Final 1st-Half Player Power Rankings for Minnesota Timberwolves

Fred KatzFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2014

Final 1st-Half Player Power Rankings for Minnesota Timberwolves

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    It must be hard being a Minnesota Timberwolves fan.

    Last year, the Wolves were finally going to make the leap. Then, every player on the roster seemed to go down with an injury. Just 31 wins later, the season was over. 

    This year, Minnesota was supposed to make that same leap—except this one had a foreboding "if the team can stay healthy" asterisk stamped next to it. And it just hasn't happened. 

    Seven games away from the halfway marker, Minnesota is treading water in the West with a 17-17 record. This wasn't the plan, especially not after a 7-4 start. But the Wolves may actually be a better team than their wins and losses show.

    Maybe, just maybe, there's a run coming in the second half of the season.

    Eight teams rank in the top 13 in the NBA in both offensive and defensive rating: the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota.

    What do all those teams have in common? They would all be in the playoffs if the season ended on Jan. 8.

    Except for Minnesota. 

    It's been that kind of season for the Wolvesone that the overall stats say should be better than it has actually been. That makes sense when they're sitting at .500 with a depressing 0-9 record in games decided by four points or less. If the Wolves went just 4-5 in those games, things would seem dramatically different at 21-13.

    Those stats project some sort of progression in the second half of the year. The Wolves won't go the whole season without winning a four-point game. Eventually, they'll win some close ones.

    Some breaks have to go their way, right?

    Somehow, Minnesota has managed both to improve and disappoint through 34 games. Here's a look at how each individual on the roster has progressed throughout the season, ranked from worst to best.

     

    Note: All statistics valid as of Jan. 8.

10. Robbie Hummel

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    Robbie Hummel is officially a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    If that seems like a weird sentence, you're not crazy. He has been on the Timberwolves all season, but on Monday at 4 p.m. Central, his contract became guaranteed. Officially, he will be a member of the Timberwolves all season, or at least he'll get paid for the entire year.

    He remains on the roster for a few reasons. No. 1 is probably that the Wolves don't believe they can find anyone better. No. 2 is that he provides some supposed spacing at the forward spot for a team without many shooters.

    There's a key word in that sentence, though: supposed. Does he really provide the spacing he should?

    Now, when teams play the Timberwolves, they respect Hummel's shot from the corner. He's a solid three-point shooter, who should be more accurate than he's been this year.

    More than half of his field-goal attempts have been from long range this season, but the Purdue alumnus is shooting just 29 percent from three. And that's mainly because he hasn't shot well from the cornersthe two spots on the floor where he has to shoot best from to give Minnesota its ideal spacing on offense.

    The corner three should be Hummel's bread and butter. At least, that's what his main role should be, considering the Wolves like him to hang out in the corner and wait for the ball to be swung around or kicked out to him.

    More than half of Hummel's three-point attempts have come from the corners, but he is shooting just 17 percent on those attempts. Remember that corner threes are easier shots. They're the ones that raise one's percentage. A decent corner-three shooter wants to shoot better than 40 percent from the corners, and right now, Hummel isn't close to that.

    For now, defenses still respect his shooting. Considering his limited playing time, his sample size is too small for the team to give up on someone who hit plenty of tough threes in collegeones that had a higher level of difficulty than the open, catch-and-shoot looks from the corner that he's missing now. 

    At some point, though, defenses will stop guarding Hummel if he continues to shoot this poorly. If that happens, he would lose the value he brings to the Wolves immediately upon stepping on the floor.

9. Alexey Shved

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    Shved has been ineffective. He hasn't shown any signs of busting out of his slump. Yet, he has to stay in this top 10 because Rick Adelman hasn't shown any indication of removing him from the rotation.

    Sure, Shved has played just 11.1 minutes a game, but he's shooting just 27 percent from the field and from three. His true shooting percentage is 41 percent.

    That's not what Minnesota wants to see. 

    Somehow, though, his minutes have managed to go up even as his quality of play has maintained the same low levels that he's displayed all season.

    Over his past 10 games, Shved's minutes are up to 15.0 a game, even though he is still shooting worse than 30 percent from the field over that stretch. There is nothing he can do right now to help his team on the offensive end. Still, we sometimes see him closing games down the stretch.

