Do you remember what you were doing on July 1, 2022? The day itself is a blur to me outside of seeing my phone light up with the following tweet:
Immediately, my heart started racing as I scrambled to take a screenshot and send the news to all of my closest friends who double as Minnesota Timberwolves fans. Text threads came to life with responses and speculation about who the Wolves sent and if the Utah Jazz were sending anyone else. Three minutes later, the Wolves’ side of the question was almost fully answered.
After the list of players was revealed, there were some Patrick Beverly and Jared Vanderbilt mourners, but mostly, everyone was thrilled that the Timberwolves found a way to make the trade happen without including Jaden McDaniels. Multiple first-round picks? I remember having time to send a fateful text of “That means two first rounders, right?” when the next bit of news hit.
Whoops, not that one. Though I’d be lying to say that I hadn’t already dreamed of scenarios where Leandro Bolmaro becomes the next great European point guard for our team.
There’s the one. Five first-round picks when you include Walker Kessler. Local reporters, and national talking heads pretty quickly came to similar conclusions… The Wolves just gave up a lot for the French big man.
For most Wolves fans, the night ended pretty similarly: curiosity about how this new lineup would work, but also the inescapable worry in the back of your head that the team had just mortgaged their future.
The price the Timberwolves paid became the main story for the summer, but the child-like fan in me just wanted to get to the basketball games to see how it all fit together. How would Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert play together? Could D’Angelo Russell find a whole new level to his game with Gobert setting screens? Should we just pencil the Wolves in as a top 10 defense in the league? Could Anthony Edwards and McDaniels lead the league in steals with Gobert as a safety net?
Well, fast forward a year later. Some of these questions got definitive answers, and some still linger in the air. Everything about the 2022-2023 season was defined by this deal, so it is fitting that in the final grading article of the season, Gobert is the focal point.
To the grades one last time before we can finally lay the 2022-2023 season to rest.
1. These grades are roles-based, so the stats I’m looking at for each player are different.
2. There will be three major components of the grades: Regular season (70%), playoffs (25%) and extracurriculars (5%)
3. The extracurricular category is a new one that takes into account things that happened on and off the court that wouldn’t be captured by numbers: Awards, injuries, locker-room problems, etc… One extra way to quantify things that happened this season that would otherwise be missed.
4. For players who spent a lot of the season in the G League, I’ve added in their stats from the regular season and Showcase Cup. They aren’t weighted as heavily as NBA stats, but wanted to use them to add a little more context to a player’s season.
Rudy Gobert Final Grade: 78% (C+)
Rudy Gobert was consistently the hardest player for me to grade this season with a barrage of different categories I was looking at and slight tweaks to their ranges. Here’s two cases you could make when looking at Gobert’s numbers this season:
Case 1: Contrary to Popular Sentiment, Rudy Gobert Didn’t Lose a Step
Rudy Gobert finished the season as the league’s fifth-best per game rebounder, was in the 95th and 96th percentile in true shooting and effective field goal percentage respectively, was 15th in the league in blocks per game, and a top twenty-five player in limiting opponent field goal percentage at the rim. All of this was done while playing for a new team, in a new system, and for about one-third of the season, next to another center.
Case 2: Rudy Gobert is on the Downward Portion of His Career Trajectory
Rudy Gobert had his worst season in blocks per game (1.4) since his rookie year where he played under ten minutes a game. His true shooting percentage, offensive and defensive rebounding numbers were both at five year lows and closer to the numbers that Gobert put up in his injury riddled 2017-2018 season. His PER finished at 18.9, a seven year low, which matches with his win shares (7.8) also at a seven year low.
Here’s where I fall: Gobert was a good player this season, but not a great one. The expectation for Gobert was greatness (heightened by the cost of the trade). Him ultimately falling short of greatness this season should not completely overshadow the positives he brought to the court, but the drop in production can’t be glossed over either. With a full season in the Timberwolves system, supported all the more by Mike Conley in the fold, expectations next season should be a return to form.
Extracurriculars: Like McDaniels, if you throw a punch in your team’s biggest game of the season which then takes you out of the game and causes you to miss a subsequent postseason game, it’s going to hurt your score here. But it wasn’t just the infamous punch that led to some headlines this season. In November, Rudy caused some ire within the fanbase by telling booing fans to stay home, and after the trade deadline, there were all the reports about chemistry issues with Russell (most reporting places the onus on Russell for these issues).
The Big Questions: Can Timberwolves fans separate the trade price from Gobert as a player?
While NBA offseasons are generally unpredictable, there is an increasing likelihood that the team is running it back next season. Writing about Gobert in this first season was always a hard task because the roster was overhauled based on his presence - fair or not, much of the expectation for this team taking the next step depended on the performance of the 3x Defensive Player of the Year.
