Dante Cunningham was not one of the more notable off-season acquisitions for the Minnesota Timberwolves when he was obtained in a trade from the Memphis Grizzlies, but injuries have forced him into a significant early season role off the bench and he has produced well.
Cunningham had 14 points (6-for-9 from the floor) and six rebounds against the Golden State Warriors on Friday night, which was his third game in the last four with exactly that point total, pushing his scoring average to 9.7 points per game so far this season. His best game of the season came against the Brooklyn Nets back on November 5, as he posted a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds).
The Timberwolves certainly did not expect that kind of production from Cunningham, and his production over his first three NBA seasons (5.2 points per game) suggests it will not be sustained going forward. Particularly once Kevin Love (hand) returns to action, when his minutes will most likely decline with Derrick Williams also in the mix. To say nothing of having fewer shots to go around, so Cunningham’s current level of just over eight field goal attempts per game will definitely drop when Loves returns.
But Minnesota head coach Rick Adelman does seem to value Cunningham’s energy off the bench, and if Williams continues to shown signs of inconsistency and underachievement his minutes may not fall off all that much. Even without significant box scores every game, Cunningham may simply bring something intangible that a veteran coach like Adelman will value.
Contributions from unexpected players have and will continue to keep the Timberwolves afloat as they start to get players back from injury over the next few weeks. Cunningham has been one of those players to this point, and even as his role changes, I think he can continue to make an impact.