    He's a guard who has had four or more assists in a game just once all year. He's had five or more rebounds just one time as well. Consistency isn't just the issue. He's not finding ways to have good games even every once in a while.

    Shved stays here because of Adelman's commitment to him, which stems from the Wolves' below-average bench. Maybe there are positives in his play that are hard for an outsider to notice. But ultimately, it's hard to argue that he deserves to play in an NBA rotation with the way he has produced (or not produced) all season.

8. Luc Mbah a Moute

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    Mbah a Moute has been an upgrade over Derrick Williams ever since the two were traded for each other at the end of November.

    Williams didn't make much sense in Minnesota. He couldn't play the 3, and he had Kevin Love blocking him at the 4. It wasn't going to work. Ever.

    That's how he ended up shooting 35 percent from the field. It's how he left the Wolves with only one total assist in 162 game minutes into this season, one of the crazier November statistics.

    Now, Mbah a Moute is learning from some of Williams' (and some of his own) mistakes. And he's working decently within the Timberwolves offense. 

    Usually, his primary contributions are above-average perimeter defense, which we've seen, and too many jumpers on the other end, which we haven't seen much of. 

    In 15 games since arriving in Minnesota, he has attempted only 14 jumpers. Now, a reasonable person could argue that's still too many, especially when you realize that he's made only one of them. But those shots have been open looks, so it's hard to fault him for that. 

    The Wolves are second in the NBA in pace. They play fast. They love getting out in transition. And that's a nice style to fit an athlete like Mbah a Moute.

    Almost 20 percent (subscription required) of his shot attempts have come in transition this season. Last year, in Milwaukee, less than 8 percent of his shots were in transition. That's a major year-to-year difference in style.

    This year, he's running more with the team that runs as much as any other squad in the NBA. Because of that, he's been a little more efficient and a little more productive. 

7. Dante Cunningham

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    It's time for your monthly Dante Cunningham Free-Throw Rate Update! I knowthis is a big deal.

    Cunningham's inability to get to the line isn't much of a puzzle once you watch him play. He never goes to the rim. Never. It's just not going to happen. Seriously, don't ever count on it happening.

    But lately, there have been free throws. Real, live free throws.

    He didn't attempt a free throw until the 10th game of the season. He didn't actually make a one until Dec. 11, his 22nd game of the season.

    Yes, it took him 22 games to sink a shot from the charity stripe. That's why we have the Dante Cunningham Free-Throw Rate Update. It's perfectly necessary. 

    In his last 13 games, though, starting with that historic two-free-throw game against the Philadelphia 76ers, he's gone free-throw crazy. He's 6-of-8 from the line in that stretch. Now, that's how you get to the nail.

    Since then, he hasn't attempted a free throw in six games. Maybe he'll go another 10 games without attempting or making one. But during a seven-game stretch, we got to see eight Cunningham free throws, and we should all just be thankful for that two-week span of ever-exciting basketball.

6. J.J. Barea

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    Barea may have gotten off to a slow start, but the Wolves' backup point guard seems to have put those days behind him.

    Through Dec. 13, he was shooting just 38 percent from the field and 26 percent from three. He wasn't shooting confidently. He wasn't running the pick-and-roll well and didn't shoot accurately when defenders went under screens against him. Shooting-wise, he looked like a mini Ricky Rubio—and that's hardly a good thing.

    Lately, though, it's been a different story. 

    Since the 13th, Barea is averaging 10.7 points and 4.2 assists in 20.4 minutes per game. And he's scoring at an unrealistically superb rate.

    Over that 11-game period, he is shooting 47 percent from the field and an unsustainable 51 percent from three on 3.7 long-range attempts per game. We were waiting for Barea's numbers to correct themselves after a slow start.

    They did that quickly. 

    Obviously, 47 percent from the field and 51 percent from three can't continue over the long run. But Barea's season numbers are now in line with his career percentages. If he just plays like J.J. Barea the rest of the way, the bench will be in much better shape than it was at the start of the season.

5. Corey Brewer

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    Like Barea, the Broken Sink has picked up his play after a bit of a slump. 

