How Dante Cunningham Fits With the Timberwolves

Per KSTP/1500s Darren Wolfson, the Timberwolves and Grizzlies have a verbal agreement on a Wayne Ellington-Dante Cunningham swap.

Per KSTP/1500's Darren Wolfson, the Timberwolves and Grizzlies have a verbal agreement on a Wayne Ellington-Dante Cunningham swap.

From the same guy that has brought you thousands of words on players like Anthony Randolph, Darko Milicic, and others, comes another (likely) thousand on one of the more non-descript trade rumors of the summer. The trade I’m talking about, of course, is Wayne Ellington to Memphis for Dante Cunningham. Heck, this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve written at length on Wayne Ellington, either.

When I first heard this rumor I immediately lamented the loss of Wayne. Some people get it, and others don’t. Despite not being the most physically gifted player, Wayne busts his hump every time he’s on the court and has been one of the few players with an elevated basketball IQ on the team the past few seasons. My affection for Ellington as a player may be irrational, but I certainly appreciate his game.

I understand why this trade has to happen, however.

–          First, with Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, and Chase Budinger coming in and Rick Adelman’s penchant for using two point guard lineups, Ellington likely would’ve struggled to see minutes unless there was a rash of injuries.

–          Likewise, the Timberwolves need help in the frontcourt, and Cunningham should be able to provide further depth behind Kevin Love.

–          Not only do the Wolves need frontcourt help, they need a player that works hard on defense, and by all accounts Cunningham does.

–          Ellington and Cunningham have nearly identical contracts in terms of years and dollars.

If you’re not familiar with Cunningham, is a four year veteran out of Villanova, taken with the third pick of the second round in ’09. He has also played for the Blazers (figures) and Bobcats before Memphis.

Contrary to popular Twitter belief, Cunningham is not an Anthony Tolliver replacement (Another favorite). In fact, Cunningham is a power forward and Tolliver is a center-power forward. While Cunningham has a decent mid-range game, he doesn’t shoot the three like Tolliver does. Really, the one thing the two players have in common is that they both wear #44.

Cunningham sets a screen on Wes Johnson, showing his off-ball ability.

Cunningham sets a screen on Wes Johnson, showing his off-ball ability.

Admittedly, I’ve never seen Cunningham play. I’ve watched Grizzlies games, but never paid any attention to Cunningham. Apparently, like Ellington, Cunningham is an average athlete with a strong basketball IQ. Word is he also works well off of the ball, and is a good catch-and-shoot shooter for Ricky Rubio. As much as I hate to see Wayne go, this move actually sounds like it makes a ton of sense.

Although he’s not a great rebounder, he can get away with being average if he’s playing next to Kevin Love or Nikola Pekovic.

How might he fit in the rotation? Well, he immediately upgrades from Anthony Randolph, but he could spell Derrick Williams on an off night as well. If Rick Adelman wants hard working players who hustle, Cunningham will see the court. At 6’8 he could see minutes at the three, but given his shooting range and reported lack of ball-handling/athleticism, I’m not sure that’s a great long-term idea.

Want to find out more on Dante Cunningham? Follow him on Twitter. Also check out his HoopData, Basketball-Reference, and Draft Express pages.

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