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Wolves Player Grades At The Halfway Mark

Ranking the players on their half of the season.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a weird, wacky and, despite some glimmers of fun, mostly woeful season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Just over the halfway pole, they sit five games out of the eighth seed with a 15-27 record and look to be well on their way to another lost season. In a season full of injuries, illnesses, suspensions and poor form, 17 players have featured throughout the first 42 games. Some have helped stave off complete disaster and others have made it impossible to climb higher in the standings.

The grades, given out and divided by three of our Canis contributors, will be numbered from 1-10, factoring in overall play, but also performance based on the expectations each man had heading into the season and how each individual has fared in their specific role within the team. Only current players who have featured in 10 or more games will be graded, so Jeff Teague, Treveon Graham, Jaylen Nowell, Jordan McLaughlin and Allen Crabbe won’t make the cut.

Let’s get into it.

13. Jordan Bell - 3.5

To be fair, Bell hasn’t been given much of a run this season. However, when he has he’s failed to cover himself in much glory. So far, he has featured in 24 games and played just over 9 minutes per outing.

He signed this summer on a minimum deal with the promise of a switchy defender who can excel as a roll man and a glass cleaner. While he has shown flashes of all of the above, his inability to nail down one part of his game consistently has nailed him to the bench more often than not.

While he has the knack for pulling off spectacular blocks, Bell is just as often caught out of position. He can destroy rims with thunderous dunks, but he struggles to shoot from anywhere outside of three feet and even then he isn’t anywhere near elite from that range.

One place Bell has thrived is on the offensive glass. He is averaging 4.4 per 36 minutes, which ranks him 16th among all players who have played more than 15 games. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to keep him off the bottom of the list.

12. Josh Okogie - 5.0

It’s been a plummet from grace this year for Josh Okogie. Last season, he was touted as an energetic defensive presence whose eventual growth on offense would help him become one of Minnesota’s best young pieces. Alas, growth isn’t linear. And Okogie, who has stagnated, seems to be less and less valuable by the game.

He still brings enough momentum-swinging plays on the defensive end to make you cheer his name, but his disastrous offensive output makes you pull your hair out just as often. His frying pan hands make watching him dribble an eyesore. And while he has become better at setting the plate for his teammates, he still can’t finish at the rim and hasn’t figured out when to attack and when to cut his losses and get rid of the ball.

All of that is without mentioning his ghoulish 3-point shooting. He is connecting on just 27 percent of his long-bombs, including a paltry 7-35 (20%) in his last 15 games. It would take one hell of a defender to outweigh that kind of offensive failure, which Okogie simply isn’t at this stage.

11. Jake Layman - 5.5

There really is no telling how high this grade would be had Jake Layman not succumbed to a nasty bout of turf toe. But, as they say, availability is the best ability, and the 25-year-old hasn’t been able to stay on the court enough to make a true impact.

Over the first 14 games of the season, before he was injured, Layman looked a shoo-in to have his best season as a pro. His offensive IQ lent itself to plenty of easy buckets off cuts and fast breaks and his 3-point stroke (35.2%) looked noticeably better than the career-best 32.6 percent he shot in 2018-19.

He was even vastly better on the defensive side of the ball than advertised. His +0.24 defensive player impact plus/minus (D-PIPM) is a very respectable number and ranks him above more notable defenders like Lonzo Ball and Paul George. If he eventually does make his return to the hardwood, this team would greatly benefit from having that version of Jake Layman around.

10. Noah Vonleh - 6.0

Despite wildly inconsistent minutes and a box score production that is far from flashy, Noah Vonleh has been solid when given the chance this season. He isn’t the 3-point jacking, shot-hunting big man that made a mini-breakthrough for the New York Knicks last season, but he is the kind of player who often makes the team better when he is on the floor.

Offensively, he has struggled to make much of an impact outside of the odd bully-ball post-up or putback layup. He is averaging 4.4 points per game, hitting 54.7 percent of his field goals. Although, his work defensively and on the glass has been a breath of fresh air for a team that has struggled to string together consistency in those areas.

Only Gorgui Dieng and Robert Covington currently hold a higher D-PIPM (+0.47) than Vonleh and only Karl-Anthony Towns corrals more boards per 36 minutes (12) than him. He has excelled in David Vanterpool’s drop scheme pick-and-roll coverage, using his long arms and sound positioning to deter would-be scorers.

Overall, he has been a good find. But, without consistent minutes, Vonleh fails to reach a higher mark.

9. Kelan Martin - 6.3

Even after an electric showing at the Las Vegas Summer League, nobody would have expected Kelan Martin to have already featured in 17 games and 295 total minutes at the halfway mark of the season. If it wasn’t for the two-way contract allowing players just 45 days of practice and games with the main team, it very well may have been more.

