Jonny Flynn had a productive rookie season. It was a good season. Yet listen to most Wolves fans describe it and you would probably walk away thinking it was a disaster. A flop. A total bust. Out of frustration of enduring the worst season in Wolves basketball, I, at times, have been guilty of this too. But alas, some perspective.
Below are the full season stat lines for various starting point guards in the league. To be more accurate, they are the stat lines from the player’s first season in which they averaged at least 28 minutes per game. I chose that number because it suggests it was the first season in which the player was given a starter’s type role.
See if you can predict who did what.
a) 7.9 points, 5.5 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 36 FG% in 31 minutes per game
b) 10.8 points, 4.5 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 42 FG% in 29 minutes per game
c) 10.6 points, 5.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 49 FG% in 29 minutes per game
d) 11.3 points, 3.3 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals 35 FG% in 32 minutes per game
e) 9.2 points, 4.3 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 42 FG% in 30 minutes per game
f) 13.5 points, 4.4 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 42 FG% in 29 minutes per game
a) Steve Nash - 3rd Season
b) Deron Williams - 1st Season
c) Rajon Rondo - 2nd Season
d) Chauncey Billups - 1st Season
e) Tony Parker - 1st Season
f) Jonny Flynn - 1st Season
So as you can see, Flynn’s rookie year compares favorably, if not flat out better, than many of the top point guards in the league. The three glaring exceptions are Jason Kidd, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul, who all had superior rookie seasons, but in the end that’s what those players are, exceptions. Otherwise, every other great point guard in the NBA clearly failed to experience a statistical breakthrough in their first, second or even third prominent season. The other thing to remember is that with Flynn’s outstanding quickness and athleticism, as well as the fact that’s he’s a mere 21 years old, he still has plenty of room to develop.
The next question that bears asking is why then is Flynn the subject of such harsh criticism? I can narrow it down to four primary causes.
1. The Systematic Maladaption of Timberwolves Fans
Very simply, the vast majority of Wolves fans believe they are cursed. They believe that no matter who they draft, who they acquire in trade or free agency, who they decide on as coach or GM or who they send to represent them at the draft lottery, they are so thoroughly cursed that it will positively end up a disaster. And so when a player, in this case Flynn, is taken the demoralized ranks of Wolves fans essentially start the countdown to when they can officially call the pick a failure without appearing completely irrational. Some skip the countdown all together and jump straight off the cliff. Note, I’m not saying some of the skittishness isn’t warranted. On the contrary, proof of an actual curse certainly would answer a lot of questions. But fans and critics alike need to calm down, step back and take a few deep breaths. Case in point: Brandon Roy. Yes, the Wolves traded Brandon Roy for Randy Foye. An epic debacle of a trade. In that same draft, the Raptors took Andreas Bargnani over Roy. The Bobcats opted for Adam Morrison. The Bulls took Tyrus Thomas and the Hawks thought Shelden Williams would be better. The truth is that several teams swung and missed big on Roy, but bitter, jaded, sky-is-perpetually-falling Wolves fans don’t see that. They just see the cliff.
2. That Darned Ricky Rubio
People, a lot of them, live an orderly life. They like things the way they do. Everything has to fit neatly in its place. In my highly unprofessional opinion, it is this characteristic that lies at root of the inability of Wolves fans and the draft clowns at ESPN to comprehend the logic behind the Flynn pick. The Wolves took a PG in Rubio and so the nice and neat, orderly folks of the world thought that naturally they would fill another position of need. Most, at the time, said they should have taken DeMar DeRozan because his draft card said “Shooting Guard”. That made orderly sense. Instead with Flynn, the Wolves took who they thought was the best player available (before you shout “Stephen Curry” at the computer screen please go reread the thing above about point guards in their first season). They drafted the best player available because at this stage in their progression overall talent is what matters, not filling out a roster sheet. The drafting of Rubio was the drafting of an asset more than it was a contributing player. They were drafting an incredible future possibility when they took Rubio, whereas with Flynn, they were drafting their starting point guard. Plus, there would have been an actual honest to goodness riot at Target Center if the Wolves had passed on Rubio with two consecutive picks. Things played out as they did and now, unfortunately, there is this mystical floating Rubio head that looms over Flynn every time he misses a shot or commits a silly turnover. The floating Rubio heads says things like “Flynn is garbage, luckily you have me waiting in the wings” and “Don’t get used to the smiley guy with the headband, when I get tired of Spain I’ll be over to claim my job”. Rubio, in a way, has prevented people from ever really supporting Flynn in the same way a fan base never really gets behind an interim head coach or in the way a kid never really embraces a mom’s boyfriend. They know the next one is right around the corner so why get attached?
3. A Bad Situation
Nothing about his rookie year was really ideal for Jonny Flynn. He was also cast onto a team that by design was supposed to fail…miserably. Known for his ability to fast break, he was surrounded with tree trunks the likes of Damien Wilkins, Sasha Pavlovic and Ryan Gomes. A master of the pick and roll at Syracuse, he was told to forget about the pick and roll and basically adopt a new philosophy and style of play in Minnesota, where on the flipside fellow rookie PGs, Brandon Jennings and Steph Curry, were placed in systems that perfectly suited their respective games. These contradictions were done in the name of making Flynn a better overall player. Flynn could have been allowed to play differently, more to his strengths, but in doing so he would have been sacrificing long-term potential and growth in favor of short-term results. Allowing Flynn to do what he does best on nightly basis, with little check or balance, would have resulted in better box scores and simultaneously put him on to the fast track to becoming the next Bobby Jackson, a serviceable and effective scoring backup point guard. Not a bad thing necessarily. However, by forcing him to harness his established talents and instead pain stakingly improve on his weaknesses the belief is that he will eventually develop into a legitimate upper tier starting point guard. This is the vision (and gamble) of David Kahn and Kurt Rambis. It sounds terrific in theory and if it works they will both look like geniuses some day. If it doesn’t pan out, see #1.
4. He Played Like A Rookie
I'm going to keep this one short because it's the most apparent and requires the least analysis. Possession killing shots in the first five or so seconds of the shot clock, completely avoidable turnovers at costly times in the game and occassional defense void of any awareness or teamwork were the main culprits. In other words, he played like a rookie. The problem is that the three points above combined with the state of the average Wolves fan being sick and tired of being sick and tired and it all led to the fact that there just wasn't the patience or tolerance of rookie-like play, even though there probably should have been. Flynn didn't play like a rookie of the year or even like he deserved top 5 consideration, but he also wasn't as bad as he was too often portrayed.
The point of this isn’t to make excuses for Jonny Flynn. I’m the first to admit he deserves a fair amount of criticism for some of his play this year. Really, I’m just trying to balance the overwhelming amount of criticism he has received with the credit he also deserves. A commonly held belief is that point guard is by far the toughest position to transition from college to the pros. Based on that and the past development of other guards in the league I tend to believe that maybe, given his respectable stat outputs, obvious intangibles and consistent leadership skills that just maybe, Flynn could make a lot of people eats their words and end up as the Wolves future floor general. Unless, of course, they land John Wall. In that event, ignore everything I just said.