The Anti-Brandon Bandwagon

Terrell Brandon's season-ending injury may have come just in the nick of time

 The Terrell Brandon bashers were out in force this past week, first clamoring that the Timberwolves point guard be dealt to Denver for Nick Van Exel before the February 21 trading deadline and then belittling Brandon's willingness to play hurt after he announced that the injury he suffered February 1 against Boston would sideline him for the rest of the season. In both cases it was apparent that their bias against Brandon's quiet, quixotic personality and style of play has overcome their common sense.

Take the injury first. After playing 44 minutes and nearly posting a triple double (21 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists) in an overtime win in Boston, Brandon complained that his left leg didn't feel right. It wasn't long before some members of the Wolves' press corps (along with callers to sports talk-radio programs) were privately renewing the familiar criticism that Brandon was malingering over a minor ailment, in part to sabotage any trade talks with Denver. In the middle of last Wednesday's game against Phoenix, Brandon told reporters that doctors had discovered a fracture in the cartilage in his left femur and that he was done for the season. His detractors were quick to emphasize that the point guard had jumped the gun on team officials, who were going to wait until after the Phoenix game to announce the injury and had not automatically ruled out his return this year.

How serious is Brandon's injury? Well, doctors won't know for sure until they operate on the leg sometime today, but after the Phoenix game, Wolves coach Flip Saunders said that Brandon's fracture "was basically the same thing that happened to Sam"--meaning veteran forward Sam Mitchell--two seasons ago. In the locker room moments later, Mitchell said that he "couldn't move for six and a half weeks" after his surgery, during which time his leg atrophied three inches from lack of exercise. Mitchell, who is renowned for his tireless work ethic, also said that he wasn't really ready to make a significant contribution to the team until many months later.

The Timberwolves have eight weeks left in the regular season. For Brandon to think he's out for the rest of the year is eminently reasonable.

Now let's consider the much-ballyhooed trade proposal of Brandon for Van Exel. The Star Tribune's Dan Barreiro wrote a column supporting the deal. KFAN's Paul Allen is another proponent. Sid Hartman (Star Tribune) and Charley Walters (Pioneer Press) both wrote columns saying the trade was a near certainty until Brandon got hurt--news that was heatedly denied by Wolves' personnel director Kevin McHale.

I've always felt that Barreiro and Allen are two of the more knowledgeable hoop junkies among the media, but the more I look at the deal, the more absurd it becomes. It so happens that Brandon (with 21,545 career minutes played) and Van Exel (with 22,326) have logged almost the same amount of court time over the years, making a statistical comparison between the two a constructive exercise.

The numbers show that Brandon is the more complete player. Van Exel's career shooting accuracy is an abysmal 40.6 percent. Not once in his 12 years in the league has Brandon ever shot that badly--his overall mark is 44.8 percent. And you know how the Brandon bashers like to knock his lack of penetration, claiming that he never gets to the free-throw line? Well, Terrell has attempted 137 more free throws than Van Exel, and put 257 more of them through the basket.

Despite tossing up more bricks than Brandon and getting to the line less often, Van Exel still has amassed nearly as many points. The reason? Nicky V has jacked up almost three times as many three-pointers. Yet Van Exel's long-range marksmanship (35.7 percent) is nearly identical to Brandon's (35.5 percent). I guess one way for Brandon to appease his detractors would be to start bombing away from behind the three-point line.

The one area where Van Exel holds the edge over Brandon is in assists--he's got 4,796 to Brandon's 4,407, with only 41 more turnovers. But since Brandon was leading the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio this year before he got hurt, it's hard to argue that the Wolves need an upgrade there. Besides, a missed shot turns the ball over to the other team two-thirds of the time, and Van Exel has 490 more misfires than Brandon.

It's on defense--where basketball games are won or lost, especially in the playoffs--that Brandon's statistical superiority over Van Exel is most apparent. In a nutshell, Terrell has almost twice as many steals as Van Exel, nearly three times as many blocks, and more rebounds.

What the Brandon bashers really don't like about him is his personality. Almost from the day he arrived in Minnesota, Brandon has been ripped for not playing through injuries and for being too laid-back to inspire his team. In his column arguing for the trade, Barreiro refers to Van Exel as being "hungrier," "cold-blooded," a "go-for-the-throat guy" who is "a better energy match for Kevin Garnett." This is utter bullshit. In both Los Angeles and Denver, Van Exel has added to his team's dysfunctions through sniping and complaints, by feuding with his teammates and with the fans. In his most recent game before he got hurt, he used hand signals to further encourage the fans in Denver to boo him, and has made his trade demands a consuming focus for the franchise.

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