Martin was introduced because of the litany of injuries and illnesses that have plagued the team, but he has shown that he can hang with the big boys. Even with his surprisingly low shooting percentages (36% from the field and 26 percent from 3), the former Butler Bulldog looks every part a player who can get buckets at the highest level.

Martin looks comfortable getting to his spots at all three scoring levels and his ability to make open shots, even if the numbers don’t really reflect it yet, is a big help to a Wolves team that is desperate for outside gunners. Defensively, he has improved tenfold since his NBA debut and looks like a willing and strong defender who will continue to improve.

After going undrafted in the 2018 class, he played last season in Germany before returning to the States to continue his fight for an NBA roster spot. After his aforementioned Summer League exploits and a consistent and fruitful G-League season, he seems primed for another leap in 2020 — especially with a potential roster spot now opened up for him.

8. Naz Reid - 6.5

Pivoting from one undrafted player to another, rookie Naz Reid has built on an impressive Summer League as well. With the Timberwolves experiencing quite the logjam at center, Reid had to wait a little longer to get his NBA chance, but he has taken it and ran since he cracked the rotation.

He is averaging 8.5 points and 2.7 boards in 13 minutes per game so far and showcasing his scoring and shooting ability at every chance he gets. Never shy to launch a triple, Reid is getting up a whopping 11.3 per 36 minutes — the highest mark on the team. Unfortunately, he is only hitting 31 percent of those deep tries, but his confident and crisp looking stroke and form in the G-League (38.6% on 5.1 attempts per game) suggest that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

While big men who can shoot will always have a place in the league, Reid will need to become a better defender and rebounder to truly solidify his place in the league. He is extremely slow-footed and unaware defensively and, despite his huge frame, hasn’t learned to use his body to thwart opposing rebounders.

Nonetheless, given that he wasn’t in the rotation at all early in the season, it’s been a nice campaign for the former LSU Tiger.

7. Keita Bates-Diop - 6.5

One of the brightest spots in a season filled with darkness has been the ‘next man up’ mentality that the fringe players have shown. As another who started out of the rotation and played his way in, Keita Bates-Diop embodies that mindset.

Like Martin, he entered the fray via necessity, with wings dropping like flies throughout the early portion of the season. However, Bates-Diop has become a crucial part of the second unit and would be a tough player to send back to the end of the bench. So far, he is averaging 7.1 points and 3.0 rebounds in 18.1 minutes a night.

He has improved a driver and finisher around the rim and a versatile defender whose long arms help him contest pretty much every shot. But, the main reason he continues to outplay expectations is his newfound ability to shoot from deep. KBD shot just 25 percent on 1.7 3-point attempts per game last season, a number he has bumped up to 36.4 percent on 2.7 attempts. He is also a much-needed release valve in the corners, shooting 38.2 percent there for the season.

Long live KBD.

6. Shabazz Napier - 6.8

Seemingly a meaningless summer inclusion, Shabazz Napier has quickly risen to the number one point guard option with Jeff Teague’s exit. Like the majority of the roster, has had some shooting and injury troubles but, for the most part, the 28-year-old has done a pretty good job.

In 28 games (14 starts), he is averaging 9.5 points and 4.5 assists per game. Shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 28 percent from deep isn’t ideal, but he has taken some sizable leaps lately. In the last 10 games, he has raised his output to 13.7 points and 5.8 assists per night while hitting 46.3 percent of his field goals and 39.1 percent of his triples.

By stretching the floor with his ability to let catch-and-shoot and pull-up jumpers fly, he adds a dimension to the Wolves that they sorely crave. This opens up driving lanes for the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Jarrett Culver and forces Bazz’s man to stay on his hip rather than roaming free to stifle the aforementioned wings.

He is still a score-first guard by nature, but his willingness to find bigs in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop game is refreshing. Especially after watching Jeff Teague ignore that part of the game for so long. Hopefully, as he gets more continuity with the newly-returned Karl-Anthony Towns we will see that chemistry continue to build.

Again, unlike Teague, he is a very willing defender despite being undersized and physically outmatched in most games. He fights hard through screens and has shown a knack to poke away loose balls and come up with thefts.

It will be interesting to see if he can build on his recent form or if he reverts back to his early-season woes.

5. Jarrett Culver - 7.1

After the early part of the season, nobody could have imagined Culver rising this high on the team rankings. He started off looking completely lost in just about every facet of the game, but has quickly found his rhythm and become a plus player.

For the season, he is averaging 9.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2 assists per game. However, that has gone up to 14.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists along with 14 steals over the last 10 outings. His shooting from deep and the free throw line is still mostly a mess, but he is quickly learning how to penetrate defenses and finish through contact at the rim. And with each made bucket, his self-assurance and experience grow.

