22-year-old prospect is being booted for a finished product whose product likely could have been gotten elsewhere at a lower cost.
Still, this isn’t an awful trade. Although the circumstances are different and the players are not equivalent, the T’Wolves dealing Williams for Mbah a Moute is a little like the Grizzlies trading Rudy Gay for Tayshaun Prince, et al, last season. In both cases, a team that feels it has an outside shot at a special season chose to double down on defense, which becomes the priority in the playoffs.
Gay is a far superior player to Williams, obviously, but like Williams, Gay saw his stock plummet last year. Recognizing this, the Grizzlies and Wolves opted to trade their players while they still had some value. Respectively, the trades brought back an aging, if still effective, wing defender in Prince and a competent, if banged-up, frontcourt defense in Mbah a Moute. All things considered, it’s not like the Wolves traded Williams for a future second-round pick or cash considerations.
That’s why this deal isn’t completely terrible. It’s just sort of weird, is all.
For one thing, Mbah a Moute, 27, is dealing with a knee issue that could nix the trade entirely. He’s never posted a defensive rating lower than 103 points allowed per 100 possessions, but to be fair defenders at his position have a tougher time impacting a defense as a whole the way post players and on-ball guards do. He has length and he is smart. Those types of players are always useful.
For another thing, Williams playing at even a third of his potential might still be better than Mbah a Moute. Williams’ career 13.6 player efficiency rating is disappointing for a second overall pick, but it’s still superior to Mbah a Moute’s career 11.6 PER. And the Wolves just picked up Williams’ option for next season, meaning they went from committing $6.3 million to Williams to wanting him out of town in exactly a month’s time.
That said, one can see how this deal makes sense to the Wolves. With Kevin Love blossoming into a Most Valuable Player candidate and Kevin Martin stretching the floor for Ricky Rubio to work his playmaking magic with Love and Nikola Pekovic, the Wolves have all the pieces they need offensively to contend for a spot in the Western Conference finals. They have one pretty good wing defender in Corey Brewer, but they need someone with a little more heft, sort of like the Grizzlies wanted Prince even though they already had Tony Allen. Any Rick Adelman-coached team is going to score, especially with players like Love, Martin and Rubio. Now, the Wolves want to make sure they’ll be able to stop people. Williams did not help Minnesota achieve either goal.
Does this mean the trade was a masterstroke by Wolves general manager Milt Newton? Hardly. Mbah a Moute is not the piece that puts the Wolves over the top, and maybe some other team might have given up a player more along those lines in exchange for Williams later. This was far from a coup for the Wolves.
At the same time, it’s far from a wasted opportunity, either. Williams has demonstrated a total inability to create his own shot at the pro level, and the Kings don’t have anyone capable of generating easy looks for Williams the way Rubio could. It’s possible Williams flounders in Sacramento even worse than he did in Minnesota.
Perhaps the Wolves — and the Kings — know this. Maybe these teams know Williams’ true value in ways outside observers don’t, and maybe Williams and Mbah a Moute’s actual worths are closer than they seem, even given Williams’ seemingly higher ceiling. In that case, the Wolves are cutting their losses by acquiring a player they wanted now by parting ways with a player who never turned into the player they wanted him to become.