We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.
Men who are 6-foot-10 and 249 pounds are not often called a small thing, but Ronny Turiaf was definitely one of the small things that the Timberwolves could have used more of. Even sidelined for a big chunk of the first half of the season with a radial head fracture to his right elbow suffered in the second game of the year and then troubled by a knee injury that limited him in the second half, Turiaf was a vocal leader of the team. And when he actually played, the Wolves were 16-14, good for a winning percentage of .533 — better than their .488 season. And although Gorgui Dieng blossomed late and showed flashes of being the kind of defensive presence on the interior the Wolves sorely need, it was actually Turiaf who led the team in both blocks per game (1.6) and blocks per 36 minutes (3.0).
Accomplishing that feat is a testament not only to Turiaf’s defensive acumen, but his energy. After all, you wouldn’t expect an undersized 31 year old to be at the top of the blocks board — well, maybe given Love and Pekovic you could expect it on the Wolves. But sadly, Turiaf’s energy was most confined to the bench: he played fewer minutes than Alexey Shved and Robbie Hummel on a team as starved for frontcourt help behind Pekovic as it was for reliable wings. The tricky thing about a veteran like Turiaf, who can be a resounding voice in the locker room and a model for younger players, is that even if he isn’t playing, his effectiveness as that kind of voice is diminished when playing isn’t even a possibility.
I watched a lot of Turiaf this year since he was the Wolves player seated closest to me for much of the season, perched on a folding chair and dressed in street clothes behind the bench. He amiably chatted up the security guards and at times even seemed to be trying to make a connection with random people walking by as the game got started. But his best moments came when fans around him began booing as the team struggled. He would turn his head and try to catch sight of them, and then during timeouts he would stand and actively scan the crowd for dissenters, boring holes in them with his eyes and generally stewing with rage. Part of that came from his solidarity with his teammates, but I think a lot of it came from his frustration with not being able to directly shut them up with his play.
When fans left early from games the Wolves were losing, Turiaf again tracked them with his eyes on their way out, jaw clenched. It all came to a head in the Wolves’ final game against the San Antonio Spurs when he actually got into a verbal tete-a-tete with a Spurs fan seated behind the basket. As much fun as it was to watch, it was hard not to wish for more of that fire to be directed onto the court rather than off it.
Turiaf is precisely the kind of vocal, veteran leader in the back end of the rotation who can bring grit and identity to a Timberwolves team still sorely in need of it. No doubt that’s what Flip Saunders and company were hoping his role would be this season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be up for the task next year. A major priority for the Wolves right now has to be stabilizing the bench within the limited means they have, and returning Ronny to help bring along Gorgui Dieng and fire up the troops will be a huge part of getting the bench into shape once training camp starts. Let’s just hope he’s doing it with a warm-up on and not a collared shirt and slacks.