Timberwolves 2012-13 Player Grades: Forwards

"Don't worry, we'll pick up the slack in your absence" Photo credit: AP

“Don’t worry, we’ll pick up the slack in your absence”
Photo credit: AP

Here are our first round of reviews from this past season’s body of work.  Ladies and gentlemen, the Timberwolves 2012-13 player grades for your offseason enjoyment!  We’ll be concentrating on the forwards that graced us with their presence this past season.  Let’s get right into the season review …

Player: Kevin Love

Season Summary

To put it mildly, it wasn’t a great year for Kevin Love.  He broke a bone in his right hand before the season even started doing knuckle push-ups.  He returned earlier than doctors and the team had predicted and had a monster game against Denver on 11/21 at the Target Center – 34 points and 14 rebounds.  While putting up big numbers in the box score, it was clear that Love wasn’t himself after the first week.  He was not in game shape at all and his shooting percentages started to spiral downward – his final shooting percentages for the season were 35% from the field, 22% from three point range and 70% from the free throw line, all well below his career averages.

In December, Love missed a game here and there and averaged 17.5ppg and 13.3rpg.  By no means are those numbers to yawn at, but not what we were expecting to see from our all-star forward.  Then, shortly after the turn of the calendar year, the season came to a screeching halt for Love.  Ironically, it came against the Denver Nuggets, the team that he opened up his season against.  During a fluke incident around the paint, Love ran into a Nugget and re-fractured his hand.

That wound up being the end of Kevin Love’s season.  Despite rumors that he might return towards the end of the regular season, he never saw the floor again.

Season Highlight

While Love had several very impressive games, I am going to go with the night previously mentioned above – his return to the floor for the first time of the season and putting up the 34 and 14, leading the team to a victory.  It felt like it was time to get the season really going when he got back on the floor and my own conventional wisdom had hopes that his return was the start of a playoff run and a string of returning players to the lineup.  Yeah, that never happened.

Love had a few other monster games, including a 23 point, 24 rebound night in Sacramento on 11/27 and a season-high 36 points on 10-19 shooting at home against Cleveland on 12/7.  However, his return helped energize the fan base; if only for a short amount of time.

Season Lowlight

This one is pretty easy.  The Timberwolves season unofficially ended on Thursday, 1/3/13 when Love re-fractured the bone in his hand.  He was having a monster performance on the boards that night – 17 rebounds in 24 minutes, and everything went kaput on a fluke play.

Final Grade: Incomplete

If it ever comes out that Love didn’t break his hand doing knuckle push-ups and was originally injured doing something even dumber, this grade will be changed to an F minus-minus.  Let the conspiracy theorists have some fun with this one.

Player: Andrei Kirilenko

Season Summary

David Kahn’s ‘Plan B’ in free agency after Nicolas Batum was resigned by Portland, Kirilenko was about as solid of an option as you could find on the free agent market.  Kirilenko proved to be a jack of all trades type of forward.  When healthy, AK-47 was doing a little bit of everything on the floor.  The key here, of course, is the phrase “when healthy”.  Andrei missed 18 games this past season for the Wolves and when he was out, he was missed.

Kirilenko made everyone around him on the floor better.  He also helped Alexey Shved transition to the NBA from Russia.  When on the floor, he made it look effortless.  Whether it was blocking shots, coming up with a steal, or cutting to the rim on offense, he did all of the little things that Adelman and the team needed.  Not to mention that Kirilenko consistently took the toughest defensive match-up for the team across most, if not all positions at one time or another over the course of the season.

Andrei missed three stretches of games: four games early on, a five game stretch in early February, and another nine games in late February into March before returning to the lineup and finishing the season via slow crawl.  Andrei looked worn down by March and it will be important for him to get his stamina up for next season – assuming he picks up his option and returns to the Wolves.  He finished the season right at/around his career averages despite those declining numbers: 12.4ppg, 5.7rpg, along with 2.8apg, 1.5spg, and 1.0bpg.  Again, a little bit of everything.

Season Highlight

We listed AK47 as the “top star of the game” only three times this past season but he was consistently among the top three or in consideration.  That sums up his season and career pretty nicely I believe.

Andrei’s peak performance in my book came at the beginning of the season, on 11/5 visiting Brooklyn.  He put up 16 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks, and 1 steal for good measure.  He led the charge in an ultra-impressive comeback for the Wolves – who at one point trailed by 22 points.  The previous season’s roster undoubtedly would have folded in such a contest, but Andrei and company had other plans as the Wolves battled all the way back to win the game 107-96.

Season Lowlight

A number of games towards the end of the season were below AK’s standards, but I am going to show a little more East Coast bias here and go with the Wolves trip to MSG on 12/23.  Facing off against Carmelo and the Knicks, AK put in a stinker.  He fouled out of the game in 20 minutes of action and had 4 points on 2-6 shooting.  He threw in a few rebounds and assists, but the Wolves lost by three points with Carmelo finishing with 33 points.

