Countdown to Tipoff: Dante Cunningham
Editor’s note: In the days leading up to Friday’s regular season opener against the Kings, Timberwolves.com will highlight three new members of the Wolves’ team that fans will see during the 2012-13 campaign. Minnesota faces Sacramento at 7 p.m. on Friday at Target Center. The game will be televised on My 29 and broadcast on the radio at 830 WCCO-AM.
Web Editorial Associate
Dante Cunningham may have received a lucky break—no pun intended—when veteran Kevin Love was sidelined earlier this month with a hand injury.
The fourth-year forward, who initially was only expected to play a back-up role, will be contending for starting minutes at power forward for the Timberwolves until their All-Star comes back.
“An opportunity anywhere in the league is gold,” Cunningham said after Wednesday’s practice. “At this point, to get these extra minutes and opportunities, I have to take advantage of it.”
Cunningham’s career took an unexpected turn this summer when he was traded from Memphis to Minnesota in exchange for Wayne Ellington. Now with his fourth team, Cunningham has grown into his role as a spark off of the bench. His best statistics of his career came in 2011 with Charlotte when he was receiving 24 minutes per game—and according to him, that’s when he thrives.
“It’s a lot easier to play when you know your minutes are coming,” Cunningham said. “It’s harder when you’re in one game, out the other, you never know when coach will put you in. It’s harder to get in a rhythm, but as a basketball player, you have to take what you can get. In Charlotte, I knew my minutes and I knew what I needed to do.”
The good news for Cunningham is that in the wake of Love’s injury, the Minnesota coaching staff expects him and second-year high-flyer Derrick Williams to pick up the slack at power forward.
“(We need) energy and defense,” coach Rick Adelman said. “Although we need scoring, we’re hoping to pick that up from everybody. Dante is such an energy guy and a great rebounder and defender. We’ll see who plays well and go from there.”
In the unpredictable world of professional sports, injuries can happen at any time. That’s something that Cunningham insists that any athlete has to be ready for.
“Anything can happen,” Cunningham said. “You can walk out on the street and instead of looking left and right, you can get hit by a bus. You can step off the curb and twist your ankle.
“Nothing really changes, you can’t decide when something goes wrong. It happens. The season is so long, anything can happen. You can’t say you’re going to fill in for Kevin Love, all you can do is say as a team that we are going to spread the rest of his numbers throughout the team. Everyone has to contribute a little bit more than before.”
It’s going to be difficult spreading out Love’s 26 points per game and 13 rebounds per game among the rest of the team, but a lot will depend on the opponent. Adelman will look to Williams for certain advantages and Cunningham for others.
“Right now I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of what each guy gives us, and matchups are going to be a big part of that,” Adelman said. “I think it’s a work in progress. We may start certain people, but it may change. I would expect you’re going to see at least 10, maybe 11 guys playing in each game depending on the matchups.”
According to Cunningham, he is best suited to defend athletic, scoring forwards that have some guard traits.
“Faster forwards, pick-and-pop forwards, forwards that handle the ball a little more,” Cunningham said in regard to which type of player he matches up well against. “Guys that handle the ball more on the perimeter than inside.”
He may not have been one of the larger acquisitions this summer, but Cunningham will play a crucial part in helping Minnesota enjoy a successful November. As he grows older and gains more experience, he feels more and more prepared at the beginning of each season.
“I feel like I’m not a veteran yet in the league, but I’m preparing for that direction. I am settling down, and I understand the NBA a little bit better every year. I am understanding what I need to do to be successful.”