Dante Cunningham must re-define role on healthy Timberwolves
SEP 13, 2013 9:06a ET
Folks around here that couldn't remember a single bright spot from the 2012-13 season need only have attended one of the Timberwolves' three summer caravan stops last month.
A reminder turned up there that something good came out of a 31-51, injury-plagued campaign.
The emergence of Dante Cunningham.
The 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward is back for another year in the Twin Cities after a staunch second half of last season. Inactives on the roster provided him a window of opportunity, and he smashed through it.
The next step in the four-year pro's career is contributing when his team is healthy. That's a tougher chore.
2012-13 stats: 8.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 25.1 MPG, 80 GP
2013 salary: $2,180,000
Last year: Despite his relative anonymity in the shadow of his more prominent teammates, Cunningham may have been the biggest in-house beneficiary of Minnesota's many and varied health woes last season.
Playing on his fourth team in four years, he tallied season highs in scoring, rebounding, minutes and games played. He became especially adroit in the fourth quarter, at one point averaging more points in the final frame than any of his teammates.
He provided durability on a team that greatly lacked it, appearing in more games than any other player returning this season.
For his contributions, the Timberwolves exercised their team option on his contract, allowing him to stay in the same city between seasons for the first time in his professional career. He likely wouldn't mind staying longer.
This year: For that to happen, he'll need to find more of a defined role among a fully-loaded Minnesota group. Kevin Love has the power forward spot on lock, and Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer look to share the bulk of minutes at small forward.
That's the spot Cunningham manned for much of last season. But his game seems to suit more of a post position; he attempted just six 3-pointers all of last year, instead choosing to do his work in and around the paint.
There likely won't be as many chances this season.
Heading into training camp, Cunningham looks like the No. 3 option at both forward spots. Derrick Williams is backing up Love, and if Cunningham were to try and play some more three, he'd have rookie first-round draft pick Shabazz Muhammad to usurp, too.
What Cunningham does offer is some serious depth. Rolling three-deep at any position in the NBA is a commodity, and if he can develop continue on the trajectory he was on in 2012-13, he could give the Timberwolves two of them.
Several key offseason additions and retentions stole most of the offseason headlines. It's up to Williams to snatch a few of them back this season.
From the front office: "We've done a lot of things, and people have talked about what we've added. But there hasn't been a whole lot of talk about Derrick Williams, about Alexey Shved, about (Dante) Cunningham . . . You're looking at those guys now being guys that come off the bench for you or also starting, so I think it shows you that we've improved our depth."
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