NBA Grades: Minnesota Timberwolves End-of-Season Report Card: Center Edition

Do you remember what you were doing on July 1, 2022? The day itself is a blur to me without seeing my phone light up with the following tweet:

Immediately, my heart started racing as I tried to take a screenshot and send the news to all my closest friends who double as Minnesota Timberwolves fans. Text threads came alive with responses and speculation about who sent the wolves and about Utah Jazz sent someone 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 excited that the Timberwolves found a way to make the trade happen without including Jaden McDaniels. Multiple first round picks? I remember I had time to send a fateful text saying “That means two first rounders, right?” when the next news hit.

Whoa, not that one. Although I’d be lying to say I hadn’t already dreamed up scenarios where Leandro Bolmaro becomes the next great European point guard for our team.

There is the one. Five first round picks when you include Walker Kessler. Local reporters and national talking heads came to similar conclusions pretty quickly… The Wolves just gave up a lot for the French giant.

For most Wolves fans, the night ended pretty much the same: curiosity about how this new lineup would work, but also the inevitable worry in the back of their minds that the team had just mortgaged their future.

The price the Timberwolves paid became the main story of the summer, but the childish fan in me just wanted to come to the basketball games to see how it all came 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 write the Wolves in as a top 10 defense in the league? Could Anthony Edwards and McDaniels lead the league in steals with Gobert as the safety net?

Well, fast forward a year later. Some of these questions were definitively answered, and some still hang in the air. Everything about the 2022-2023 season was defined by that deal, so it’s fitting that Gobert is the focal point of the final review article of the season.

To the grades one last time, before we can finally put the 2022-2023 season to rest.

Important reminders:

1. These characters are role based so the stats I look at for each player are different.

2. There will be three main components of 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 field that wouldn’t be captured by numbers: awards, injuries, locker room issues, etc.. An additional way to quantify things that happened this season, which would otherwise be missed.

4. For players who spent much of the season in the G League, I’ve added their stats from the regular season and Showcase Cup. They are not weighted as heavily as NBA stats, but would 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 rate this season with a flurry of different categories I looked at and slight tweaks to their range. Here are two examples you can 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 rebounder per game, was in the 95th and 96th percentiles in true shooting and effective field goal percentage, respectively, was 15th in the league in blocks per battle, and a top 25 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 a third of the season next to another center.

Case 2: Rudy Gobert is on the downswing of his career

Rudy Gobert had his worst season in blocks per game (1.4) since his rookie year, playing under ten minutes per game. match. His true shooting percentage, offensive and defensive rebound numbers were both at five-year lows and closer to the numbers Gobert put up in his injury-plagued 2017-2018 season. His PER finished at 18.9, a seven-year low, matching his win shares (7.8) also at a seven-year low.

Here’s where I fall down: 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 this season’s greatness shouldn’t completely overshadow the positives he brought to the field, but the drop in production can’t be overshadowed either. With a full season in the Timberwolves system, supported all the more by Mike Conley in the fold, expectations for next season should be a return to form.

Extracurriculars: Like McDaniels, hitting a hit 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, will hurt your score here. But it wasn’t just the infamous hit that led to some headlines this season. In November, Rudy caused quite a stir in the fanbase by telling booing fans to stay at homeand after the trade deadline there were all the reports regarding chemistry problems with Russell (most reporting puts 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 will run it back next season. Writing about Gobert in this first season was always going to be a tough task because the roster was revised based on his presence — fair or not, much of the expectations for this team taking the next step hinged 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 to this year in hindsight. He’s 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 performs going forward.

Just come into the season fully healthy.

Luka Garza final grade: 82% (B-)

There are two big stats that define the Luka Garza experience in his first year on the Timberwolves.

1. Luka Garza scored 26.8 points per game. 36 minutes – good for 18th in the league when you filter for guys who played at least two hundred minutes in the regular season. The rest of the list is no joke, although Garza is the only player in the top twenty who was under a thousand minutes for the season.

Limited minutes aside, these stats point to NBA-caliber offensive skills, maybe even potential starter-level skills down the road. But you’ll probably notice the emphasis I put on offensive skills when we move on 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 for guys who played at least two hundred minutes in the regular season.

Personal fouls aren’t an all-encompassing defensive stat, but in this case it’s quite useful to reveal what keeps such a versatile and talented offensive player from seeing more of the field: He struggles to stay in front of his man. and has a long way to go before he is an adequate team defender.

Garza’s offense is good enough to inspire a Floyd Mayweather stare down, but to stick around 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 generate 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. As for Lukas’ 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 into the team in the wake of the Naz Reid signing?

This is a tough question and my first guess is… not good, at least for this year. We’ll obviously know a lot better in a week, but Garza seems like an excellent candidate to come back on a two-way deal. Here’s our friend Dane Moore breaking down the costs of offering Garza another two-way deal:

He’s an insurance policy for the Timberwolves in case down the road they need to make some changes at the center position due to the amount of money they’re currently pouring into it.

Comments on final report

A final reminder about these final grades: they are role-based. An “A” tier player isn’t necessarily a better player than a “D” tier player – they just had a better season within their evolving role throughout the season.

Anthony Edwards: 94% (A)
A young star who grew up to be an All-Star and saved his best for the playoffs.

Mike Conley: 92 (A-)
A deadline acquisition that became the perfect blend 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 through a litany of injuries.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker: 90% (A-)
More than just a throw-in as part of a trade, NAW carved out a key 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 great strides 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 by his elite standards.

Austin Rivers: 77% (C)
The minimum contract/fringe list guy who earned minutes in both the regular season and the postseason.

Karl-Anthony Towns 69% (D+)
The All-NBA player who dealt with a major injury, a position change and illness led to arguably the worst statistical season of his career.

Jordan McLaughlin 68% (D+)
The usually reliable backup point guard who never seemed to find his footing after a calf injury.

Wendell Moore Jr.: 67% (D)
The first round draft pick who had an NBA moment but otherwise struggled to stand out in either league.

Jaylen Nowell: 60% (D-)
The preseason supposed sixth man who could never find the right rhythm and scoring to take over a central bench role and solidify himself as part of the team’s future.

Author’s Note: Thanks to everyone who took the time to read one of the 30+ articles I wrote for Canis this year. From the pre-season articles, your feedback in the comments was crucial in shaping and changing the grading system. The commenters were always friendly with their feedback, whether they were fans of the characters/system or not. So thank you! You made my first experience writing a season-long series a fun one, and like the rest of you crazy Timberwolves fans, I can’t wait for next year.

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