NBA 2012: Grading the Minnesota Timberwolves
I haven't written in awhile, but I watch a lot of Wolves basketball and I just couldn't resist getting my opinions on paper. I'll be handing out grades to all of the Wolves' key players so far.
Note: PER is a metric created by ESPN's John Hollinger and stands for Player Efficiency Rating, and the average for an NBA player is 15. You can read more about PER and what it means here.
Nikola Pekovic: A-
Nikola Pekovic has played well so far this season, and he's had to carry the team through the early part of the season with all the injuries the Wolves have sustained.
Pek's still very raw offensively. His shot selection is questionable, and he does have a tendency to turn the ball over, but on the whole he's been solid. He's been a big body in the paint for the Wolves and at point has led the charge offensively.
Playing alongside Kevin Love should boost his efficiency, and together, they'll form one of the best rebounding duos in the league.
Andrei Kirilenko: A
When the Wolves had to trade a first round pick to make room for Andrei Kirilenko this summer I was definitely skeptical, but I think he's lived up to his contract.
With a 13-8-3 with 51-38-71 shooting splits and excellent defense every night, Kirilenko is one of the main reasons why the Wolves stayed afloat without Kevin Love. He's the perfect compliment for this team, and although his percentages may not be sustainable, he's certainly playing great right now.
Kirilenko is leading the team in minutes, and has been the heart of this team. He gets the toughest defensive assignments every night, and leads the team in both steals and blocks. The Wolves have been great on defense (top 10 in points allowed), and when Ricky Rubio comes back, the Wolves should be able to take it to a new level, with Kirilenko at the center of it.
Luke Ridnour: C+
Luke Ridnour has been pretty predictable so far this season. He's a back up point guard that's been thrust into the starting role. His numbers are respectable, but he hasn't been anything spectacular.
He's known as a good perimeter shooter, but this season his numbers from beyond the arc have been rather pedestrian. He's shooting just under 32 percent from behind the three point line, which is much lower than his career average. Hopefully his offensive efficiency will improve when Rubio returns to the lineup, but to this point he hasn't been great offensively.
Although Ridnour has been just an average offensive player, he's actually been quite a disaster on defense, allowing opposing point guards a PER of 25.0 (per 82games.com), including almost 26 points per 48 minutes, and an effective FG percentage of 59 percent. Not only are opposing guards scoring on him, but they're scoring efficiently. Point guards are generally not very efficient from the floor, but they clearly benefit from being matched up with Luke Ridnour.
The interesting thing is that Ridnour actually plays better defensively against shooting guards, allowing a PER of just over 15. The problem is that when he plays shooting guard, his PER drops to 11.5 (from 14 as a PG).
You would think that since Ridnour is supposedly a good spot up shooter, he would benefit offensively from playing shooting guard, but struggle defensively because of his size, but as it turns out, the opposite is true.
Maybe Ridnour just isn't quick enough to guard other point guards, or maybe he's just better suited to run against the second unit. Either way, the Wolves should see a huge defensive improvement when Ridnour is moved to the bench. He's serviceable, but below average.
Derrick Williams: D+
On paper, Derrick Williams has all the necessary skills to be a matchup nightmare in the NBA. He's a freak athlete for his size, he's got good range, and he's developing some nice moves both in the low post and on the perimeter.
The problem is translating those skills into production.
If you haven't watched Williams play, you'd probably think he's simply adjusting to the NBA, and struggling as a result of his unorthodox role in Minnesota. However, if you look deeper, it's more complex than it seems.
Being a "combo guard" or "combo forward" can be a good thing in the NBA. Being able to play two positions can be useful. The problem occurs when the term "combo forward" is used to describe someone that is too small to play one position and not quick enough to play the other.
It is my firm belief that in order to succeed in the NBA, Derrick Williams has to commit to playing power forward. However, since the Wolves already have Kevin Love, he dropped a bunch of weight this off-season and is trying to play small forward.
It's clear that he's just not cut out for the position. He's too big, and his ball handling and shooting skills just aren't where they need to be for him to be effective. I have a feeling he'll never be able to adjust to the position.
While Kevin Love was out with an injury and Williams really had a chance to shine at the power forward position, he seemed all too comfortable sitting out on the perimeter shooting jump shots.
Derrick Williams is an athletic specimen with all the tools to be a very effective interior player, yet he never catches the ball within 20 feet of the basket and can't really create his own shot. Even when he goes inside he gets blocked almost 20 percent of the time (82games.com), and really struggles to finish around the rim, shooting better on jumpers than on inside shots.
Then, on the other side of the ball, he's consistently getting driven on and out-rebounded. I was really hoping Williams would come back this season a new player, but it seems like he may be dangerously close to bust territory.
There's no one that wants DWill to succeed more than I do, considering his trade value would skyrocket if he showed anything at all, but to this point, I just haven't seen it.
Alexey Shved: B
Everybody in Minnesota loves Alexey Shved. They praise his late game heroics, and supposed combination of ball handling and dead eye shooting. The real story is a little bit different.