    Brewer got off to a great start, especially at the 11-game marker when the Wolves were sitting pretty at 7-4. He fit the offense perfectly, especially when he teamed up with Kevin Love in the transition game.

    That's Brewer's strength on the offensive end: transition play. And early in the year, he dominated teams in that aspect of the game. 

    We thought he was an aggressive transition player last season in Denver. We didn't even know what aggression in transition was until we saw him in Minnesota.

    It made sense. Take a guy who loves running the floor, pair him with Love—who is both one of the best rebounders and outlet passers in the NBAand you have a nice recipe for transition scoring. Add in a transition-heavy point guard in Ricky Rubio, and as Carl Weathers would say, "Baby, you've got a stew going."

    That's when Brewer truly became the Broken Sink, leaking out more than a 20-year-old, overloaded dishwasher. But teams started to take notice, and all of a sudden, Brewer's transition game started to go away. 

    He isn't someone who can dominate in the half-court offense on a consistent basis. He's not a shooter. He's an energy guysomeone who can make some nice off-ball cuts, but it ends about there. 

    Over his last six games, though, he seems to have regained some semblance of efficiency, shooting 52 percent from the field and even 39 percent of his high volume of threes (which surely won't keep up, given his 30 percent career rate from deep). 

    Realistically, that's not the type of player he is, and it's just part of a six-game hot streak for the streaky Brewer.

    This is what you get with the Broken Sink. You get great stretches and treacherous ones. This is a good one. Enjoy it while you can.  

4. Ricky Rubio

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    Should we just go over the shooting? That's all anyone wants to hear about Rubio anyway, right?

    Let's start off simply. 

    He is shooting 35 percent from the field and 34 percent from three. He has a career-low 47 percent true shooting rate. And lately, he's been regressing.

    Over his past 10 games, he is shooting 28 percent from the field and 17 percent from three. That's in 30 minutes a game. He's starting to hurt the team.

    The problem with Rubio's shooting is that he should be one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the NBA. That skill should already be there. But it's not. And that's not because of his passing.

    His passing is brilliant. It's magical. Majestic. Unparalleled in terms of flashiness and often quality. But finding roll men and poppers out of the screen-and-roll or screen-and-pop isn't just about passing. It's also about shooting—even when the point guard isn't looking to score.

    Defenders are going under screens whenever they want against Rubio. They're daring him to shoot every time.

    Sometimes, he does shoot. Occasionally, the ball goes in the hoop. Usually, it doesn't. 

    Rubio is making just 28 percent of his mid-range shots. As long as that percentage stays below a modest 35 percenta number that Rubio is far away from at the momentdefenders will continue to go under screens against him.

    When a defender goes under a screen, it cuts off multiple passing lanes. It allows the defense to be more conservative. It doesn't have to gamble or take many risks. It makes everything simpler.

    When Rubio can't shoot, he can't make that play as easily. Once he can—nay, if he can—he will finally turn into the great point guard everyone hopes he will become.

3. Kevin Martin

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    Do you hear that? It sounds like creaking. Is it the house settling? Is it that self-serving wind that just destroyed every Midwesterner's week?

    Or is it Kevin Martin finally stabilizing?

    He got off to such a fast start to the season that you might have thought the wind was propelling him through the year. Over the first 14 games of his Timberwolves career, he shot 46 percent from three.

    We all knew that wouldn't last. Given his volume of shots, 46 percent from long range doesn't happen to anyone not named Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson. Those numbers are reserved for the immortal.

    But we didn't know Martin's numbers would fall off so quickly.

    As soon as the weather got worse, so did Martin. Actually, for a short stretch, he was colder than the 35-below wind chill that took over Minneapolis over the weekend. 

    Over a nine-game midseason stretch, he converted just 24 percent of his threes. But now he's back. He's scoring at a Kevin Martin-like rate, and his three-point shooting has stabilized at around 40 percent, which makes sense compared to his role and career numbers.

    Now, we're finally starting to see the actual Martin. Not hot Martin. Not slumping Martin. Actual Martin. And actual Martin is a nice scorer for a team to have.

2. Nikola Pekovic

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    Pekovic brings an interesting predicament to Minnesota. Should he be there for the long term or not?

