You'll never guess which one of these guys leads the power rankings. Except you actually will.
Breathe easy, Minnesota Timberwolves fans. No, the team's not playing perfectly right now. And yeah, there are some serious flaws beginning to surface, specifically the absolutely dreadful bench play (more on that in a bit).
Still, the Timberwolves are just a few games out of the playoffs and should be in even better shape based on how they're playing. Their expected won-loss record is a solid 12-7 per Basketball-Reference, and John Hollinger's playoff odds still have them at a 62 percent chance to make the postseason. Minnesota's playing some pretty decent basketball despite its record.
With all that being said, let's take a look at who's done the most for the Timberwolves to this point in the season. The players are ranked based on both how they've lived up to preseason expectations and their on-court production.
You can probably guess who's played the best ball for Minnesota thus far, but some of the others might surprise you.
All stats accurate as of 12/6/2013 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless specifically stated otherwise.
Miss you, Chase.
This one goes out to the injured Ronny Turiaf and Chase Budinger, two players the Timberwolves could really use right about now. Get well soon, guys.
Shved has been a big disappointment this season.
No. 13: Alexey Shved
Alexey Shved proved to be pretty exciting as a rookie last season, averaging nine points and four assists per game and routinely throwing passes like this. Unfortunately, he hasn't been nearly that effective this season.
Shved's averaging just nine minutes a game (and has played just five minutes total over Minnesota's last two games), in part because he's posting a horrific 36 percent true shooting. That's one of the lowest marks of any player who's logged at least 100 minutes.
The Timberwolves were counting on Shved to provide some backcourt depth, but he appears to have played himself out of Rick Adelman's rotation.
No. 12: Shabazz Muhammad
Shabazz Muhammad has amassed a whopping 25 NBA minutes. Considering how dreadful the Timberwolves bench has been (only the Washington Wizards' bench is rated lower in efficiency per hoopsstats.com), maybe that's all that needs to be said.
No. 11: A.J. Price
Price is in the exact same situation as Shabazz Muhammad. It's hard to think highly of a guard getting under five minutes per game on a team that could use some backcourt help.
Dieng's flashed some real ability in the few minutes he's seen the court.
Recently, Gorgui Dieng has gotten some (though admittedly very sparing) minutes outside of garbage time. And he's flashed enough potential in those minutes that Minnesota Timberwolves fans should be genuinely excited about what he could someday become.
Dieng is a very good athlete, and perhaps the only player on the Timberwolves roster who could someday protect the rim at an elite level. He crashes the boards well, and much like the rest of the Minnesota big men, he's an able passer, averaging four (!!) assists per 36 minutes.
Dieng is pretty raw, but he's got potential and could end up getting real minutes for Minnesota sooner rather than later. The Timberwolves are hurting for bench help just about everywhere, and given time, Dieng could add some defensive punch to a squad sorely lacking it.
Mbah a Moute is a capable wing defender.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute hasn't played all that well for Minnesota yet, but since he was acquired via trade just over a week ago, I think he deserves a little bit of slack. Mbah a Moute has been around the block, and it's safe to say he'll fit quite nicely in Minnesota.
As good as Corey Brewer is on the defensive end, he needs a break sometimes, and Mbah a Moute—a big, strong wing who can effectively guard most 3s and 4s—is a great stopgap perimeter defender.
He won't do much on the other end—Mbah a Moute's jumper has always been shaky at best, and he doesn't have any real off-the-dribble abilities. Still, he's a solid cutter, and his shooting deficiencies won't be nearly as glaring with Kevin Love on the floor, especially in small ball lineups.
Overall, Mbah a Moute was a good pickup for the Timberwolves, and he should pay dividends on the defensive end.
Hummel's done fairly well on the glass thus far.
Now here's a nice little surprise.
Sure, Robbie Hummel hasn't exactly lit the NBA on fire, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's arrival might restrict him to the bench for a while. With that being said, Hummel came out of nowhere to play decent minutes for the Timberwolves, and that's worth something at least.
