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Timberwolves Prepare World's Greatest 'Addition By Subtraction' Experiment

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The Wolves have lost Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic and a couple other unproductive players, and added almost nothing. Thus, we find out if "addition by subtraction" is as powerful as we think it is.


During Team USA's Olympic preparation, Kevin Love has been his candid self, answering questions about how he sees the Minnesota Timberwolves -- who were better than "abjectly awful" for the first time in three years in 2011-12 -- and the team's future. Ball Don't Lie's brilliant Kelly Dwyer pulled one particular recent quote out for inspection last week.

"There was some bad blood in that locker room we were able to get out of there and smooth things out. That should help us out going forward."

KD goes through the list of potential suspects by looking at players that the Timberwolves have said goodbye to this offeseason: Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, Anthony Randolph and Martell Webster. I'm not seeing any surprised faces out in the audience. Weird. No matter who it was, losing anyone who gives Kevin Love and his best friend Rick Rubio the frownies is a Good Thing.

But you know what strikes me when I look at that list? All four players are at best unproductive, and at worst quite awful compared to NBA competition. And the Wolves lost them all. Forget "addition by subtraction" in the locker room. This could be our best example of "addition by subtraction" on the court.

The concept in a time-limited game like basketball makes intrinsic sense: if you replace a poor player with a completely average or even "not poor" player, you will be better. So provided you have average or "better than awful" players waiting to take the minutes that the poor players relinguish, addition by subtraction is real.

But never is it in such abundance!

Webster's case is pretty simple: the No. 6 pick in 2005, he never really developed. When he hit his high water mark of 12.5 PER in 2010 at age 23, current Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard, in one of his final acts with the Blazers, flipped Webster to Minnesota for a first-round pick. Brilliant move, David Kahn. Webster got no better and is very seriously NBA flotsam at this point. Those 1,000 or so minutes he received last season are better spent on almost anyone else.

Randolph actually isn't bad -- he puts up numbers in very limited minutes. But his minutes have been very limited now for three coaches: Don Nelson (who never met a basketball weirdo he didn't love), Mike D'Antoni (who has never been opposed to a gunner except for Nate Robinson I suppose but N8 is a special case) and Rick Adelman (who worships at the altar of versatility). The only coach who gave Randolph a chance: Kurt Rambis, possibly the most overwhelmed head coach of the past decade. That tells you something.

We have been over Mr. Milicic before. I could probably make this quick and point out that, in 2011, I won a bet with TrueHoop's Henry Abbott, who argued that despite criticisms of a dumb contract, Darko would likely be more productive than a getting-ready-to-retire Shaq, playing for the minimum with the Celtics. Shaq was unquestionably better than Darko, despite playing half the minutes. After discussing the bet with a variety of NBA quantitative analysts, Henry surmised that one minute of Shaq would have been more valuable than 2,000 of Darko.

That's exactly what we're talking about here. And that's where we're at with Beasley.

Unlike Darko and Webster, I don't believe Beasley is worse than replacement-level players. But I'm running out of hope that he's better than a random D-League call-up. He can score, man can he score. And he shoots better than 44 percent from the floor -- he's done that every season in the league. If he played small forward full-time, he'd be an average rebounder. He shot league-average from beyond the arc last season and used that area of his game judiciously.

But he is just an incredible ball-stopper and horrible defender. He's had a minuscule assist rate in three of four seasons, and in both Minnesota campaigns, he had pretty bad turnover rates given his lack of playmaking production. I mean, it's rare to see someone survive a turnover-to-assist ratio of nearly two -- he had 80 giveaways and 45 assists last year. His defense is somehow effortless and frenetically confused, all at the same time. He has strokes of offensive genius. But the droughts look so desperate so as to make the rain looks like an optical illusion.

He's often so bad that I question whether he's ever actually been good.

And he's gone, and Derrick Williams will soak up the sun. Maybe Brandon Roy will see some light, too. Roy's the team's only major addition on the wings after the team lost Nicolas Batum to cursed restricted free agency -- Minnesota made a damn fine offer, but Portland decided to match. To replace Darko, the Wolves recruited Greg Stiemsma, who happens to be the player hopeless romantics thought Darko was over the past couple years. But really, exiling Darko will mean that Nikola Pekovic is the opening day starter. No more charades for Adelman.

Given that, barring a true Roy comeback, Minnesota has added virtually no one to a team that was league average before Rick Rubio's injury and bad bad bad afterward. This is a true test of addition by subtraction, particularly with respects to Beasley, who played such a major role in the past two seasons of the Timberwolves. While Beaz tries to get back on track in Phoenix, a better indication of how much or little value he brings to an NBA team will be exhibiting in Minnesota. This is science. Thank you, Mr. Kahn!

The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.

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