Final Grade: B

While I really wanted Nic Batum on the Wolves, AK-47 turned out to be a nice find for the franchise.  While he may not be a long-term solution for the Wolves, he is a great complementary piece to a fully healthy Wolves roster.  His knowledge of the intricacies of basketball (the cutting around the basket, craftiness on defense) is intangible and cannot be replaced.

 

Player: Dante Cunningham

Season Summary

A second solid move made by David Kahn last offseason was the trade of Wayne Ellington to the Memphis Grizzlies for Cunningham.  Dante is the type of role player that every team needs, as he is a versatile forward that flies around the court and simply gets things done.

Cunningham had the strongest year of his career in 2012-13 with the Wolves, playing in all but two games in the season.  Unlike almost every other player on the roster, Dante was available for Adelman nearly every single night.  His 15 foot jumper was rock solid to start the season, but as he started to drift further out over the course of the season, his percentages took a dip.

Dante finished the season averaging 8.7ppg, 5.1rpg and a 13.35 PER (slightly below league average and around the likes of Nick Young, Mario Chalmers, and Tony Allen).  While you want Dante on your roster and in your rotation, it was clear that he wasn’t someone that you would want to rely on to lead the team to a victory.  Again, you need players like Dante on a competitive roster, so that isn’t meant to be an insult by any stretch.

Season Highlight

Cunningham was our “top star of the game” once this season and it was easy to remember why; he was “perfect” on the night of February 2nd at the Target Center facing the Hornets.  In a blowout win at home, Dante finished a perfect 9-9 from the field for 18 points in only 26 minutes of action.  Here are the video highlights from the performance, where he excels at both around the rim and in the mid-range jumper.

Season Lowlight

There isn’t a particular game that stood out to me for Cunningham, so I have to go back to a stretch when the team was just not playing well at all and he was part of the problem.  There was a six game losing streak at the end of February and beginning of March, where the losses seemed to be getting worse and worse as the days wore on.  In the middle of that stretch, Dante really struggled from the floor and it seemed to have a negative impact on his overall performance.

On 2/24 he finished the game against the Warriors 0-4 from the field and 2-4 from the line for 2 points to go along with 3 rebounds and a whole bunch more donuts.  He followed that up by going a combined 4-15 from the field in the next two games against the Suns and Lakers for a total of 11 points and 8 rebounds.  There were a number of individual games where he would put up those types of final numbers and shot a heck of a lot better.

Final Grade: B-

Dante exceeded my expectations this past season and is definitely someone I would like to see the franchise resign when the time comes.  He certainly proved he can be a rotational player that makes a positive contribution.  As an added bonus, he probably has the sweetest looking glide to the rim when crashing the boards and/or driving in for a layup.

 

Player: Derrick Williams

Season Summary

The Lion is the most polarizing player on the roster – based on the assumption that no one really likes JJ Barea of course.  Derrick Williams was handed the keys to the car this past season due to the injuries mentioned above for Love and Kirilenko, and I am not necessarily sure if he took full advantage of the situation.  It seemed to me, at times, that Williams loaded the stat sheet on nights that ended up being lopsided losses, and that his statistical contributions were often a direct result of garbage-time buckets against the opponents second units.  So is there really any benefit to it?  (I wound up looking this up and it is in fact true: Williams had eight double-doubles this past season, with the Wolves losing all eight games.)

Coach Adelman still couldn’t fully commit to using DWill in crunch time, especially when the roster wasn’t even remotely close to being at full health.  He would consistently go with Love (for obvious reasons), Kirilenko (veteran), and even Cunningham – which was likely a little bit of an insult to the second year pro out of Arizona.

Williams finished the season averaging 12ppg and 5.5rpg, with a PER at 14.55 in just under 25 minutes a game.  These aren’t mind-blowing numbers by any stretch of the imagination.  It wasn’t surprising to see Williams on the roster past the trading deadline given all of the injuries that the team incurred.  It will be surprising to see him on the roster in October for the start of next season.

Season Highlight

The last game of the season against the Spurs was probably D-Will’s best all-around game.  It was a solid, convincing win for the Wolves and Williams contributed 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.  He limited himself to 2 turnovers and shot the ball well (7-15 from the field, and was 2-4 from beyond the arc and 5-6 from the charity stripe).  It was good to see DWill go out on a high note, and hopefully this is what GM’s can remember when Flip Saunders is calling around the league when draft time comes around.

Season Lowlight

This is what pains me about Williams – the peaks and valleys.  On 2/4, the Wolves hosted the Blazers at TC.  Kevin Love at this time was out for the season and Kirilenko even went down with injury in the game.  With a huge opportunity to show off his skills as a combo forward, it was Dante Cunningham who stepped up and produced, not D-Will.  The Wolves lost the game 100-98 despite making it a close ball game following a strong push in the fourth-quarter.  Williams finished the game with only 19 minutes played, tallying a mere 1 point while shooting 0-5 from the field and 1-2 from the line.  At the same time, Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge finished the game with 25 points and 13 rebounds.  Ouch.