On the other end of the floor, he looks like a seasoned vet already. Culver is versatile, long and extremely intelligent. He fights around screens and plays the passing lanes well. Once he gains some more strength and knowledge of how NBA offenses work, he is going to be a real handful for opposing scorers.

It started ugly, but it’s looking a lot more pretty now for JC.

4. Andrew Wiggins - 7.1

Like the entirety of his career, it’s been a polarizing season for Andrew Wiggins. On one hand, he is posting some of the best counting stats of his career and backing that up with an uptick in most advanced metrics. On the other, he is still a minus too many areas and has still been culpable of floating through certain games.

With the huge contract continuing to hang over him, it’s easy to see why fans get frustrated with Wiggins and why he isn’t graded higher here. He started off the season going gangbusters, averaging 24.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 blocks on 45.5 percent shooting throughout his first 20 games. He looked a completely new player in the overhauled system, making excellent decisions on when and where to shoot, when to pass to open shooters and cutters and even trying more on defense.

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen before, his production and, in turn, energy, fell off a cliff. In the 14 games he has played since that opening bonanza, he is putting up just 17.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 0.7 blocks a night. To top it off, he is hitting just 39.5 percent of his field goals.

There is something to be said for the illnesses he has battled and the way the coaching staff has used him in this recent stretch, but the fact is that he hasn’t done enough himself to break out of his slump. Wiggins is undoubtedly the x-factor on this team and there is a reason they have cooled off since he stopped playing well.

3. Gorgui Dieng - 8.3

There have been plenty of surprises this season, many of them have been disheartening, but Gorgui Dieng’s resurgence has easily been the best story of this strange campaign.

The 30-year-old’s career looked all but over when he started the season out of Ryan Saunders’ rotation, but after garnering minutes during Karl-Anthony Towns’ early-season suspension, he never looked back. Since then, he played valiantly in a backup role to Towns, before becoming one of Minnesota’s best players while their starting center was out through injury and illness.

In his time as a starter throughout the season, he averages 13.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks a game. He also hit a whopping 40.8 percent of the 4.2 3-pointers he jacked up a night. Rightfully earning the ‘Trebuchet’ nickname.

When he wasn’t launching triples and cleaning the offensive glass, Dieng was one of the best defensive bigs in the league. His pick-and-roll mastery and ability to defend the rim was one of the chief reasons Minnesota spent the better part of a month as the best defense in the league. Overall, he ranks 17th in D-PIPM (+2.31) and ninth among centers. That makes him the highest-ranking Wolf in the metric.

From a benchwarmer to a two-way force. It’s been a heck of a season for the Senegalese Sniper. Let’s home he can retain that form now that Karl-Anthony Towns has returned.

2. Karl-Anthony Towns - 8.5

In any other season of his career, Karl-Anthony Towns would be a lock to top these rankings. This year, however, he has succumbed to a 15-game stretch of injury and illness which has knocked him down to the second spot. While he is back now, availability is still the best ability and Towns, who is usually an iron-man, hasn’t been available enough in 2019-20.

When he has graced the hardwood, Towns has been the best version of himself. He is scoring a career-high 26.5 points per game while taking and making (41.5% on 8.5 attempts per game) an unprecedented amount of triples for a big man. He is still crashing the glass, averaging a career-high 4.3 assists and defending at an ever so slightly higher level.

To put it simply, Towns is one of, if not the, most efficient volume scorers in the league. Among bigs, he is the true meaning of a unicorn. There has never been a 7-footer who can launch and hit endless long-bombs while still being able to work his man in the low-post and pass out of double-teams at an elite level.

We’re lucky to be able to watch him every night. Let’s hope his only run-in with the injury bug has been and gone.

1. Robert Covington - 8.8

What else can you say about Lord Glovington? Even with a slower-than-usual start to the season, the 29-year-old is still the gold standard for 3-and-D role players.

Offensively, he is still a high-volume long-range gunner. Capable of hitting any shot at any time. Due to the complete lack of shooting surrounding him this season, the space he gets has gone down and the difficulty of shots he has to take has gone up, but that still hasn’t stopped him from hitting 35.6 percent of his triples overall and 42.3 percent over the last 10 games.

He has even improved as a ball-handler and finisher around the rim. Gone are the days where an adventure took place every time he put the ball on the deck. Instead, he is driving with precision and calmness. His career-high 54.5 percent clip from within 10 feet of the hoop is a testament to that.

Defensively, Covington took a little while to adjust to life as a full-time power forward. When he did, he quickly took his crown back as the player with the fastest hands in the league and one of the few one-through-five defenders who can completely detonate a play at any time. Find any defensive metric you want and Covington will be a super-plus player.

With such high value, it’s easy to see why RoCo is involved in a lot of mock trades. However, we really should appreciate every second he spends in a Timberwolves uniform. Defenders like him don’t come around often and they especially don’t grace the Twin Cities too much.

All hail, Lord Covington.