Hummel's shot the ball poorly this season, hitting just 25 percent from deep and posting a true shooting of 43 percent. Still, he's spread the floor for the Minnesota reserves by way of sheer three-point attempts alone (he's shot two a game and six per 36 minutes), and he's played solid defense as well.
Hummel's rebounding nearly 20 percent of opponent misses (third-best of the team's rotation players), and he's actually the only Minnesota reserve posting a positive net rating at plus-four points per 100 possessions, via 82games.com.
That's a bit misleading, as Hummel's spent a good chunk of time playing with the starters, but his positional defense has been sound, and all of his shots come in the flow of the Minnesota offense.
It'd certainly be nice if he made a few more of those shots, but considering how low expectations were for Hummel, he's done a decent job all the same.
Barea's at his best when he's getting to the rim.
J.J. Barea's been less than consistent for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and while that's a problem, it's unfair to put too much of the blame on Barea.
Barea is virtually the only Minnesota reserve capable of creating his own offense, and that's a heavy burden to carry. Still, the bench has to improve for the Timberwolves to have a playoff shot, and his play is the key.
Barea's been pretty inefficient this season (46 percent true shooting, 28 percent from deep), and while some of that seems to be nothing more than bad luck, another chunk of it can be explained by poor shot selection.
Barea's three-point rate jumped significantly as soon as he joined Minnesota following the 2010-11 season. He's firing up 5.5 threes per 36 minutes this season, and while that's not a problem when he's hitting at an above-average rate, it is when he's shooting just 28 percent. Especially considering how prolific he can be in the pick-and-roll.
Nearly 50 percent of Barea's offense has come in the pick-and-roll this season, and he's shooting 41 percent in pick-and-roll sets, per Synergy Sports Technology. But he'd be shooting much better in those sets—48 percent to be exact—if he quit taking off-the-dribble threes out of them.
Barea's launched 20 three-pointers out of the pick-and-roll this season and has made just four of them. He's shooting them at around the same rate as guards like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, and that simply can't happen if he wants to be a consistent force off the bench.
Barea's quick and crafty and can get to the rim as easily as just about anyone in the league. If he focuses on that and cuts out the silly threes, he could be a real weapon for Minnesota.
Cunningham has been a great glue guy off the bench.
Dante Cunningham has been the most consistent of the Timberwolves reserves, giving the team quality defense and rebounding pretty much every time he steps onto the court.
Cunningham's most comfortable banging down low, but he can guard 3s or 4s if the situation demands it. He can't really create on his own, but he's hit 45 percent of his mid-range jumpers this season, per NBA.com, and has had moderate success with Ricky Rubio in the pick-and-roll as well.
Cunningham's ability to draw defenders away from the rim has made him a dangerous small ball forward, and he and Kevin Love have been impressive together. The Timberwolves are outscoring teams by nearly 11 points per 100 possessions when the two are on the floor—one of their top two-man combinations per NBA.com—and that's given Rick Adelman a bit of lineup flexibility.
Brewer has been a nightmare in transition this season.
Finally at the starters.
Corey Brewer is the Timberwolves' top perimeter defender, consistently going up against the league's best wings and doing a pretty good job of it.
Brewer's held opposing 2s and 3s to a PER of 8.5 and 13.7 respectively, per 82games.com, and if not for him, Kevin Martin's less-than-great (to put it mildly) defense would be a whole lot more glaring.
Brewer's three-point stroke has been predictably poor, but he's shooting a very impressive 56 percent inside the arc, primarily because almost 50 percent of his shots come at the rim, per NBA.com. Brewer has virtually no off-the-bounce game to speak of, but he's taken advantage of the Minnesota bigs' superb passing with a lot of sneaky basket cuts that result in easy layups.
Brewer's also been a terror in transition for the Timberwolves.
Over 41 percent of Brewer's offense comes in transition, per Synergy Sports Technology, and he's been the number one recipient of Kevin Love's otherworldly outlet passes. Brewer's always quick to leak out into transition after a missed shot, and while that sometimes leads to defensive breakdowns, it more often than not results in easy points for Minnesota.
Rubio's been good, but at some point, he's going to have to learn to shoot.
