Kevin Love - A+
If traditional basketball fans were to engage advanced metrics statisticians in debate I feel that Kevin Love would quite quickly become the epicenter of any arising polemic. Averaging 25-13-4 with a PER of 27 is a marvelous achievement for anybody outside the LeBron James-Kevin Durant bubble. Yet still, a contingent of NBA fans remain unimpressed as the Wolves sit outside the playoff race, leaving Love with a résumé lacking in postseason experience. However, one can only grade what they see and it shouldn’t be recalibrated by the expectations of others. The best rebounding power forward in the NBA who can stretch the floor and facilitate at a high level whilst averaging the most touches in the game for any non-point guard (85.6!) deserves commendation. It would be disingenuous to grade him anywhere below the highest level.
Ricky Rubio – C+
Arguably the most curious and frustrating player on the roster. I admit the grade is affected by (possibly unfair) expectations I had for this upcoming season. While the shooting numbers have stagnated, the free throw rate has collapsed (from .51 to .35) leading to an almost unparalleled inability to score for a starting point guard. This has been the main criticism for a player who has undeniably put the team in a better place to win games. The scoring, still an issue, has been compensated for by better management (less turnovers) and further improvement in defensive play. The road ahead will be interesting with his contract up for renewal after next season, but for now, the team is at it’s best with Rubio at the helm.
Nikola Pekovic – B
The ankle bursitis sidelining him for the next seven to 10 days will give us a more accurate view of Pekovic’s worth. This season has been his greatest statistical achievement to date claiming a PER north of 20 whilst averaging 18-9. The interior defense has been well below-average for a starting center but the bulldozing work in the middle of the paint on the offensive end has been elite. While the offensive rebounding has helped paper over the cracks left by the team’s inaccurate shooting, in my eyes, a center so obviously lacking on the defensive end will always struggle to reach the expectations attached to a $12 million a year contract.
Kevin Martin – B
Signed this offseason to a four-year, $28 million deal Martin has proven to be the reliable perimeter option this Wolves’ side badly needed. As far as his own personal standards goes this is a slightly down year in efficiency, however, given that he just left a team containing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook it makes sense that his numbers would regress. Martin has managed to fulfil the role of the 2-guard shooter, spacing the floor whilst scoring well enough to attract attention. His marginal defense is a nuisance but not egregious given his role in the team.
Corey Brewer – C+
The Minnesota Timberwolves’ roadrunner has added athleticism to a roster more inclined to wards effort and enthusiasm. A generally poor offensive weapon in the half court, Brewer lives off of leak outs and sound defense. His streaky shooting has been painful to watch at times but appears to have rebounded from a poor December where he shot just 36 percent. Currently the most precarious of the starters but still too effective to give up serious minutes to the likes of Robbie Hummel or Shabazz Muhammad.
J.J. Barea – Incomplete
Despite averaging his lowest minutes per game in five years and the lowest field-goal percentage since his rookie year, I am absolutely torn on how to grade J.J. Barea’s first half of the season. His style might be entirely antithetical to fans of ball movement and team cohesion but he also has carried the second unit at times with his shot creation. I believe his true self will manifest in the latter half of the season. With half the bench returning from injury, J.J. has less of an excuse to shoot the game plan out the window. The second half of the season is where he will find his grade.
Dante Cunningham – C
A solid, passable power forward miscast as a third big due to Ronny Turiaf’s injury. Cunningham has fared well enough this season considering the necessity to play him with Love at center in a small-ball lineup. Active in pick and roll defense and armed with a reasonable jumpshot, Cunningham will never set the world on fire but has played his part admirably.
Ronny Turiaf – Incomplete
My favorite player on the roster, I am entirely biased and will hear no ill words spoken of Turiaf. Having only played in 13 games this season due to injury, a grade seems rather unfair, however, his role is about to be enlarged due to Pekovic’s injury and even I — a Turiaf supporter — am worried about the trickle down effect this will have on the rotation. The boundless energy and hustle is perfectly suited to being the first big off the bench. Time will tell how he handles the role of starting center.