Grading Every Key Minnesota Timberwolves Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break

Maxwell Ogden@MaxwellOgdenCorrespondent IIIFebruary 10, 2014

Grading Every Key Minnesota Timberwolves Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break

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    The Minnesota Timberwolves are 24-27. Despite ranking in the top 10 in scoring offense, assists and rebounds per game, the T-Wolves continue to struggle to get over the hump and become a postseason-caliber basketball team.

    With the 2014 NBA All-Star break just around the corner, Minnesota has an opportunity to search for answers. The first step in doing so is evaluating the state of the roster and the quality of work that each individual player is putting forth.

    The question is, how have the T-Wolves' key players performed thus far?

J.J. Barea

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    Grade: C

    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 29

    Experience: 8th Season

    2013-14 Season Averages: 18.3 MPG, 8.6 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.9 RPG, .401/.336/.774

    J.J. Barea entered this past weekend with five consecutive double-digit scoring outbursts. In two games played on the weekend of Feb. 7, however, Barea shot just 4-of-15 from the field.

    Taking the good with the bad is what Timberwolves fans have learned to do with Barea.

    Barea is posting strong marks of 8.6 points and 3.5 assists in 18.3 minutes per contest. He's shooting 40.1 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc, but he's also a rare source of second-unit offense.

    Besides Barea, no other non-starter is averaging more than 5.6 points per game.

    As a team, HoopsStats.com reports that Minnesota is 27th in second-unit scoring per game. Thus, the inefficiency that Barea displays is easier to understand, as the T-Wolves lack another go-to option.

    It's far from an ideal situation, but having a player who's willing to score is a positive on a bench that rarely puts up points.

Corey Brewer

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    Grade: B-

    Position: Small Forward

    Age: 27

    Experience: 7th Season

    2013-14 Season Averages32.1 MPG, 11.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.6 SPG

    Corey Brewer provides an endless supply of energy and aggressiveness in both the open and half court. Outside of a few rough performances in December, he's also been a surprisingly efficient source of offense.

    Brewer is struggling to shoot from beyond the arc, but he's averaging 11.5 points on a career-best shooting mark of 46.2 percent from the floor.

    The biggest key to Brewer's impact on the T-Wolves is that he's one of the few players who provides a defensive impact. Brewer is matching his career-high with 1.6 steals per game, but it's his length and quickness that truly helps the T-Wolves.

    Whether he's going up against slashers or spot-up shooters, Brewer has done a quality job of containing his man.

    There are flaws in his game, such as his overzealous tendency to leak out and his subpar jump shooting. He did shoot 42.9 percent from beyond the arc in January, though, and scored 26 points in his most recent outing.

    Brewer's not perfect, but he's a strong contributor that exceeds what Minnesota has put at small forward in recent seasons.

Chase Budinger

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    Grade: C-

    Position: Small Forward

    Age: 25

    Experience: 5th Season

    2013-14 Season Averages: 16.6 MPG, 5.2 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 35.7% 3PT

    Chase Budinger has been limited in availability during his tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves. When he's been on the court, it's been more about readjusting to the pace of the NBA than showcasing his talents.

    In his most recent performance, that began to change.

    Budinger is averaging 5.2 points and 2.1 rebounds in 16.6 minutes of action. He's shooting 35.5 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from beyond the arc, offering little reason for intrigue.

    On Feb. 8, however, Budinger scored a season-high 19 points in 29 minutes.

    That game offered a rare look into the player that many hoped Budinger could be for the T-Wolves. He's an athletic swingman who has a sweet stroke from beyond the arc and could split minutes with Corey Brewer by season's end.

    Until then, all we have to evaluate is a lackluster start to 2013-14.

Dante Cunningham

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    Grade: C+

    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 26

    Experience: 5th Season

    2013-14 Season Averages: 19.3 MPG, 5.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.8 SPG

    Dante Cunningham has come on strong in recent weeks. He's scored in double figures in four of his past seven appearances, and even tallied a rare double-double against LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers.

