Power Ranking Every Key Minnesota Timberwolves Player Before Season's End
Fifteen games remain on the schedule, and 5.5 games separate the Minnesota Timberwolves from the 2013-14 NBA playoffs. With the season winding down, the time for evaluation has struck, and a period of urgency has arisen.
The T-Wolves are in the midst of their most successful season since the Kevin Garnett era. For a team with a superstar leader and a cast of noteworthy starters, however, high expectations have been set for this embattled club.
How has each key individual contributor fared on this path to the postseason?
Honorable Mention: Gorgui Dieng
2013-14 Season Averages: 14.96 PER, 8.3 MPG, 2.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.6 BPG
Are you impressed by a rookie center posting three consecutive double-doubles? How about a 22-point, 21-rebound performance while being matched up against Omer Asik and the Houston Rockets?
If you're like me, you are. You're also left wondering why Gorgui Dieng, the man who achieved those feats, is averaging just 8.3 minutes played per game.
Dieng was one of my favorite prospects from last year's draft, and he will be a quality center with high upside. One can only hope that he's done enough to earn quality minutes for the remainder of the season.
If he has, let the showcase begin.
10. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Experience: 6th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 8.48 PER, 15.3 MPG, 3.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has never been a player who blows fans away with his statistics. Instead, he's a defensive-minded contributor who provides length and positional versatility.
Unfortunately, his minutes have fluctuated in such an unpredictable manner that it's hard to gauge just what he's meant to the Timberwolves.
Per ESPN, Mbah a Moute averaged 17.2 minutes in December, 9.1 in January, 17.6 in February and 7.8 in March. He has stepped up with solid defense, but unpredictable levels of opportunity will throw any player off.
That's been the case for Mbah a Moute.
9. Chase Budinger
Position: Small Forward
Experience: 5th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 7.24 PER, 17.7 MPG, 5.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 33.0% 3PT
The excitement for Chase Budinger's return from injury was short-lived. The explosive 25-year-old from the University of Arizona has been nothing short of a disappointment for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and there's no other way to describe it.
Shooting 36.8 percent from the field will do that.
Budinger was supposed to be a floor-spacing shooter who could exploit opposing defenses in transition. Instead, he's converting just 33.0 percent of his three-point field-goal attempts and hasn't been able to maintain consistent playing time.
There were signs of life in February, but as a whole, this season has been one to forget for the fifth-year forward. 2014-15 can't come soon enough.
8. Dante Cunningham
Position: Power Forward
Experience: 5th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 11.81 PER, 20.2 MPG, 5.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.0 APG
For roughly a month, Dante Cunningham was looking like the ideal backup power forward. He averaged 8.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals in 28.2 minutes during February, per ESPN, but then it all fell apart.
In March, his numbers are down to 5.7 points and 3.1 rebounds in 22.1 minutes on 41.3 percent shooting from the floor.
There's no question that Cunningham is the type of player that a contending team would like to have on its second unit. He plays hard, shoots well from mid-range and can step up in a pinch for teams in foul or injury trouble.
According to NBA.com, Cunningham is shooting an even 40.0 percent on mid-range jumpers. He's in the green from straight away, the left elbow and the right wing, which displays his ability to consistently knock down shots.
It's been a rough month, but Cunningham has been solid for Minnesota.
7. Ronny Turiaf
Experience: 9th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 11.94 PER, 20.9 MPG, 4.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG
Before Gorgui Dieng came out of nowhere for a career performance, it was Ronny Turiaf who was the Minnesota Timberwolves' lone rim protector.
If only Minnesota had Turiaf for more than 23 games.
On the surface, Turiaf is averaging 4.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and a team-best 1.7 blocks in 20.9 minutes of action. He's shooting 55.3 percent from the floor and a disgusting 32.4 percent from the free-throw line, but his value is on defense.
In limited appearances, he delivered.
NBA.com reports that Turiaf is limiting opponents to 46.1 percent shooting when he meets them at the rim. That's the best mark on the team.
Despite seeing limited minutes, he's faced a strong 6.1 attempts per game. Thus, he's shined as a rim protector.
A healthy Turiaf makes the Timberwolves a different and more dangerous team.
6. J.J. Barea
Position: Point Guard
Experience: 8th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 13.05 PER, 18.4 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 3.6 APG, 19 RPG
J.J. Barea is the embodiment of an evaluator's need to understand context. On the surface, he's an underwhelming sixth man who can't even crack double-digit scoring.
With a true understanding of this year's Minnesota Timberwolves squad, Barea is something else: a player to be thankful to possess.
Barea is the only bench player on the roster averaging more than 5.9 points per game. As Chase Budinger has underwhelmed, Ronny Turiaf has battled injuries and Shabazz Muhammad has seen limited playing time, Barea has faced a heavy workload.
Without his 8.9 points per game, the Timberwolves would be even worse than one of the worst.
According to HoopsStats.com, Minnesota is No. 26 in the NBA with an average of 26.3 bench points per game. The second unit is shooting just 39.7 percent from the floor, which ranks No. 29.
