Three Timberwolves Make The Ringer’s Top 100

The Ringer just published their “Top 100 NBA Player Rankings.” Four analysts made the rankings: Rob Mahoney, Kevin O’Connor, J. Kyle Mann, and Michael Pina. I love all these guys, especially Mann. They make great content and know the game of basketball. They made an aesthetically pleasing page and wrote little summaries of each player. Today, let’s look at the guys from the Minnesota Timberwolves that made their list.

Three Timberwolves Make The Ringer’s Top 100

25) Karl-Anthony Towns

Karl-Anthony Towns is the highest Wolf on this list at 25, which I think is reasonable. He’s 7 feet tall, and nearly a 40% shooter from three… and his interior game is nice (stop pretending like the KAT-Boogie meme is the defining image of his post presence). He’s not Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he glides into the lane with Katerpillar-sized strides. Nobody can deny his extensive offensive senses, but he’s messy defensively.

It’s no easy task to quantify defensive skill, but the wonderful folks at FiveThirtyEight have tried their best with their RAPTOR metrics. Players usually fall in the range of -10 to 10 on offensive and defensive RAPTOR each. They use player tracking, individual statistics, and on-off statistics to devise this. Love it or hate it, I’ve found it to be useful in context. Of the 56 centers that played at least 1,100 minutes last year, KAT was tied for 50th in defensive RAPTOR.

Defense in Context

Having a negative defensive raptor isn’t uncommon; roughly half of all NBA players are in the red. It’s uncommon for a center, however. The only centers with worse defensive RAPTOR were Christian Wood, Jaxson Hayes, Alperen Sengun (rookie), PJ Washington (a small-ball center at best), Damian Jones, Drew Eubanks, and Marcus Morris (a power forward in every facet of the game). At a position where defense is in the first line of their job description, KAT underwhelms.

He’s a lot like Chicago Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic is always a step late in rotations, and when unengaged, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan unsurprisingly let drivers into the paint. They might as well just be awarded the basket. He’s a post-virtuoso and an aficionado of the pick-and-pop. KAT separates himself from Vucevic’s 88th player ranking in simple terms: He’s better in basically every way, but his overall profile is nearly the same.

34) Rudy Gobert

Gobert finds himself at 34 on The Ringer’s list. He’s got superhero defensive talent, and his rim pressure is underrated on the other side. He’s the Screener Intervener, and his alter ego is the Lob Boss. Far too often, he is seen as a villain when he’s just trying to be a hero. Team failures cannot be pinned on him and him alone, no matter how easily he sticks out after the trade.¬†He is what he is, and I stand behind his high ranking. I’d understand if he was further back into the 40s or 50s, but 34 just has a nice ring to it. Almost as nice as the Stifle Tower.

Another player in the same playstyle vein as Gobert is Clint Capela (73rd on the list). Capela puts up an umbrella around the rim, and his lob finishes are always a delight, whether they come from Trae Young or James Harden. He’s had trouble staying on the floor, both from injury and usage. Capela nowadays is just too slow with too heavy a diet on shots down low to be ranked higher. The ranking disparity between Capela and Gobert is substantial and almost fuel for Gobert haters. I want to give him more time, but it isn’t impossible that Gobert’s value drops more to the level of his peer Capela.

46) Anthony Edwards

When Anthony Edwards is at his best, he’s an All-Star. The problem, and the folks at The Ringer know this, is that he just rarely puts it all together. His most recent effort against Oklahoma City displayed his aloof off-ball defense and inefficient off-the-dribble scoring that Kevin O’Connor described. I’ve talked about his dreamy and delicious offensive-defensive sandwich, but the chances you see him put all the ingredients together any given night is in the basement. The Ringer tabbed him at 46. I’d expect most Timberwolves fans to push back on that, but I’d recommend they relax.

His offensive gravity is stronger than Jupiter, but there’s nothing stupider than putting the blinders on during a drive. Isolation basketball can be infuriating to watch and be pick-up truck inefficient. It’s fun to watch him go up strong through contact to the sound of a thundering “ay!” It isn’t fun watching him take unnecessary contact, miss the finish, and then complain to the officials, which happens often.

Stats, Vision, and The Future

Of the 38 guards taking at least 4 shots within 5 feet, Ant is 19th at 60.3%. Luka Doncic leads the way at 72.3%, with other herky-jerky finishers Tyrese Haliburton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Josh Giddey shooting 64.5%, 61.7%, and 60.9%, respectively. I don’t want to see Edwards become softer, but the way those four play the game is different. They control tempo and pacing and manipulate their defenders with fakes, jabs, and their hips. For the most part, they all find the open man and create for their teammates. In other words, they wear a see-through blindfold. Ant wears a true¬†blindfold when going downhill.

I always find myself asking, “what if he just took those blinders off?” Edwards already converts at similar rates as those guys despite consistently stubbornly fighting against airtight contests. He’d obtain more space on drives if he could only tell his defenders, “Hey, I’m not always going to the rim. You better not leave your man wide open in the weak-side corner, or else I’m going to swing it to him.” Oh well, he’s young, and he’s still a great player. I’m sure I’ll be writing about him on a weekly basis for the next 20 years, regardless of where The Ringers ranks him. Hopefully, he’ll be ranked closer to one than 46 during that time.

Jaden McDaniels

Jaden McDaniels did not find himself on this list, and I have to agree. Three-point shooting, stud defending, and tall guys are all over the list. Mikal Bridges is right ahead of Edwards at 44. Franz Wagner is at 61, Aaron Gordon’s at 74, and De’Andre Hunter makes the right bookend at big number 100. I agree that all of them are better players than McDaniels, although it’s close to Hunter. McDaniels is no slouch defending the ball, but he’s got limitations. All four are versatile defenders, equally capable of guarding the one as they are the four. That versatility is critical these days, but McDaniels lacks the strength to guard the 4.

The same strength that allows for defensive versatility helps with drives. The shape McDaniels takes is parabolic, not linear. Even attacking closeouts can be problematic. His okay three-point shooting and truncated usage rate (just 14.5%) make up for the offensive struggles. He’s right in the Bridges-Wagner ballpark of true shooting, with all three players around 59%. McDaniels is the worst rebounder by percentage (5.3% to Gordon, 11.5% high in this group). He also lacks a bit in the playmaking department, with an abysmal 0.9 assist/turnover ratio (Hunter was the worst here with 0.83). Bridges has been elite in that category at 2.84, but McDaniels is still noticeably behind Wagner and Gordon (1.47 and 1.36).

McDaniels is probably capable of cracking the top 100 at some point, but I have to agree with The Ringer right now.