Final Grade: C-

Williams is far too inconsistent and given the current roster, I believe that it would be best for both parties to go their separate ways before the start of the 2013-14 season.  There probably isn’t a worse roster for Williams to be on in my mind.  Between an All-Pro in Love, a wily veteran like Kirilenko, and a high energy player like Cunningham, Williams needs to bring his A+ game and effort every night, and that just doesn’t seem to happen.  Adelman’s lack of faith/trust in him obviously doesn’t help one bit.

 

Player: Chase Budinger

Season Summary

What could have been a breakout season for Budinger turned into a lost one for the fourth year player.  After coming over to the Wolves in a trade before last year’s draft, Chase could have and would have been the outside shooter the team desperately needed throughout the heart of the season.  During the Wolves sixth game of the season in Chicago, Budinger became the latest Pup to go down with an injury.  Days later, the team announced it was a torn meniscus and he was going to be out for ~3 months.

Chase returned to the court for the last month of the season, playing limited minutes while trying to get back into shape.  He finished the season with 9.4ppg and 3.1rpg averages and with a 12.66 PER.  However, those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, as he was not back to full speed with his knee or the offense in his limited action this season.

Season Highlight

The night before his meniscus injury, Budinger played a gem in Indiana.  He finished with 18 points on 4-6 shooting from the field and 9-10 from the charity stripe.  He also threw in 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal.  Oh yeah, he also beat the buzzer to give the Pups a 96-94 victory and moved the team to 4-1 on the season.  It really looked like things were going to come together at this point for the Wolves and it would only get better when Love and Rubio returned.  (Ugh!)

Season Lowlight

This one is pretty obvious as well.  With the high of the night prior came the low of that night in Chicago and losing Chase for the vast majority of the season.  Again, ugh!!

Final Grade: Incomplete / B

If forced to give a grade for Budinger, I would probably give him a B.  He looked like a real nice fit in those handful of games at the beginning of the season.  He also gets somewhat of a ‘pass’ for the last month of the season given the injury.

 

Player: Mickael Gelabale

Season Summary

“I don’t think you’re ready for this Gelly” became one of my favorite catchphrases of the season (beyond #Shvedlines of course).  Mickael signed with the Wolves coming from overseas and joined the team on 1/19 for a home game against the Rockets, immediately contributing to a victory.

Gelabale saw a pretty extensive run of minutes for the first two months of his time in Minnesota but then saw his role dramatically reduced upon Budinger’s return to the floor.  In fact, he saw quite a few DNP-CD’s during the last few weeks of the season.

Season Highlight

I had Gelabale as our “second star of the game” in the game on 2/11 in Cleveland.  He finished the game with 11 points and 6 rebounds, including 3-3 from downtown in 28 minutes of action and helped the team hold off the Cavs.  The win snapped a pretty depressing four game losing stretch as well.

Season Lowlight

This probably isn’t too fair because everyone else struggles against them too, but I’ll go with Mickael’s performance at TC against the Heat; 2-8 from the field for 6 points, while the Heat wings (guys named LeBron and Wade, you may know them) torched the team for a combined 52 points, 17 rebounds, and 14 assists.  This is not all Mickael’s fault by any stretch, but the team was without a plethora of talent and he was on the floor for 24 minutes.

Final Grade: C

Mickael was “perfectly fine” and a much needed, able body to plug into the rotation this past season.  Do I expect him back with the team next year?  No.

 

Player: Josh Howard

Season Summary

The veteran signed with the Wolves on 11/15 due to the injuries that the team had already incurred.  Once Chase went down, it was time to go fishing for more talent.  Josh Howard got the first call and came on board.  At this time, the playoffs were still on everyone’s mind in Minnesota and Howard was going to help bridge the gap as we waited for others to start returning to the floor.

Sadly, but not surprising at all, the Josh Howard era didn’t last long at all.  He tore up his knee on 12/14 against the Hornets and after realizing he would be out for the season, the team had to waive Howard to make room for the next person in line.

Season Highlight

Howard had a real nice game in Philadelphia on 12/4, putting up 16 points and 10 rebounds in an impressive win for the Wolves.  It really looked like Howard would fit in nicely with the team and be a guy that Adelman could go to when he was “on” and sit down when he wasn’t once the roster was back to full strength.

Season Lowlight

Along with just about every other Pup, the lowlight is when player X was injured and lost for an extended amount of time.  Josh Howard’s calling came on that night in New Orleans (12/14).

Final Grade: C

Once again, the injuries derailed this past season and Howard was just one of the casualties.  It was nice to see Taylor spend the money to sign Howard though, given the season had so much promised back in its early stages.