The good news about next year? We can set aside the cost of the trade from an evaluation standpoint and compare Gobert’s performance against this year in the rearview mirror. He is no longer a player who came in and blew up the roster - he’s a returning piece who will play a prominent role in how the team fares going forward.
Luka Garza Final Grade: 82% (B-)
There are two big stats which define the Luka Garza experience in his first year on the Timberwolves.
1. Luka Garza scored 26.8 points per 36 minutes - good for 18th in the league when you filter by guys who played at least two hundred regular season minutes. The rest of the list is no joke, though Garza is the only player in the top twenty who was under one thousand minutes for the season.
Limited minutes aside, this stat does point to NBA-caliber offensive skill, maybe even potential starter-level skill down the road. But you’ll probably notice the emphasis I’m placing on offensive skill as we go to the next stat:
2. Luka Garza committed 6.4 personal fouls per 36 minutes - good for second overall in the league when you filter by guys who played at least two hundred regular season minutes.
Personal fouls are not an all-encompassing defensive stat, but in this case, it is quite helpful to reveal the thing that is keeping such a versatile and talented offensive player from seeing more of the court: He struggles to stay in front of his man and has a long way to go before being a sufficient team defender.
Garza’s offense is good enough to inspire a Floyd Mayweather stare down, but in order to stick long term on the team, and in the NBA, the other half of his game needs to grow. As the final grade indicates, he had enough flashes this year to create intrigue as a “Next Up” Game MVP during All-Star weekend.
Extracurriculars: It’s never a bad sign to have an All-Star team named after you, even if it was just in the developmental league. In terms of Luka’s off-court mentality, check out Thilo Latrell Widder’s piece on Garza from February following his All-Star MVP performance.
The Big Question: How does Luka Garza fit on the team in the wake of the Naz Reid signing?
This is a hard question, and my initial guess is… not great, at least for this year. We’ll obviously know a lot better a week from now, but Garza seems like a prime candidate to come back on a two-way deal. Here’s our friend Dane Moore breaking down the cost of offering Garza another two-way deal:
He’s an insurance policy for the Timberwolves if, down the road, they need to make some changes at the center position due to the amount of money they are currently pouring into it.
Final Report Card Comments
One last reminder about these final grades: They are roles based. A player in the “A” range isn’t necessarily a better player than one in the “D” range - they just had a better season within their evolving role throughout the season.
Anthony Edwards: 94% (A)
A young star who grew up into an All-Star and saved his best for the playoffs.
Mike Conley: 92 (A-)
A trade deadline acquisition who became the perfect mix of off-court leadership and on-court performance.
Kyle Anderson: 91% (A-)
One of the best FA signings in Timberwolves’ history who continued to find new ways to help the team win throughout a bevy of injuries.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker: 90% (A-)
More than just a throw-in as part of a trade, NAW carved out an essential starting role for himself with the team in the postseason through elite defense and effective outside shooting.
Jaden McDaniels: 89% (B+)
A developing defensive superstar whose offensive game also took big steps throughout the season, though his self-inflicted postseason absence was a letdown for everyone.
Naz Reid: 83% (B)
The big-man-turned-microwave-scorer who consistently found ways to earn minutes on the court before getting injured while playing the best basketball of his career.
Luka Garza: 82% (B-)
A developmental player who had high points offensively in both the G-League and in limited minutes in the regular season.
Josh Minott: 80% (B-)
A second round draft pick who flashed enough upside to leave fans curious about what he could bring at the next level.
Taurean Prince: 79% (C+)
A reliable veteran who brought consistency to outside shooting and became a key voice in the locker room.
Rudy Gobert: 78% (C+)
The big offseason acquisition who had a relatively-underwhelming season compared to his elite standards.
Austin Rivers: 77% (C)
The minimum contract/fringe roster guy who earned minutes both in the regular season and postseason.
Karl-Anthony Towns 69% (D+)
The All-NBA player who dealt with a major injury, a position change, and bouts of sickness leading to, arguably, the worst statistical season of his career.
Jordan McLaughlin 68% (D+)
The normally-reliable backup point guard who never seemed to find his footing following a calf injury.
Wendell Moore Jr.: 67% (D)
The first round draft pick who had one NBA moment, but otherwise had a hard time distinguishing himself in either league.
Jaylen Nowell: 60% (D-)
The preseason-presumed sixth man who never could find the right rhythm and scoring touch to take over a key bench role and solidify himself as part of the team’s future.
Author’s Note: Thank you to everyone who took the time to even read one of the 30+ articles I wrote for Canis this year. From the pre-season articles on, your feedback in the comments was essential for shaping and changing the grading system. Commenters were always gracious with their feedback, whether they were a fan of the grades/system or not. So thank you! You made my first experience writing a season-long series a fun one, and just like the rest of you crazy Timberwolves fans, I can’t wait for next year.