With a couple days until the Minnesota Timberwolves kick off their 2013 Media Day and officially get going on starting the new season, we’re still finding things to pass the time. Some people may be doing it with Grand Theft Auto V or even by reading my Rabbit Hole posts on CBSSports.com (shameless plug!). Some people are wrapped up in the NFL season and the close of the baseball season. And some of us are ranking players on various platforms.
ESPN.com is pumping out the NBARank project right now with more than 100 bloggers, writers, and media pundits giving each player a score on a scale of 1 to 10. Then those scores are averaged out for each player and that’s how we get their rank. There are 500 players ranked each season and it gives an interesting look into how the collective can come to certain conclusions about every player around the league. It doesn’t make the rankings definitive by any means but it certainly gives you a good idea of how the basketball coverage community views the players.
NBARank is past the halfway point in the rankings, so I thought it might be a good idea to check out which Wolves players fell from 190-500. Again, these rankings are not definitive and you’ll find that some players just don’t get paid attention to by the collective, leading to a ranking that is often too low for some guys. But this will kill some time so let’s check out some of the Wolves players.
489. Lorenzo Brown, last year: not ranked
This is probably a fair ranking for a point guard picked 52nd in a draft that was valued as being really weak from top to bottom. Brown may not even make the roster for the Wolves this year and I would expect him to spend the majority of his season in the D-League if he doesn’t make the team.
425. Chris Johnson, last year: not ranked
It’s weird that a guy who has played 71 games in a three-year career would be ranked 425th in the league and cause me to go, “there is no way he should be that low,” but that’s what happened when I saw Chris Johnson’s rank. Most likely, it’s that his time on the court last season came when the Wolves were at their lowest and the viewers around the league stopped paying attention. CJ was a nice option around the rim on both ends of the floor and his dunking/shot blocking quickly became a fan favorite. He also showed a lot of improved skill work and understanding in his stint in Las Vegas this summer too.
I don’t know how high of a ranking I’d feel comfortable with for Johnson but I know that he’d easily clear the Top 400 for me. If he were around the 350-375 mark, I’d feel a lot better about his ranking. It’s weird that I’m having such a “homeristic” reaction to this ranking because I’ve spent much of the past five years trying to explain to Wolves fans that I do in fact like the team.
362. Ronny Turiaf, last year: 316
Turiaf is someone I would have pegged around 300-325, but this ranking is probably right around where he should be. He’s a guy with a nice defensive mentality and a ton of energy around the basket. His celebrations rank would have him Top 10, but unfortunately for now, NBARank seems to factor in a lot of basketball skill as well. It is interesting that he wasn’t ranked over Gorgui Dieng though, considering they’ll battle for backup center honors.
327. Gorgui Dieng, last year: not ranked
Considering the draft class’ lack of star depth (or star existence at all), I’m not sure you can really get a good feeling on where Dieng should be ranked. He’s definitely a backup center right now and the center position doesn’t have a ton of great depth in this league outside of the top 15-20 guys. Dieng will have a chance to show the same defensive effectiveness we saw at Louisville when he won a national title this past year. If he can do that, move the ball on offense, and hit the occasional jumper, the job should be his. Then he can start creeping up these rankings.
— Bo Churney (@bochurney) September 19, 2013
291. Shabazz Muhammad, last year: not ranked
I don’t really have a problem with this ranking either. Shabazz had a year in which his Q rating fell considerably. A year ago, he was one of the top players in the country and a sure-fire pick once he spent his mandated year in college. Then he didn’t play like a Durant or a Beasley in college, ended up gaining a year in age, and had some off-court issues because of his father that had him fall far from the public’s good side. He may have a chance to regain some of that back by earning playing time while Chase Budinger recovers from his knee injury, but that will come with a lot of hard work.
It wouldn’t shock me if he jumped up 50 spots for next year; it wouldn’t shock me if he stayed right around where he is.
282. Dante Cunningham, last year: 298
To me, this is criminally low for Dante Cunningham. If anything, he and Alexey Shved should be swapping spots on this rankings list. Cunningham’s defense, safety valve ability on the pick-and-pop, and his effort to make things happen outside of his comfort zone during last season should have catapulted him up 100 spots on this list. He’s a fantastic backup at the power forward position and someone that any fan base would be lauding if they were rooting for him. Tough break for Dante in a ranking project that he probably doesn’t even care about.
193. Alexey Shved, last year: 353
I’m guessing Shved’s first part of the season is what stuck in everybody’s mind when scoring him. I know I’ve been hard on him since the season ended, but I was just less than impressed with his approach and execution during the second half of last season. The Wolves really needed him to be a creator and a scorer and he flat-out couldn’t hit shots. He’s better than what we saw in the second half, but he’s also someone with a reputation for checking out mentally when things get a little too tough for him
He’ll have more responsibility this year if he’s given some backup point guard duties, and he’ll have a great chance to improve on abysmal shooting from last season and a terrible defensive debut.