Coming over from Europe, most didn't know what to expect from Shved. David Kahn spoke very highly of him coming into the season, and it was expected that he'd be a part of the rotation.
Shved does bring a unique skill set to the table. He's 6'6 yet he's a pretty legitimate option at the point, and he has excellent passing abilities for his size. He does, however, have a tendency to force things, and turn the ball over excessively at times (two a game in just 24 minutes).
He may still be going through an adjustment period, as the transition to the NBA isn't always smooth, so he could just need a little more time.
The problem with Shved so far is that he hasn't been able to get his shot to fall. He makes shots at big moments to soften the blow, but if you look at the percentages, it's pretty shocking. Shved is shooting just 39 percent from the field and 31 percent from behind the arc. He was brought in as a three point specialist, but to this point, he's done just about everything but that.
If Shved can start getting his shot to fall, he'll be the absolute perfect piece for the Wolves, but considering his inefficient scoring, he's not there yet.
Perhaps Shved's biggest contribution so far has been on defense, where he is allowing opposing shooting guards a PER of just 11 (82games.com), and an effective field goal percentage of just 38 percent. Shved's defense has been excellent, and when Rubio returns, they should have excellent defenders at the 1, 2, and 3.
Malcolm Lee: D
When I watch Malcolm Lee play it doesn't seem like he's all that bad. He just seems like a place holder. Let's just say the statistical evidence does not weigh in his favor.
Lee's 37/29/58 are absolutely atrocious for a guard and his PER of 8 is equally terrible.
You'd think since he's so bad on offense, he must be better defensively, right? Not the case. He allows a PER of 21 to opposing shooting guards and 29 to opposing small forwards. His plus/minus isn't especially horrible since he often runs with the first team, but really, he's terrible.
Dante Cunningham: B+
When the Wolves traded away Wayne Ellington for Dante Cunningham over the summer, I didn't really know what to think. I hadn't watched Cunningham since his days at Villanova University, and I knew Wayne Ellington wasn't worth much of anything, so I just called it a wash.
As it turns out, Cunningham has been a nice player for the Wolves so far this season, averaging eight points and five rebounds a game in 22 minutes. He plays with great energy and has great athleticism.
The one thing I really love about Cunningham is his ability to shoot the mid range jumper. I hate when teams settle for too many 20 footers. It's not an inside shot, and it's not worth three points. Please check out this fantastic breakdown of shot efficiency to demonstrate why mid range jumpers are a bad idea, but if you can make them consistently, it's an easy shot to be had for a big man, and it can draw defenders out of the paint.
Cunningham has a silky mid range game that completes his unique skill set. He's not going to be a star, but he's a legitimate combo forward that brings a ton of energy off the bench. I really like him as a role player going forward and it looks like the Wolves may have gotten a solid pickup for literally nothing.
J.J. Barea: B+
J.J. Barea is almost everything you could want in a backup point guard. He's a good passer and floor leader who can provide a scoring punch if he has to.
Barea's 39/28/91 shooting splits certainly leave something to be desired, but he's a helpful player for the most part. His 16 PER is solid, but the real story is Barea's pesky defense.
That's right, pesky. Barea's defense definitely passes the eye test, as just watching him you can tell he's very disruptive guarding opposing point guards. He's a very physical defender and is a master at drawing offensive fouls.
In this case, the stats back up what we're seeing on the floor, and too a much larger extent than you might think. Barea is holding opposing point guards to a ridiculously low 4.3 PER (82games.com) while he's on the floor. That's right, 4.3.
Minnesota's offense is 2.1 points per 48 minutes better with Barea on the floor, meaning his play making offsets his poor shooting, however, the defense is a shocking 7.7 points per 48 minutes worse with Barea on the bench. His impact on both ends of the floor, especially defensively, is obvious.
Barea is a great role player for the Wolves and has met expectations so far this year.
Kevin Love: B-?
It's almost unfair to give Kevin Love a grade for two reasons. First, he's only played six games, and second, he wasn't even supposed to be back yet. Then again, maybe he should get downgraded based on the fact that he hurt his wrist "doing knuckle push-ups" "in his home".
Anyways, what I've seen from Kevin Love so far this season hasn't impressed me at all. He looks fine, but he's certainly not the player he was last season. There's a certain amount of this that can be attributed to either his lack of basketball conditioning because of the injury, or playing through the actual injury itself, but that's hard to say.
Kevin Love is filling up the stat sheet as usual, but he seems to be sitting out on the perimeter a lot more, and trying to create his own shots from outside, which has been completely ineffective. He's obviously still a great player, and he'll be back, but for now it's frustrating to watch at times.
It could be argued that his atrocious 37/19/68 shooting splits are costing the Wolves games, and clearly his touch has been affected. Hopefully his stroke comes back soon, because they're definitely going to need him at full strength to make a run at the playoffs.
Ultimately, Love should be fine, but his performance through his first six games has undoubtedly been a disappointment.