This is the fourth in a thirteen-part series that will examine all players currently on the Wolves’ roster that played for the team last season. We’ll be omitting Kevin Love, because…well, you know why.
Dante Cunningham is unlikely to be with the Timberwolves during the upcoming season; he’s a free agent and the Wolves have a chock-full roster. In fact, Flip Saunders still has to figure out how to clear a roster spot for second-round draft pick Glenn Robinson III, who he apparently thinks very highly of.
On the other hand, the Wolves don’t currently have any true power forwards on their roster, save for the soon-to-be-officially-traded Kevin Love. They’ll certainly end up with one of Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young, however, and if the most recent local media reports are to be believed, it seems likely that they’ll ultimately add both forwards to the squad.
Which leaves Dante without a job. The third-string role will be filled by some combination of Robbie Hummel, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, depending on how many of the quartet are still on the roster when the season begins.
So unless something crazy happens on the trade (or, God forbid, injury) front, it seems like there simply isn’t a place for Cunningham on the 2014-15 roster. That said, let’s take a quick look at D.C.’s two years in Minneapolis.
Cunningham was acquired in a simple roster-balancing move shortly before training camp in fall of 2012. Then-general manager David Kahn sent sharpshooter Wayne Ellington to Memphis in exchange for Cunningham, and the move actually made a ton of sense. Ellington has been with four different organizations since the trade, and while he’s carved a nice niche in the league as a shooter, he didn’t fit the guard-heavy 2012-13 Timberwolves.
Dante Cunningham was a very serviceable rotation player over the course of his first three years in the NBA, split among Portland, Charlotte, and Memphis. He never averaged more than 21 minutes per game, and was extremely effective in short bursts as an undersized but effective power forward with a good mid-range jumper.
Upon coming to the Wolves, Cunningham was expected to assume the same role in backing up Kevin Love. Then, knuckle push-ups happened, and Cunningham was forced to play more than 25 minutes per game, starting nine times for the 2012-13 Wolves.
He performed admirably at first, but the career-high in minutes played began to catch up to him and he finished the year in a rut. Check out his shot chart from the 2012-13 season, keeping in mind that the mid-range jumper is his bread-and-butter.
Cunningham shot just 84 of 224 from left of the right elbow above the free throw line. Yep, just 37.5% from the area that he shot the most from, save for underneath the basket on put-backs and the like. That’s not good.
The mid-range shot that Cunningham managed to best the league-average was the zone that he only shot the ball from 65 times over the course of the year. So to summarize, Dante took one of the least-efficient shots in the game and shot it at below the league-average. Not quite Josh Smith-esque, but not great, either.
Actually, the following chart will better illustrate just what kind of offensive player Dante Cunningham is. After all, the better-than-league-average 68.86% at the rim looks sexy, doesn’t it? Sure, until you look at his shot distribution.
Cunningham attempted a whopping 64.53%(!!) of his shots from mid-range. That’s insane. That means that less than a quarter of his shot attempts came at the rim, which certainly mitigates the impact that his near-70% shooting from around the basket had.
As for 2013-14, Cunningham was largely the exact same player as he was the previous season, just in smaller doses. Love was healthy, and players like Hummel and Mbah a Moute chewed up a few of the minutes that Dante had received in 2012-13.
That said, a 20 minute-per-game role is exactly what suits Cunningham, so it was a bit disappointing to see his overall production dip below where he’d been with other teams prior to coming to Minnesota.
Ultimately, Cunningham is a nice player that deserves a 16-20 mpg role. He can play an important, defensive-minded, bench role for a contender. Stretch him too far above that range, and his weaknesses will be sorely exposed. Expect him to catch on with a good squad around the time that training camp kicks off. For the time being, his off-court issues have likely affected his ability to ink a deal with anyone, although that appears to be over and done with from the legal side of things.
Cunningham reportedly would love to come back to the Wolves, but there simply does not appear to be a plausible scenario in which that would happen. Here’s hoping that Dante can find a suitable situation outside of Minnesota, and possible get back to the playoffs in short order. He was a fun player to watch while he was in a Wolves uniform, and we wish him the best.