    Before the New Year, I wrote about why a Love-Pekovic frontcourt may not be able to take a team into championship contention. But that doesn't necessarily mean a Love-Pek frontcourt can't be dominant in its own way—especially on a team whose goal, for now, is just to make the playoffs.

    Of late, we've started to see Pekovic come into form. He has averaged 21.1 points and 9.9 rebounds since the start of November. He has scored less than 16 points in that stretch only once. 

    We've even seen what he and Love can do together when both are on their games. The best example is when Pek complemented Love's 45-point, 19-rebound line with a 34-point, 14-rebound line of his own against the Clippers on Dec. 22.

    Pek can score, especially when he rolls over his left shoulder in the post to go to the right-handed hook that he likes so much. That's such a hard shot to block at the angle he releases the ball. It's almost as tough to alter.

    Offensively, he has become one of the elite centers in the leaguenot just for his scoring but also for his remarkable offensive rebounding. 

    Still, though, we're left wondering if he and Love can play together on the defensive side of the ball. If the Wolves can ever figure that out, that's when they will become more dangerous. 

1. Kevin Love

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    Kevin Love is the best power forward in the NBA. What more could you possibly want?

    Rebounding? Check.

    Shooting? Check.

    Post scoring? Check.

    Adorable Jenga commercials? Check, again.

    There's everything. The whole package—except for the hand-shaking ability, that is. 

    What Love is doing right now is truly remarkable. The Wolves' power forward is averaging 26.4 points per game and 13.3 rebounds per game. If he sustains those averages throughout the season, it would be the second time in his career that he would have averaged 26-or-more points and 13-or-more rebounds in a year.

    Since the NBA instituted the three-point line, only two players have had two such seasons in a career: Shaquille O'Neal and Moses Malone. That company isn't all too bad.

    Actually, if Love keeps these numbers up, this would only be the seventh 26 and 13 season in the three-point era (Hakeem Olajuwon also did it in 1992-93).

    Love is still only 25 years old. Just 25. Even if he doesn't get to these numbers this year, he can do it next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that. 

    What we're witnessing from Love is historic and we're not appreciating it. At least, we're not appreciating it enough.

Remaining Players on the Roster

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    15. Chase Budinger

    Once Budinger returns from his meniscus injury, there's a highly decent chance he could jump up to as high as No. 6 or even No. 5 on this list. He can shoot and defend, and he's a high-effort player.

    For now, though, we don't know how he will be coming off a procedure that removed part of his meniscus. We keep hearing he'll be back soon, but he's already missed almost half the season. The transition won't be seamless. It's going be take a little time before the real Budinger is back in Minnesota.

     

    14. Shabazz Muhammad

    Shabazz is in the D-League, and frankly, that's where he should reside. At least for now, he's not ready for NBA competition, so the Wolves are best off sending him down and letting him work out some of his kinks with the Iowa Energy.

    Besides, did we ever see these sorts of dunks when he was playing in Minnesota?

     

    13. Gorgui Dieng

    Dieng hasn't played much more than Muhammad, which is slightly more worrisome, considering the age difference between the two. Muhammad is just 21 years old (even though he and his father would like you to think he's 20). Meanwhile, Dieng turns 24 in just a couple of weeks and looks like he physically doesn't belong on a court.

    For now, he is an all-too-skinny center trying to guard bigger guys who are having no problem pushing him around. Maybe that will change if and when Dieng gains some more muscle mass, but for now, the Louisville product looks like someone who can't contribute this year.

     

    12. A.J. Price

    Like Hummel's contract, Price's became guaranteed at 4 p.m. Central on Monday afternoon. That means he'll likely be Minnesota's third point guard for the rest of the season, and there are worse third point guards to have.

    Though he rarely plays and doesn't get into games for consequential moments, Price is a nice third point guard to use in emergency situations. If Rubio and Barea happen to go down (knock on wood), Price can be a reliable option for a few more minutes each night.

     

    11. Ronny Turiaf

    It took long enough, but Turiaf finally returned from his fractured elbow to play Thursday night against the Philadelphia 76ers. He played 23 minutes in his first game back and didn't score, but he provided energy, blocked a couple of shots and pulled down nine rebounds. Once we see the finger twirl, we'll know he is truly back.

     

    Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.