Handing Out Minnesota Timberwolves Team Awards Through the Season's 1st Quarter
The Minnesota Timberwolves have an 11-9 record, good enough for second place in the Northwest Division and sixth in the Western Conference.
They allow only 93.1 points per game, the second-best mark in the West.
Those are some impressive statistics, but the most eye-opening number is one, which represents the amount of players that have started all 20 games this season (Luke Ridnour). Imagine what the T-Wolves can do with a consistent rotation.
Until then, here are Minnesota's first-quarter grades.
Most Valuable Player (MVP)
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Kevin Love was a leading candidate for MVP of the entire league last season, but we have yet to see the consistent dominance from Kevin Love yet. Not that his stats have been shabby, they’ve just been a step down from what he showed us last season.
Every team needs a seasoned player who can step up and take care of the team when all else fails. Chicago has Luol Deng, Boston has Paul Pierce, Miami has LeBron—it’s a stretch to compare Kirilenko to LeBron, but his impact with the Wolves has been equally unmistakable.
At 13 points per game (PPG) and 7.5 rebounds per game (RPG), Andrei Kirilenko is showing us why the Wolves made an effort to bring him in.
He’s been a dominant defensive anchor for the team (really, the only defensive-minded player on the starting roster), his leadership has been wildly evident and the Wolves have struggled mightily in games that he has missed.
His leadership is shown on and off the court, and he has been one of the few solid areas for the otherwise spotty Timberwolves team.
When it comes down to the wire, Andrei Kirilenko has been the player that has won games for the Wolves. As good as Kevin Love and the rest of the team have been, Kirilenko is perhaps the biggest reason that the T-Wolves are still alive in the Northwest Division.
Rookie of the Year (ROY)
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For one huge reason, Alexey Shved has dominated any talk of who the best rookie in Minnesota has been: He’s the only rookie.
Still, though, nobody in Minnesota is complaining. Shved has been fantastic in his action off the bench for the Timberwolves.
With 10.5 PPG and 3.5 assists per game (APG), Shved has been leading the bench in scoring. His play has also been good enough that he has garnered attention as a candidate for the league-wide ROY.
As a player that has already played at a professional level in Russia, Shved isn’t lacking fundamentals. He’s been a very positive force for the team. Especially given that he went undrafted, Shved may be the most underrated rookie in the NBA.
Defensive Player of the First Quarter
Andrei Kirilenko has already won an award, but he takes the defensive player award as well in a landslide.
The leadership and experience the Kirilenko provides has helped take the Wolves from the 24th-ranked defense to the fourth-ranked defense, but it’s his individual defense that shaped the Wolves into the scrappy defensive team that we’re seeing.
Take for example the game on Nov. 28 against the LA Clippers, when Kirilenko didn’t play due to back spasms. The Wolves were edged out by six points, but the real takeaway from the game was that the Clippers scored 54 points in the paint. Granted, “Lob City” can be expected to put up big numbers under the rim, but 54 points is ridiculous.
Nikola Pekovic is a great paint protector, but he isn’t a rim protector. Without a true shot-blocker in the game, the Wolves were beat up under the basket.
Andrei Kirilenko brings a mean, spirited attitude to the defense—his ability to cover any given position takes the entire team’s defense to a different level.
We probably would have seen an improved defense under head coach Rick Adelman anyways, but Kirilenko’s leadership has solidified any weaknesses.
Most Improved Player Through First Quarter
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People weren’t expecting much from Dante Cunningham coming into Minnesota. He’s been a nomad over his career in the NBA, going through four teams in his first four seasons in the NBA.
Given how well he has performed with the Timberwolves, though, it could be that he’s finally found a permanent team.
So far in the season, Cunningham has been maintaining a very solid 8.2 PPG and 5.0 RPG. Those are solid numbers coming off the bench, and they’ve also solidified his place on the team behind Kevin Love.
When Love missed games with a broken hand, Cunningham stepped up and made waves. His superb defense is just one reason to like him, as he also brings hustle and a surprisingly well-rounded offensive game.
Last season with the Memphis Grizzlies, Cunningham averaged 5.2 PPG to go along with 3.8 RPG. He wasn’t a great fit in the rotation, either, and only managed to play 17 minutes per game.
The Timberwolves traded away fourth-year guard Wayne Ellington in order to gain Cunningham from the Grizzlies, and it has paid huge dividends.
In Minnesota, Dante Cunningham has been a very consistent weapon off the bench. Mainly because the Wolves have been plagued by injuries, Cunningham is becoming more and more of a respected threat.
Sixth Man Through First Quarter
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From the Timberwolves second unit, J.J Barea is the player that has really stepped out and made the biggest difference.
Love him or hate him, but Barea is one of the few players in the NBA that can create offense out of nothing. Coming off the bench for just 22 MPG, Barea has been one of the more dynamic scorers for the Timberwolves.
His game has improved since he broke into the spotlight with Dallas two seasons ago. His role has expanded beyond being just a player who can put points on the board, as more and more he’s trying to use his offense to get the rest of the team involved.
With Dallas, Barea never averaged more than four assists per game. In his two seasons with Minnesota, he’s been right around the five mark.
His passing has become as smooth as his layups, and his high-energy defense has greatly helped make up for the absence of Rubio.
When Rubio returns, Barea will likely remain the primary ball-handler for the second unit.