Final Grades for Each Timberwolves Player in 2013
As the offseason begins and the Timberwolves are once again relegated to their respective sofas to watch other teams tear it up in the postseason, it is a time for reflection before moving onto next season.
Once again, David Kahn will look to trim the fat on this roster as they head into next season aspiring to finally get back to the playoffs. Many positives can be taken from this year despite the injuries and the 51 losses.
This was a lost season due to the multitude of injuries for many players. For that reason, Kevin Love, Brandon Roy, Malcolm Lee and even Josh Howard will all be excluded from this list.
Looking back, the facts are the facts, and this team needs to get better. Rebuilding and youth will no longer be acceptable excuses next year. Grading each player will determine exactly where this roster stands heading into a crucial offseason.
The little-known big man from LSU burst onto the scene for Minnesota this season in the wake of the injuries.
Signed to a 10-day contract, Johnson showed up and promptly earned MVP chants in his first game. With Love, Nikola Pekovic and Dante Cunningham all out on the front line, the team was forced to turn to Johnson, and he carved himself a nice little niche on this team.
Johnson was later signed for the rest of the season. The 6'11" forward surely made enough of a mark to garner consideration for a roster spot next season. Shooting 64 percent from the field and proving to be a reliable shot-blocker and powerful finisher around the rim, Johnson made his mark this season in his limited role.
Final Grade: B
Gelabale also stepped in on a 10-day contract along with Chris Johnson and provided an immediate spark.
After his three-year sabbatical from the NBA, Gelabale came back and gave the Timberwolves what they needed, a versatile forward to eat up minutes in lieu of all the injuries.
Gelabale shot a career-high 51.8 percent from the field this season. He gave the offense whatever it needed on a given night.
That being said, Minnesota was just 2-8 when Gelabale logged over 25 minutes this season. While he had a nice comeback and likely earned himself a spot on a roster somewhere next season, there is just no room for him here. He did play reasonably well when given the chance, but it is unlikely he can do much more than what we've already seen.
Final Grade: C+
Greg Stiemsma was brought in this season to give this team an intimidating defensive presence and block shots. With Pekovic always being prone to nagging injuries, it is important for them to have a solid option off the bench to come in and give him a rest when he needs it.
Stiemsma's production slipped this season. His blocks and field-goal percentage went down considerably. He showed flashes of the player he was last season with Boston, but overall, he did not live up to the billing.
Stiemsma's main issue is his inability to stay out of foul trouble. Far too often he would come in and immediately commit silly fouls while hedging out on screens or trying to swipe the ball from his man.
He needs to improve his overall defense. While he is a legitimate force blocking shots, the Wisconsin product gets lit up far too often. He does not body his man up and cheats for blocks too often instead of staying on the ground and banging with his man.
The Timberwolves got what they anticipated out of Stiemsma, just not enough of it. He was probably forced into playing a bit too many minutes due to the injuries, but more times than not he failed to step up when called upon.
Final Grade: C
Dealing Wayne Ellington for Dante Cunningham proved to be a solid move for this team. Ellington was never able to produce consistently enough to warrant big minutes, whereas Cunningham stepped in from day one and filled his role perfectly.
Rick Adelman used Cunningham as somewhat of a crutch this season. When he was hot, Adelman would leave him on the court and let his intensity resonate amongst the roster.
With Love and Derrick Williams being the big-name forwards on this team, Cunningham realized his role right away and never strayed too far from it. He was brought here to play defense and provide intensity, and he did exactly that.
Cunningham usually found himself on the court during crunch time for this team, as he is a smart player who knows his own strengths. He consistently knocked down the 15-18 foot jumpers and attacked the boards like a madman.
The 6'8" forward took advantage of the most playing time he's seen in his short career and ran with it. Cunningham had a career year across the board and looks to be a solid piece of this team for the future.
Final Grade: B
The Russian spark plug was brought overseas this year amidst a solid amount of hype.
Shved had a very up-and-down rookie campaign. Coming into the league, shooting was supposed to be his main strong point. He struggled mightily at times with his shot this year, as his scoring went down every month after November.
What we did not expect from Shved was that he would be such an adept passer. When his shot wasn't falling (which was far too often), Shved showed no trouble getting to the rim and creating for his teammates. Shved averaged a solid 3.7 assists in his limited minutes.
The opportunity for Shved to seize the shooting guard spot for this team for years to come is still very much there. He absolutely must bulk up in order to avoid being a defensive liability; he has solid size and length, but at just 182 pounds, Shved lacks the strength to stand up to more powerful guards he will face on a nightly basis.
Final Grade: C+
For a role player, Budinger had a considerable impact on this team when he was healthy.
Minnesota had a winning record with a healthy Budinger in the lineup. Although he played only 23 games, his ability to spread the floor with his outside shooting and slash to the rim is something that nobody else on the roster is capable of.
Along with Love, Budinger is one of the best shooters on this team. Without the both of them, this team limped to the finish line as the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA.
Budinger was admittedly never 100 percent after his injury, but we saw glimpses of how he would prove to be a crucial part of this team early on before the meniscus tear. He is perfect for Rick Adelman's corner offense and has recently stated how important Adelman's decision is on him staying with Minnesota this offseason.
The script is still out on Budinger. He gave the team a shot in the arm at times this year and they would love to have him back.
Final Grade: C
Same old song and dance.
Barea has shown exactly what kind of player he is these last few years. He will drive teams crazy with his maddening attacks on the rim as he drives the lane with ease. Sometimes he can look like Kobe, and sometimes he can look like Adam Morrison.
