Minnesota Timberwolves Report Card: Early Grades for All Key Players

Max MinskerCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2012

Minnesota Timberwolves Report Card: Early Grades for All Key Players

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    It's still early in the season, but this Timberwolves team is clearly different than last year's team. With a new coach and a few new key players, this team has a new face. 

    At 7-10, the Wolves are playing much better than they have in a long time; they have struggled to find any kind of consistency since Kevin Garnett was traded years ago. Now, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic for fans.

    So far this season, Rick Adelman has tried different things to find the right combination of players. I will be handing out grades for all 10 players that have been involved in the rotation so far this year. 

Darko Milicic: B-

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    So far, Darko Milicic has started every game for the Wolves even though he plays less than 20 minutes a night. He is averaging six points, four rebounds and a block a game. 

    Milicic has done pretty much exactly what has been expected of him this year. He starts, guards the team's best post threat and puts in a few baskets. Nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. Just a reliable, defensive-minded center. 

    He gets a B- because he hasn't really gotten any better, and his role has been reduced, but he's still contributing and still brings certain skills to the table. 

J.J. Barea: B+

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    J.J. Barea has struggled with injuries and has only played in six games so far this season, but in 19 minutes a game he's averaged 11 points while adding two rebounds and two assists. 

    While the Wolves are currently running a surplus of point guards, Barea is capable of fitting in alongside another point guard and playing the 2. He plays with toughness and brings a certain edge to the court—something that doesn't appear in the box score. 

    I questioned the decision to sign Barea at first, but after watching him play—even in limited action—it's clear that he's a great fit. Having been to the Finals, he brings a veteran presence to an otherwise inexperienced team. From what I've seen of him, it would seem that he deserves a B+, but it could be higher depending on how he plays once he returns. 

Wayne Ellington: B

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    I have certainly been a critic of Wayne Ellington in the past. A big one. But this year, he has surprised me to some extent. He has been streaky, but he has had some good performances—and not just shooting-wise. He has improved his all-around game significantly. He's a better defender, better passer, and he has his wits about him on offense. 

    In 21 minutes a game, he's averaging seven points and two rebounds with almost one steal. He's barely turning the ball over, and he's shooting 48 percent from the field and 41 percent from behind the arc. 

    While being the alternative to Wes Johnson makes him more attractive, Ellington simply looks better on the floor this year. Eventually, I expect him to develop into a valuable role player. His minutes will likely regress with players returning from injury, but that doesn't mean he hasn't met expectations thus far. 

Anthony Tolliver: C

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    I honestly don't really know what to do about Anthony Tolliver. He's a decent player, and he has made some big threes, but I don't know what his role is on the court. He did guard LeBron fairly well during the game, but at the same time, he plays on the perimeter a little bit too much. 

    In 22 minutes a game, Tolliver is averaging five points and three rebounds a game—not exactly impressive numbers. He seems to know what he's doing, yet i just don't really know what to do about a grade for him. I almost want to give him an incomplete, pending more information.

    At this point, I'll leave it at a C. He hasn't been good, he hasn't been bad. Just mediocre. 

Derrick Williams: B

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    It's hard to give a rookie a definitive grade based on performance in 16 games considering there is no standard to compare performances to. Either way, Derrick Williams has played well this season. 

    In just 19 minutes a game, Williams is averaging eight points and four rebounds. Solid numbers for a rookie in such limited playing time. Williams looked awkward on the floor at first, but he has only continued to improve, even in such a short amount of time. 

    Williams' ability to play at both forward spots has made him a useful option off the bench for Rick Adelman. His outside shooting isn't exactly where it was expected to be, but with time, I expect that as he becomes more comfortable in the offense, his shooting will improve.

    I can easily see him garnering more minutes and a higher grade as the season progresses, but for now, I'll leave it at a B. 

Wes Johnson: D

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    Let me just say up front, Wes Johnson has been terrible this season. I mean really bad. In 23 minutes a game, he has averaged six points and three rebounds. As if those pathetic numbers weren't enough, he is turning over the ball too much and his shooting percentage is disastrous.

    As a starting guard, his assist-to-turnover ratio is less than one, and at 37 percent from the field and 25 percent from behind the arc, he isn't intimidating anyone with his range. Johnson is supposed to stretch the floor on offense, but he can't even do that. 

    Not only is Wes Johnson a non-factor on the floor, but he makes a negative impact on the floor. He's a decent perimeter defender, but he's missing too many shots and giving the ball away too often for his usage rates. He needs to improve significantly, or he should be moving out of the starting lineup sooner rather than later. 

Luke Ridnour: B-

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    Luke Ridnour has had an up-and-down season, but over the last few games, Ridnour has been playing much better. Alongside Rubio, he is allowed to play off the ball and set up for perimeter jumpers. He's probably better off in that capacity, as he is one of the only reliable perimeter scorers on the team.

    In 32 minutes a game, he's averaging 12.4 points, 3.5 assists and a steal. He's shooting 48 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line. Fairly pedestrian numbers, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Being a solid shooter, he plays a role on the team that needs to be filled. 

    Right now, he gets a B-, but if his numbers continue to trend upward, it could improve. With other players coming back from injury, it's hard to imagine him maintaining his current minutes, but he is playing well. 

Michael Beasley: C-

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    Michael Beasley has missed games due to injury thus far, but in the games he has played in, it hasn't been good. The Wolves are 2-5 in games Beasley has appeared and 5-5 in the rest. 

    Beasley is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds in 32 minutes a game this season. The numbers seem fine until we see that it takes Beasley 14 shots a game to get those 13 points. Beasley is a talented player, but he's a ball-stopper on offense and averages three turnovers a game as a small forward.

    He plays an immature style of basketball, and he's not a good fit on this team. I like Beasley as a talent, but I think the team is better without him. I don't really expect my attitude towards Beasley to change unless he decides to reform the way he approaches the game. 

Ricky Rubio: A+

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    Coming into the season, Timberwolves fans had no idea what Rubio would bring to the table. Some thought he was destined for stardom, while others thought he would be a total bust.

    What he has done to this point is so far beyond anything anyone could have anticipated. In 32 minutes a game, Rubio is averaging 11 points, eight assists, five rebounds and 2.5 steals. Not only are his stats solid, but the impact on the team when he's on the floor is remarkable.

    Rubio puts his teammates in a position to score with his excellent passing ability, and he's only touching the tip of the iceberg. Rubio's transition to the NBA may appear to have been easy, but I believe that much better things are in store.

    He has gotten by based on talent alone in the first part of the season, but as he gets more comfortable with the system as well as his teammates, I think Wolves fans will really be in for a treat. 

    I couldn't have envisioned a better scenario for Rubio's first 16 games, and for that, he receives an A+.

Kevin Love: A-

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    Kevin Love has been excellent this year. To be up front, the only reason Love isn't receiving an A or even an A+ is his terrible field-goal percentage. Forty-one percent is not acceptable even if he loves the perimeter. Considering his play last year, it would be extremely hard to give him an A or A+.

    At 24 points and 14 rebounds a game, Love's numbers are definitely those of an All-Star. He lost a lot of weight before the season, and it's helping him on both ends of the floor. 

    With a new four-year $62 million dollar extension signed just hours ago, Love is going to be a part of the Wolves' organization for the foreseeable future. His production this season has been elite, and he deserves every penny of that extension. He is the centerpiece of the franchise and has proven to be one of the league's best young players so far this year.