This is the fifth in a 14-part series evaluating each Timberwolves player’s performance during the 2013-14 season.
It’s not easy to wipe the friendly smile off Ronny Turiaf’s face.
But a season in another new place for the big, boisterous center from the Caribbean had him emitting emotions other than the seemingly inextinguishable enthusiasm with which he’s always approached the game. That same vigor allowed him to fill the backup role president of basketball operations Flip Saunders envisioned when the Timberwolves signed Turiaf to a two-year, $3.2 million deal last summer.
Continuing a trend that’s haunted the latter stages of his NBA career, the 31-year-old, 6-foot-10, 249-pound journeyman missed 51 of Minnesota’s 82 games — first due to a broken bone in his right elbow, then a nagging bone bruise in his right knee. It was admittedly frustrating, he told local reporters on multiple occasions.
Injuries have kept Turiaf out of at least 15 games each of the past five seasons. They overshadowed his first one in the Twin Cities.
A sub-five points-per-game scorer for his career, Turiaf was never expected to contribute much offensively in Minnesota. He was instead picked up for his rim protection and rebounding abilities. But he wasn’t a liability with the ball in his hands, either. While Turiaf scored just 4.8 points per game, his 59.8 percent field-goal clip led the Timberwolves — primarily because he’s strong enough to finish in the restricted area and almost never shot outside of it. During 10 straight starts for injured Nikola Pekovic in January and February, Turiaf scored 5.4 points per game and shot 54.5 percent.
Despite his injuries, Turiaf enjoyed the best rebounding season of his career, his ninth in the NBA. His 5.6 rebounds per game were a personal high, and only the NBA’s top-level bigs were able to overcome his wide-frame box-outs. For that reason, his value on the boards expanded to the teammates around him; his clearing presence in the paint either allowed him to grab a board of his own or one of them to easily track down loose misses.
After the 2013 draft, the only Timberwolves big man with any potential of making a noticeable defensive difference was rookie Gorgui Dieng. That changed when Minnesota landed Turiaf, who before this season ranked fifth in the league in blocks per 48 minutes played during his NBA tenure. The Martinique native and Gonzaga graduate made good on his reputation, leading the Timberwolves with 1.6 blocks per game and four per 48 minutes played — the second-best marks of his career.
If we’d included a fourth category for durability, Turiaf’s overall grade would come out somewhere in the C range. It’s unfortunate for him and the Timberwolves that minor injuries expected to heal quickly took him so long to recover from, because his contributions behind Pekovic proved awfully valuable. Additionally, Turiaf meshed well with his teammates, particularly the younger ones — Dieng, fellow rookie Shabazz Muhammad, etc. — he was brought in to mentor. If he and Pekovic, who missed 28 games himself this past season, can stay healthy along with Dieng, Minnesota could boast one of the NBA’s deepest frontcourts next year.