As you might expect, Ricky Rubio's doing Ricky Rubio things this season, and it's worked out pretty well for the Timberwolves. Minnesota is 12 points per 100 possessions better with Rubio in the game, per 82games.com, and with all due respect to Corey Brewer, Rubio has been Minnesota's best defender this season.
Offensively though, Rubio's been a mixed bag.
His base numbers—10 points and nine assists per game—are very good, but his shooting hasn't improved, and that's starting to become a problem. Rubio's hitting solidly from outside (36 percent, though that's not likely to last), but he's also shooting just 46 percent at the rim and 30 percent or lower from just about everywhere else, per NBA.com.
As Grantland's Zach Lowe recently pointed out, that has serious consequences. Defenders can play way under picks and can play so far off Rubio that they shut down a lot of his passing lanes. Rubio's been very good nonetheless, but he won't truly take a step forward until he's able to hit from anywhere with some kind of regularity.
Nikola Pekovic is a massive human being. That is all.
Nikola Pekovic is quite possibly the most terrifying individual in the league, so it's fitting that he's been terrifying opposing defenses this season.
Pekovic is averaging 15.5 points and nine rebounds per game on 57 percent true shooting. He's only been mildly efficient in the post, but he's been an animal in the pick-and-roll, ranking 11th in the league in terms of efficiency and shooting 53 percent in those sets, per Synergy Sports Technology.
Pekovic draws a lot of attention down low, a big part of the reason that Kevin Martin and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Love have been so successful from outside this season. Defensively, Pekovic has also been solid. He's by no means been great, but to be fair, no one expects him to be.
Pekovic knows where to be on defense and moves his feet pretty well, but he's vertically challenged and won't ever be a rim-protector in the Roy Hibbert or Tyson Chandler mold. With that being said, he eats up a lot of space down low and that alone can make life pretty difficult for guards trying to get to the rim.
One thing worth watching is Pekovic's free-throw rate—he's getting to the line just 4.5 times per 36 minutes compared to six times per 36 minutes last season. Pekovic is a good free-throw shooter for a center, and if he can start getting to the line a bit more, he'll give the Timberwolves a nice little boost.
Martin's scored in all sorts of ways this season.
Kevin Martin has been everything the Timberwolves were hoping he would be and much more.
Martin's been an offensive machine for Minnesota. He's averaging 23 points on 57 percent true shooting (putting him in some elite company this season) and is hitting a scorching 44 percent from behind the arc.
Perhaps the best thing about Martin's season is his free-throw rate. He's getting to the line 6.4 times per game—good for 10th in the league—and he's hitting them at a ridiculous 94 percent clip.
Martin's done his damage in a lot of different ways this season, scoring a fair bit in isolation, but mixing in a lot of spot-up shooting, running off of screens and pick-and-roll looks as well. The Timberwolves will even go to him in the post if he's matched up against a smaller guard, and Martin draws a lot of fouls in those situations, per Synergy Sports Technology.
Unfortunately, Martin remains a pretty awful defender. He often falls victim to simple backdoor cuts or is just blown by off the dribble. Still, he's provided elite offense for the Timberwolves, and his ability to stretch the floor is matched by very few players. Great stuff so far from Martin.
Kevin Love is the best power forward in the game. Period.
Kevin Love is the embodiment of why a team's win/loss record should have no bearing on the MVP race. I'm not saying Love should win the MVP—there are a couple of guys more deserving. But using the Timberwolves' record to knock Love's candidacy would just be silly.
Love is averaging 24 points, 14 rebounds and four assists per game on 57 percent true shooting. The Timberwolves are outscoring teams by 12 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court and are being outscored by 16 points per 100 possessions when he's on the bench, per 82games.com. That's a truly unbelievable split.
For what it's worth, Love's also made serious strides in both his individual and team defense and has thrown such crazy, Wes Unseld-like outlet passes that GIFs like this are being made.
Love has been ridiculously good this season. Minnesota's bench is terrible. That's why it has a losing record. Love is the best player on the Timberwolves and is easily one of the best players in the league. Just remember that anytime you hear his MVP credentials discounted because the Timberwolves aren't some kind of 60-win juggernaut.