Sports Illustrated Top 100
Sports Illustrated also did a ranking project in which blog bros Rob Mahoney and Ben Golliver got together and ranked the Top 100 players in the NBA. Four of the Wolves’ players found their way into the Top 100 list and I’ve included what either Rob or Ben wrote about those players below. There is more to what Rob wrote about Kevin Love if you click the link at the bottom of this post.
Here are the links to their Top 100 list so you can compare where the Wolves fell compared to other players around the league.
93. Ricky Rubio
Bag on Rubio’s shooting if you will, but few see the floor as fully as he does and fewer still combine that level of playmaking with impact defense. Even at this early stage in his development, he’s a transformational player. His presence on the floor translates to smoother offense (despite not projecting as much of a scorer) and more stifling defense, all of which makes him a worthy building block for Minnesota despite his obvious flaws. Even mediocre shooting numbers would go a long way in propelling Rubio up this list, but in his current form he’s still a skilled, helpful two-way player. —R.M.
73. Kevin Martin
Martin isn’t particularly strong, he isn’t a natural distributor, he definitely isn’t someone you can rely for rebounding and he most definitely isn’t an impact defender. What does that leave? At this stage of his career, an efficient complementary scorer with great range and, until injuries hit in 2011-2012 and his role narrowed in 2012-13, the ability to get to the free-throw line early and often. Last season, after being acquired from Houston in the James Harden trade, Martin was the sixth man and No. 3 scoring option on a Thunder team that ranked No. 2 in offensive efficiency. Oklahoma City posted a better offensive rating and a better net rating with Martin than at any point during the Harden era. There’s no question that Oklahoma City missed Harden’s playmaking ability when Russell Westbrook went down with a season-ending knee injury in the playoffs, as Martin failed to step up into a secondary scoring role behind Kevin Durant. That turn of events shouldn’t erase the Thunder’s top-notch body of work in the regular season, and Martin’s role in it. Minnesota made Martin a very generous offer this summer, and he will reunite with Rick Adelman, who oversaw some of Martin’s best work in Houston. – B.G.
50. Nikola Pekovic
Former Timberwolves president David Kahn was constantly up to something during his four years on the job, and much of it proved to be pointless and/or disastrous. One clear win: bringing Pekovic, a 2008 second-round pick, to the NBA in the summer of 2010. The signing didn’t create a ton of noise at the time, and if it was mentioned it was generally lumped in with Minnesota’s earlier acquisition of Darko “Manna From Heaven” Milicic. Unlike his fellow Balkan center, one of the biggest draft busts in league history, Pekovic has found his footing as one of the NBA’s better big man.
Pekovic is a traditional center who understands that his job is to score around the rim, draw fouls and clean the glass. He ranked in the top 10 among centers in PER and posted career highs across the board last season. More than 88 percent of his shot attempts came in the basket area, a testament to his discipline and ability to consistently establish low-post position. His hulking physique makes for an eye-popping first impression, but Pekovic has some niftiness to his footwork and ball fakes, too.
After signing the Montenegrin center to a five-year, $60 million extension this summer, Minnesota pitched Pekovic as one-half of its “Bruise Brothers” duo with All-Star forward Kevin Love. Injuries have kept that pairing from hitting on all cylinders at the same time, but they promise to offer a nightly nightmare to opposing front lines, especially those opting for small-ball looks, for at least the next couple of years. — Ben Golliver
13. Kevin Love
While I’m not terribly concerned about the long-term implications of Love’s once-broken hand or nagging knee, this ranking does reflect the slightest bit of uncertainty. Love has been sidelined by enough random ailments over the last two seasons to warrant that — not out of fear of re-injury, per se, but simply as a hedge against the instability that comes in playing only half of the past two seasons.
When healthy, though, Love is one of the league’s best rebounders and an amazingly varied scorer. He had started to put together some of the high-level offensive skills that would bolster his status as a first-option player before injuries derailed his progress, and I’m very interested to see if he’s capable of picking up where he left off. Shot creation remains a primary concern. Love is better at manufacturing offense than he’s given credit, but he doesn’t do so at the level of the league’s most dynamic players — many of whom outrank him on this list. If he can reach that level consistently, he could be bound for the top 10 soon. Even if not, he’s still worthy of this spot and capable of improvement, provided he continues to pick up the finer points of defensive coverage.
Love is similar to Blake Griffin in that he generally does a fine job in one-on-one defensive situations but hasn’t yet established a firm grasp of rotational principles. I can’t blame him, given the upheaval in Minnesota during Love’s first few seasons there. Only recently has he been afforded the measure of consistency needed to pick up defensive fundamentals at an NBA level. Love has already defended well enough to avoid being a liability, so there’s reason to believe that he’s capable of doing more in due time.