    His season averages aren't strong, but Cunningham has been playing better than the numbers show.

    Cunningham is averaging 9.9 points and 7.0 rebounds in 28.3 minutes during his past seven appearances. This comes after he failed to hit 10 points in 10 straight games.

    With Kevin Love in dire need of an adequate backup, Cunningham is doing an excellent job of filling that role. The reality is that Minnesota needs to see him do it for more than seven games.

    If nothing else, Cunningham has created momentum and could help save Minnesota's inconsistent second unit.

Kevin Love

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    Grade: A+

    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 25

    Experience: 6th Season

    2013-14 Season Averages: 36.3 MPG, 25.6 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, .456/.368/.815

    If the Minnesota Timberwolves were actually winning games, Kevin Love would be an MVP candidate. Instead, this is just another magnificent statistical campaign from the offensive maestro.

    That doesn't hurt his individual grade, but it's a frustrating truth for a player who's meant for the big stage.

    Love is averaging 25.6 points, 13.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game on a strong slash line of .456/.368/.815. He leads the NBA with 42 double-doubles in 48 games played.

    Most importantly, Love has been the difference between Minnesota experiencing mediocre success and painful failure.

    Minnesota is 4-8 when Love fails to score 20 points and 20-16 when he hits that plateau. The T-Wolves are also 0-3 when Love doesn't play, for what that's worth.

    Love will need to lead Minnesota to the playoffs, let alone a .500 record, to truly solidify his superstar status. What no one can question is that he's a stud player who often outproduces everyone on the court.

    Now Love needs to lead Minnesota to enough wins to make the playoffs.

Kevin Martin

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    Grade: B+

    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 31

    Experience: 10th Season

    2013-14 Season Averages: 19.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, .427/.399/.879

    Kevin Martin opened up the 2013-14 NBA regular season in extraordinary fashion. He scored with efficiency and appeared to be the perimeter threat that the Minnesota Timberwolves needed to get over the hump.

    A rough December, a strong January and an up-and-down early February has caused fluctuating confidence in Martin's ability to lead the turnaround.

    In the big picture, Martin has played well and does appear to be the ideal complement to Love. What's become painfully clear is that he has too much on his plate, as Minnesota lacks an alternative to K-Mart when his shot isn't falling.

    For that reason, his individual efficiency has suffered.

    Martin is Minnesota's second-leading scorer at 19.0 points per game, but he's shooting 42.7 percent from the floor. He's also shooting just under 40 percent from beyond the arc and remains one of the best free-throw shooters in the NBA.

    Martin can be a very valuable player in Minnesota's postseason push, but he can't carry the backcourt scoring by himself.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

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    Grade: D+

    Position: Forward

    Age: 27

    Experience: 6th Season

    2013-14 Season Averages: 14.1 MPG, 3.0 PPG, 2.4 RPG, .405/.143/.629

    When the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the expectation was that he'd be a defensive anchor. The lanky hybrid forward has positional versatility, but that hasn't helped him find his role within the rotation.

    As a result, Mbah a Moute has gone from big minutes to bench warming without a moment's notice.

    This was never more clear than during the past week. He played 18 minutes on Feb. 4, 27 on Feb. 5, 10 on Feb. 7 and four on Feb. 8.

    He's never been one to post big numbers, but it's hard to evaluate Mbah a Moute's stint in Minnesota as anything other than lackluster. The real question is, should you blame the player or the minutes distribution?

    One way or another, it's been ugly.

Nikola Pekovic

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    Grade: A-

    Position: Center

    Age: 28

    Experience: 4th Season

    2013-14 Season Averages: 18.0 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.0 APG, 53.2% FG

    Nikola Pekovic is having the best year of his career, but a familiar enemy has come in to break up the momentum: Injuries.

    Pekovic has missed seven consecutive games with an ankle injury. In that time, the T-Wolves are 2-5 and lacking the balance that the European big man helps to provide.

