Player Profile: Dante Cunningham
Player Profile: Dante Cunningham
Wolves forward Dante Cunningham is known for his energy. He displayed it every night on the court during his first season with the team in 2012-13, and that passion for the game and for the organization showed through inside the locker room. It’s a big reason why the Wolves elected to exercise Cunningham’s option for 2013-14, giving DC an opportunity to stay with the Wolves and help develop further the team chemistry and potential that was hampered by injuries a year ago.
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Editor’s Note: Throughout the summer, Timberwolves.com will profile members of the 2012-13 team and take a look at how they performed as well as their preparations for next season. In Part VII, we profile Dante Cunningham and the energy he brought on defense and on the glass in his first year with the Wolves.
“This team could be unbelievable,” Cunningham said in mid-April. A whole season, a whole preseason together of just getting better, just coming together more. We have a lot to prove and show.”
Cunningham did his part last year.
DC enjoyed his best overall year as a pro with the Timberwolves, finishing the campaign having played in a career-high 80 games, starting nine, scoring 8.7 points per night and hauling in 5.1 rebounds a game. He quickly showcased the type of fiery energy he brings to the floor on a nightly basis, and his 1.8 offensive rebounds per game are an indication of the way he attacked the glass and extended possessions.
From a scoring standpoint, Cunningham helped fill some of the void left by Kevin Love’s injury through his put-backs at the hoop. He did it in athletic fashion, often throwing down pretty put backs. His staple on offense, however, was connecting just inside the arc near the top of the key with his smooth jumpshot. It became a portion of his game you could depend on seeing each night as he would navigate the pick-and-pop with Ricky Rubio from about 19 to 21 feet.
But his most consistent attribute was probably on the defensive end, where he in some regards exceeded expectations when it comes to how well he fit into the Wolves’ roster and put together continuously effective play.
Cunningham found ways to do the little things on the defensive end, and he showcased a motor that was relentless.
“Those blocked shots from behind, just scrapping, hands on balls and then he’s the one who gets it,” assistant coach Jack Sikma said during the season. “You talk about someone who makes the most of his time on the court. Every time he’s on the court, he’s trying. He plays very aware when he’s on the court.”
Next season, Cunningham and the Wolves have an opportunity to continue building on the foundation coach Rick Adelman and his assistants laid over the past two seasons, and Cunningham seems to be ready for that challenge. Last year was a season that got away due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. This year remains a fresh slate.
“It was just tough—going through a season like this, you have so many guys going in and out so many times,” Cunningham said. “This is just one of those things where you look back and you try to kind of put it all into one area of what went wrong. You really can’t. We just had so many things that didn’t work out for us.”
The Wolves look forward to having his aggressive play and team-oriented mindset back on their side next season.
"It was important for us to bring Dante back," Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said in the team’s press release. "We all saw last year how he fits in really well with Coach Adelman's style and system. His versatility, energy and ability to knock down the open jumper are all reasons we feel he is an invaluable piece to our team. We are excited to have Dante back for next season."
Highlight of the Year
In the waning moments of Minnesota’s matchup with Phoenix at Target Center on Dec. 29, the Wolves held a 110-107 lead with five seconds left and the Suns had the ball. Jared Dudley made a pass into the middle of the court, and Dante Cunningham stepped in front and snagged for his lone steal of the game. He took the ball down court and was fouled, made 1-of-2 free throws and gave the Wolves a four-point lead with seconds to play. The play came during a game in which he played just 18 minutes and didn’t hit a field goal, but it was arguably the biggest defensive play of the night.
Top Performance of the Year
Cunningham put together one of the most efficient offensive performance of the season on Feb. 2 at home against the New Orleans Hornets. It was on that night he went 9-for-9 from the field in 26 minutes of play, scoring a then season-high 18 points in the process. The nine makes set a Timberwolves record for most consecutive field goals made without a miss. He did it with his combination of athletic ability at the rim as well as connecting four times with his jumper just inside the arc. It also came during one of the Wolves’ roughest stretches of the season. Minnesota won just once in a span of 11 games between Jan. 21 and Feb. 10, and that lone win came thanks to Cunningham’s efficiency. He added four rebounds two steals and an assist on the night.
Cunningham said he’ll spend his offseason at home in Maryland. He’ll work out there while also heading to Villanova, where he played college ball, to get some work in. From his perspective, being able to hone and extend his range on his jumpshot will be a key component to his offseason. He was incredibly efficient last year, and that element of his game is a welcomed complement to his athletic ability around the rim that generates put backs and rebounds. Being able to put the ball on the floor and attacking the basket a bit more next season will only help create defensive separation for his jumper.