clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Derrick Williams, Pau Gasol And The Eternal Question: Now Or Never?

Should the Timberwolves flip rookie Derrick Williams for an All-Star level veteran like Pau Gasol, or wait for the team's young core to develop together? Tom Ziller argues that it's a matter of looking at the options' ceilings.

Getty Images

Derrick Williams looked a lot like the Daytona 500 on Tuesday. He went bonkers against the L.A. Clippers as he and Michael Beasley led the Minnesota Timberwolves to a crucial win at STAPLES; the rookie maimed his own career highs in the game with 27 points on 9-10 shooting, including 4-4 from long-range. It was like a Derrick Williams fever dream, the wildest confirmation of that which so many saw in the prospect in college: a big, powerful and agile slasher, Danny Granger with attitude.

Williams showed why he was the legit No. 2 pick, and showed why no one laughs at the rumors suggesting that the forward could be the centerpiece of a multi-team trade that results in Minnesota landing a player like Pau Gasol. At the same time, Williams showed Minnesota a glimpse of the promise that could make the Wolves a Thunderian juggernaut in a few years. If Ricky Rubio develops as a legit threat as a scorer and Kevin Love remains Kevin Love, the addition of a Williams that resemble in any way the version we saw on Tuesday could make this team a real challenger at the top levels of the league.

Therein lies the eternal question for rebuilding clubs: when is it time to say "enough" and add veterans?

The Gasol rumor is an intriguing one, given that the Wolves have actually seen Nikola Pekovic turn into a credible NBA player, which turns Darko Milicic into the reserve defensive specialist he always should have been. Gasol would be an upgrade on Pekovic, but for how long?

Gasol, now 31, has seen his production and efficiency dip this season. It's hard to tell whether that can be attributed to the lockout -- efficiency is down everywhere -- or whether it is an age- or mileage-related trend. Pau doesn't use as much athleticism as his contemporary, Kevin Garnett. Gasol is more like Tim Duncan in that he depends on length and skill almost exclusively. This means that unlike KG, whose game has been forced to change somewhat in his twilight, Gasol can likely continue to do what he does into his mid-30s. But even Duncan has eventually lost effectiveness despite the consistency of his style. One would expect Gasol to, as well.

But when? That's the key question that must inform the Wolves' answer to the larger question about dealing Williams for Gasol specifically, or any older All-Star caliber player in general. You wouldn't trade such an enticing prospect for one year and change of an All-Star. Would you do it to get an effective player for the next two seasons? Three? If you pull the trigger, will that take you high enough to meet the team's goals, which we'd assume to be a championship?

That's why I'm skeptical that dealing Williams for a player like Gasol -- a non-MVP candidate who plays at an All-Star level over the ages of 28 or 29 -- is the right move. It's all about the goal and the projection of potential. If you deal the 20-year-old Williams for the 31-year-old Gasol, you're seeing an immediate upgrade ... but the Wolves wouldn't be an instant title contender. Gasol's not going to get younger and more effective over time (unless the Wolves poach the Suns' training staff). Rubio-Love-Gasol doesn't look like a title team, even if you count on Ricky's jumper improving and Gasol remaining consistent.

But one could reasonably project a Rubio-Love-Williams core to be that good down the line. It's a balanced unit with two shooters, two big bodies and the most creative young guard in the league. Add a defensive center (Pekovic?) and a wing who can threaten in transition (Wesley John-- ... sorry, too soon), and you have the makings of a great unit. By renting Gasol for the twilight of his career, you concede that future.

Both arguments -- to make such a trade right now or not -- have merits. There are legit reasons to make a move too early rather than too late. Not all prospects develop, of course. Michael Beasley, who also exploded for Minnesota on Wednesday, is a wonderful example of that reality. But to me, Williams looks real enough to be a good bet, and time is on Minnesota's side as Rubio is just 20, Love just 23.

We'll see which way the Wolves go over the next few weeks. I'm sure David Kahn will make the right move.


The Hook is SB Nation's regular basketball column from Tom Ziller. See the archives.