    When he is on the floor, Pekovic is averaging career-best marks of 18.0 points and 9.1 rebounds. He's doing this while shooting 53.2 percent from the field and 75.1 percent from the free-throw line.

    Offensively, there isn't much else that Pekovic could do to help the T-Wolves win. Defensively, it's not as pretty.

    According to NBA.com, Pekovic is allowing opponents to shoot 56.8 percent when he meets them at the rim. His toughness and power down low is immeasurable, but he must improve his defensive fundamentals.

    With that being said, Minnesota would be nowhere near .500 without Pekovic's contributions and interior presence on offense. He's been worth the money.

Ricky Rubio

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    Grade: B

    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 23

    Experience: 3rd Season

    2013-14 Season Averages: 31.5 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 8.2 APG, 4.6 RPG, 2.5 SPG

    The curious case of Ricky Rubio is as difficult to understand as any player in the NBA. He's one of the game's best two-way point guards when it comes to creating points and turnovers, but his absence of a jump shot has been, at times, crippling.

    It's hard to argue with Rubio's well-rounded stat line, but 36.0 percent shooting from the floor is deserving of a face palm.

    The sad reality is there's nowhere on the court that Rubio actually thrives in shooting from. He's hitting 55 percent of his shots from the right side of above the break on three-pointers, per NBA.com, but that's on 20 attempts in 51 games played.

    Otherwise, Rubio shoots no better than 38.0 percent from anywhere on the court that's outside of the paint, per NBA.com. In the paint, he's hitting just 43.02 percent of his attempts.

    Ugly.

    Rubio has posted averages of 8.9 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and a league-best 2.5 steals per game. That extraordinary stat line nearly offsets his shooting woes.

    Rubio has significant strides to make on offense, but he's a top-tier facilitator and ball hawk.

Alexey Shved

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    Grade: D

    Position: Guard

    Age: 25

    Experience: 2nd Season

    2013-14 Season Averages: 11.7 MPG, 4.3 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 1.0 APG

    Alexey Shved came into the NBA with a relatively impressive level of hype. He was fresh off of a strong showing at the London Olympics and flashed his potential as a role player in year one.

    The momentum is gone and the opportunity to play is disappearing with it.

    After averaging 8.6 points and 3.7 assists in 23.9 minutes during the 2012-13 season, Shved's numbers have dipped to 4.3 points and 1.0 dime in 11.7 minutes.

    In that time, Shved is shooting 31.7 percent from the floor and 30.7 percent from beyond the arc.

    He's occasionally been provided with big minutes, but Shved failed to cash in when granted the chance to shine. After an inefficient rookie season, the Russian import continues to struggle to adjust to the pace of the NBA.

    The only reason Shved doesn't get an F is because of a strong enough January to offer intrigue. He shot 43.5 percent from distance during that month.

Ronny Turiaf

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    Grade: B-

    Position: Center

    Age: 31

    Experience: 9th Season

    2013-14 Season Averages: 19.6 MPG, 4.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.6 BPG

    Ronny Turiaf missed an extended period of time, but since he's returned, he's been excellent.

    He's been a defensive anchor, a presence on the glass and a source of energy that the Minnesota Timberwolves have needed with Nikola Pekovic battling injuries.

    The statistics aren't stellar, but Turiaf has been.

    On the surface, Turiaf is averaging 4.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 57.4 percent shooting in 19.6 minutes per game. In his past 10 appearances, Turiaf's numbers have jumped to 5.6 points, 5.9 boards and 2.4 swats in 24.6 minutes.

    The true impact of Turiaf's presence goes beyond the basic statistics.

    According to NBA.com, Turiaf is limiting opponents to 47.3 percent shooting when he meets them at the rim. Turiaf faces 5.5 attempts per game at the cylinder, giving him the strongest defensive impact on the team.

    Everyone wants big numbers, but in Turiaf's case, it's what he doesn't allow opponents to do that makes him great. If only he were shooting better than 39.1 percent from the free-throw line.