Barea may not be playing very efficiently, but without his aggressiveness, Minnesota's bench would be even more helpless than it already is on offense.
5. Corey Brewer
Position: Small Forward
Experience: 7th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 11.33 PER, 32.3 MPG, 11.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.7 SPG
Corey Brewer is a difficult player to evaluate. He's not a star on defense and struggles in most areas other than transition, but the T-Wolves truthfully have no other player to turn to at the small forward position.
At the least, he's the only reliable player who actually gets minutes at his spot on the floor. That's a nod to you, Shabazz Muhammad.
Brewer is averaging 11.5 points and 1.7 steals per game on 46.2 percent shooting from the floor. He's also shooting 28.3 percent from three-point range and attempting 2.8 attempts from distance.
Just don't overlook the value of a player who's willing and able to give a team 40 minutes when needed. That's exactly who Brewer has been.
It isn't perfect, but Minnesota could be in a worse position.
4. Ricky Rubio
Position: Point Guard
Experience: 3rd Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 15.93 PER, 31.6 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 8.6 APG, 4.5 RPG, 2.4 SPG
A strong case could be made that Ricky Rubio is one of the top five facilitators and ball hawks in the NBA. An equally as powerful argument exists that Rubio is one of the five worst jump-shooters in the league.
He's improved from beyond the arc, specifically above the break, but one look at his shot chart paints a very clear picture.
According to NBA.com, Rubio is shooting no better than 38.24 percent on jump shots from any mid-range location. In four of the five areas, he's shooting worse than 35.29 percent.
In two, he's below 22.22 percent.
Per NBA.com, Rubio's also converting a surprisingly atrocious 45.31 percent inside the paint.
Fortunately, Rubio is fifth in the NBA with 8.6 assists and second with 2.42 steals per game. Still just 23 years old, he has plenty of time to improve upon his weaknesses and add scoring to his already well-rounded repertoire.
If he ever develops that jumper, Rubio is going to be knocking on the door of the NBA's elite.
3. Kevin Martin
Position: Shooting Guard
Experience: 10th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 16.78 PER, 32.2 MPG, 19.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.0 SPG
The general consensus around the NBA has long been that the Minnesota Timberwolves need a star scorer to complement Kevin Love. Upon acquiring one, the T-Wolves would instantly see team-wide improvement.
The postseason is still more of a dream than a reality, but Kevin Martin is certainly proving capable of providing that once-missing scoring punch.
Martin is averaging 19.3 points on a slash line of .427/.388/.894. That's what Minnesota expected from the 31-year-old scoring guard, which makes it difficult to offer any criticism that hadn't already existed in the past.
Martin has never been known for his defense, which makes his strong scoring the only true point of emphasis.
Martin has done exactly what he was brought in to do. He's made 102 three-point field goals and is a primary reason for the T-Wolves going from 30.5 percent shooting from distance in 2012-13 to 34.3 percent in 2013-14 as a team.
That may not be an elite percentage, but any time a team improves by 3.8 percent in any area, it's significant.
That's where Martin makes his mark, and that's exactly what he was signed to do.
2. Nikola Pekovic
Experience: 4th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 20.79 PER, 31.5 MPG, 17.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.0 APG
For a team with two star big men, it's quite surprising how few games the Minnesota Timberwolves win. Nevertheless, Minnesota continues to find ways to lose games and miss out on opportunities to make a push for the playoffs.
Nikola Pekovic has missed 16 games. In that time, Minnesota has compiled a record of 8-8.
At 26-25 with Pekovic in the lineup, there is a misleading belief that the Timberwolves are as good with him as they are without him, but that just isn't the case.
Losing a player who averages 17.7 points and 9.0 rebounds never helps. Pekovic's presence down low provides the defense-collapsing attack that Minnesota needs to light it up from distance.
As everyone else on this list does, Pekovic has an area where he needs to improve. Per NBA.com, Pekovic is allowing opponents to shoot 55.1 percent when he meets them at the rim.
Pekovic is still having an excellent season, but his lack of availability has been damaging.
1. Kevin Love
Position: Power Forward
Experience: 6th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 28.03 PER, 36.5 MPG, 26.5 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 4.2 APG, 38.6% 3PT
Did you expect someone else?
Kevin Love continues to be one of the most statistically impressive offensive players in recent NBA history. He represents the glimmering hope that the Minnesota Timberwolves possess and is every statistician's favorite big man.
Thus far, Love is averaging 26.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists while shooting 38.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Love also leads the league with 54 double-doubles. That number is even more impressive when you weigh the fact that Andre Drummond is second with 46—a full eight less.
Unfortunately, it's a familiar narrative for Love: outstanding individual statistics and an unlikely shot at the postseason.
With Minnesota 5.5 games out of the No. 8 seed, this looks like nothing more than another year of wasted ability. The T-Wolves just can't turn the corner as a postseason team, although a record above .500 is a step in the right direction.
If there is one player on the roster who'd be void of blame, however, Love would be the closest one to it.
PER numbers courtesy of ESPN's Hollinger stats.
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