"I've always said, if you can guard in this league, you can play."
That one statement right there is why Kevin Garnett's homecoming isn't just a trip down memory lane. With all of the excitement bringing up long-past memories for fans, and talk about future ownership already taking off, it's easy to forget the present, in which Garnett is still an NBA basketball player who's main job is still to play NBA basketball.
At 38 years old, it's obviously unrealistic to expect Garnett to even consistently play 30 minutes a night, much less be a top flight player. But that's certainly not to say he can't be effective in his limited role. As we looked at earlier, in the first half of this season, Garnett was still hitting the league averages in PER (avg is 15) and Win Shares/48 (avg is .100), exceeding the league average in Wins Produced/48 (avg is .99), and quite honestly, stacked up pretty comparably to the guy he was traded for, Thaddeus Young.
Now here's the thing: through all the struggles the Wolves have had to fight through this season, with a new coach, a new roster full of inexperienced players, and injuries, injuries, and more injuries, the team does have two very genuine problems.
- they can't rebound
- they can't defend
The Wolves are 25th in total rebounding, including 29th in defensive rebounding this season (they were last until the missed layup festival in Houston on Monday). We've seen very direct consequences to this, particularly after the Wolves inexplicably released Jeff Adrien.
Not grabbing defensive rebounds means two things: the other team is making shots, and the other team is grabbing offensive rebounds. Which leads to them making more shots. Either way, the Wolves are surrendering points.
That, then leads into the broader, overall issue of not playing defense. Minnesota is dead last in defensive efficiency, dead last in points surrendered, and beyond dead last in FG% surrendered.
Kevin Garnett gave up being an offensive centerpiece a long time ago. And because he's playing such limited minutes, he doesn't technically qualify for most of the broad defensive statistical rankings. However, if you take out that restriction and just look at the impact the players are having when they are on the floor, you find that KG is still producing on the glass and on defense.
|Defensive Reb%||31.1||2nd overall|
|Total Reb%||18.7||11th overall|
|Defensive Rating||99||7th overall|
|Defensive Box +/-||2.7||10th overall|
|Defensive RPM||3.36||18th overall|
That is not bad at all. Not just for a 38 year old, but for anyone. In just the rebounding category alone, Garnett's defensive rebounding % is all but tied for first with DeAndre Jordan, and his total rebounding % exceeds (again, technically, if you remove the minutes restriction) Tim Duncan, Joakim Noah, Kenneth Faried and Kevin Love. Even his basic numbers impress: Garnett is averaging 1.7 more rebounds per game than Thad Young was, despite playing nearly 13 fewer minutes a game.
And on defense, well, it's hard to really quantify "defensive impact". But no one will argue Garnett's value in such nebulous fields as defensive rotation and communication, and the numbers are impressive either way. His defensive rating is basically identical to Marc Gasol's, and his defensive box +/- is ahead of (among others) Tyson Chandler, Al Horford, and the Greek Freak.
Garnett's not just a veteran cliche about "mentoring" or "leadership", and he's not just around so everyone can re-live happy memories. The Wolves went out and got themselves a guy who's still very good at two things the team happens to be very bad at. That's literal, quantifiable, on-court value. And while Garnett can't just outright fix either problem when he's only playing half the game, he's a huge step in the right direction. For the half of the game he is playing, he's still more than getting the job done.
So don't write Ticket off just yet. He might not be the MVP anymore, but he still has a lot more value in a uniform than he would in a suit and tie.