Barea did exactly what he was expected to do this year. He came off the bench to provide instant offense when the team went through its lulls. This year he shot many more three-pointers than last year and his assists went down largely due to the return of Ricky Rubio, so there's not much to assess there.
His ability to shred defenses and get in the heads of defenders is vital to this team. While he has his cold spells, he has proved to hit big shots time and time again and this team flat out needs him.
Final Grade: B-
Luke Ridnour was once again forced to play out of position this year. The bottom line is that this team is simply not going anywhere with him as the starting shooting guard.
Ridnour did have a solid season once again, as he always does. His assists dipped to a career low outside of his rookie season mostly due to playing off the ball so much.
He is what he is. Ridnour can hit open jumpers and has a calming effect on this young team. Regardless, he gets consistently dominated on the defensive end. Bigger guards blow past him and he resorts to slapping at the ball, usually resulting in and-ones.
Ridnour would be a very nice backup point guard in this league, which is what he was before he came to Minnesota, where he has been forced to do more. He slid into Brandon Roy's role this season and, to no fault of his own, he simply was not capable of providing what this team needed. Despite his solid season, this team will remain in a rut with him at shooting guard.
Final Grade: C+
Derrick Williams took some big steps forward this season. He may not have lived up to his billing as the second overall pick just yet, but he is on his way.
Still only 21 years of age, D-Will eliminated some of the flaws in his game from his rookie season. Williams showed much more confidence in himself and pulled the trigger on three-pointers with no hesitation. He was much more decisive with the ball and quicker with his decision-making.
During his rookie year, Williams would look lost at times. While he still has a ways to go, he showed a propensity to hit the mid-range jumper with consistency as well as an ability to drive to the rim with much more force than the previous season. The result was a spike in scoring up to 12 points per game.
With Love out almost all year and Kirilenko and Budinger missing chunks of time as well, D-Will needed to step up, and he did exactly that. He averaged 15 points and 6.3 rebounds a game after the All-Star break when he consistently received starters' minutes.
Williams continued to expand his game without losing his identity. His noticeable spike in confidence was a welcome sight as he knocked down the mid-range jumper so consistently. He also didn't forget what he does best and threw down many thunderous dunks to make his point guards happy.
As far as draft prospects, we all know big men take longer to develop. At such a young age, Williams is showing the desire and work ethic to be great. Fans just need to be patient.
Final Grade: B
Andrei Kirilenko came to Minnesota last offseason after a one-year hiatus following the lockout. From day one, he has been an invaluable commodity to this roster.
The 32-year-old did not lose a step after playing a year in Europe. His numbers were right on par with his career averages, and he even set a career high in field-goal percentage this season.
Kirilenko's ability to impact a game on defense and get out and run with Rubio proved to be a perfect match in Minnesota. As the most experienced player on the roster, he acted like it at all times, mentoring the young Wolves.
AK-47's scoring dipped towards the end of the year, but he was such an important piece of the team this season. Adelman loved him and the unreal defensive intensity he brought, consistently guarding the opposing team's best perimeter threat.
Same story here. Kirilenko did not light the world on fire, but he gave this team what they paid for.
Final Grade: B
Now we reach the pride of Montenegro. The lovable muscular man in Minneapolis is heading into his contract year, and boy has he earned himself a serious payday.
Pekovic was the stabilizing force in Minnesota this season. With Love out, Pekovic took more of the scoring load upon his menacing shoulders and bulled his way through opposing centers as if they were cardboard cutouts.
Pek put up career numbers of 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in his first full season as a starter. He consistently held his own for this team in the midst of a lost season and did his damage as the No. 1 scoring option.
In a league devoid of talented bruising centers, Pekovic is that much more valuable. He is a mismatch every night strictly due to his brute strength. If he looks to add finesse to his game, as was mentioned in the above link, it would officially make him devoid of all weaknesses on offense. He finishes around the rim with both hands and can score with his back to the basket as well as on put-backs. His footwork is impeccable for a man his size. A jump shot would make him that much more of a nightmare.
The T-Wolves were 5-15 without this beast in the lineup this season. They simply cannot afford to let him get away and must open up their checkbooks for him. He is already the best center in franchise history, and it would be hard to pitch a Pek-less team to a fanbase so desperate for a winning team.
Final Grade: A-
Last but not least, we get to the floppy-haired point guard that has taken this fanbase by storm.
Rubio returned around late December from his torn ACL and came along very slowly. After a few weeks shooting around 20 percent from the field and showing little of the flair that made him such a joy to watch the previous year, we all wondered if and when we would ever see the real Rubio again.
Fortunately, he returned to his usual self. As the season ran on, Rubio showed a more refined jump shot at times. He continued to get better and better and started putting up some seriously gaudy numbers for a good portion of this season.
Rubio put up some very eye-opening numbers after the All-Star break. A stat line of 12.9 points, eight assists, 5.2 rebounds and a jaw-dropping 2.9 steals per game proved that he is back and better than ever. He even shot the three to the tune of 35 percent after the break.
Despite coming up a hair short of leading the league in steals and putting up his usual top-10 assist numbers, Rubio improved in one aspect more than all others: Leadership.
Kevin Love is the indisputable superstar of this team, but even he knows they are going nowhere without Rubio. The Spaniard showed a fire and killer instinct that he had not shown during his rookie year, and even amidst another lost season, his fire still burned as bright as ever. Rubio is doing everything he can to make sure losing does not become an acceptable habit in Minneapolis.
Rubio still has a ways to go in his consistency, especially with his shooting. However, he took some big steps forward this year, and with his first healthy offseason ahead of him, he is in position for a monster season next year.
Final Grade: B+