By: Alex Berg
I think just about everyone can recognize the impact Kevin Garnett has in the Minnesota Timberwolves locker room. The leadership and mentorship he provides for a team full of young players cannot be shown on a statsheet.
Yet somehow it seems like you cannot watch a game at Target Center, or other public places, without hearing at least one person cry out “Why are they starting a 40-year-old?” or “He’s too washed up!”
True, the KG that us Minnesota basketball fans grew to know and love is long gone. This 39-year-old veteran is not going to average 22 points and 13 rebounds. He probably won’t ever do that in a game again. But that doesn’t mean he’s washed up -- yet.
On the surface, Garnett’s 3.5 points and 4.6 rebounds looks pretty replaceable. When you extrapolate that to per-36 minutes played, he is up to 8.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. That’s serviceable, right? Another stat that doesn’t look to bad when expanding it over 36 minutes is his 1.9 steals. That’s a higher rate than Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler, and Paul George.
His plus-rating on the season is positive and in the team’s 12 wins this season, the team is a plus-6.8 when the Big Ticket is on the floor. The Timberwolves are 12-16 when KG plays and are winless in the four games he has rested.
If the 15-20 minutes of fairly efficient is not enough for you, what is your plan for the power forward position? Sure watching Gorgui Dieng play with Karl-Anthony Towns is fun, but that can only happen for a handful of minutes each night; and going small with Shabazz Muhammad can be effective in short spurts against smaller teams, but it is a pretty big size and defensive downgrade. Right now Adreian Payne, Damjan Rudez, and Nemanja Bjelica should not be counted on to provide anything other than a brief boost of energy.
The other argument against Garnett is his $8.5-million salary this season. Who cares? Where is the team going to spend that money this season? There is no such thing as a bad short-term contract on a roster like the Timberwolves have now. Any short contract now is better than a long-term deal that will tie up money that could go to the younger players down the road.
Sure, Garnett’s statline is not the eye-popping one we grew accustomed to over a decade ago. His offensive arsenal is limited, but he is still a solid mid-range shooter -- for his size. He still has one of the better defensive rebounding rates in basketball and is one of the better defenders on this young team, especially off-the-ball.
Despite his age, KG is still the clear best option at the power forward position on this basketball team. His performance has been better than his per-game line suggests and that doesn’t include everything that simply won’t show up on the statsheet.