I’ve been awake since 4:30 a.m. — not by choice, never by choice — and I just pared down my browser tabs so there are only 33 open. Clearly I’ve been
up to no good working hard to create the sports #content that will get us through these confusing times.
Here’s where the dust settled: a list of the most underappreciated current Minnesota pro athletes. If you appreciate a short diversion on a slow sports news day (but not a slow “news” news day, never any more it seems) let’s spend a few minutes together. Here are my choices, pulling one each (and an honorable mention) from the Timberwolves, Wild, Vikings, Twins and Lynx (Minnesota United is still in its Major League Soccer infancy, and I have no idea which players to appreciate yet).
Wolves: Cole Aldrich. Here’s a fun statistic: Aldrich, the former Bloomington Jefferson big man who signed with the Wolves as a free agent this past offseason, leads current Wolves players this season in both offensive (122) and defensive (104) rating per 100 possessions this season. Though he’s only averaging about 10 minutes per game, good things tend to happen in those short bursts. Aldrich is averaging 11.2 rebounds and a team-best 1.7 blocked shots per 36 minutes. He doesn’t score much, but he takes high percentage shots and makes them (as evidenced by his team-best 52.9 percent shooting from the field). Honorable mention: Gorgui Dieng.
Wild: Chris Stewart. On a team with balanced scoring to the point that eight Wild players are in double-figures but nobody has more than 16 goals, the contributions of Stewart — mainly a fourth-line player — have been invaluable. He’s one of those double-digit scorers (with 10 goals) and was trusted enough by coach Bruce Boudreau to get the nod in a crucial shootout spot against Dallas a week ago (during which Stewart delivered the winner). Honorable mention: Mikko Koivu.
Twins: Ervin Santana. Wait, how can a team’s best starting pitcher (by a long shot) be underappreciated? Well, let’s see. He finished 10th in the American League in ERA among starters last season (3.38). That ERA, by the way, was the lowest for a Twins starter who pitched at least 100 innings since Scott Baker (3.14) in 2011 and the lowest for a Twins pitcher who qualified for the ERA title since Johan Santana (3.33) in 2007. It was not Erv’s fault that the Twins supported him so poorly that he won just seven games. On a better team, he would have won twice as many (at least). Do not trade this man. Honorable mention: Taylor Rogers.
Vikings: Marcus Sherels: First, the numbers. Sherels averaged 13.9 yards per punt return in 2016 (second in the NFL) and was one of three players to return two punts for TDs last season (and the Vikings won both of those games). Minnesota, in fact, was 7-4 when Sherels played and 1-4 in the games he missed due to injury. Plenty of factors played into those defeats, but there were a lot of narrow losses that could have turned on one big play. Honorable mention: Adam Thielen.
Lynx: Rebekkah Brunson. During the Lynx’s six-year run of excellence, including three WNBA titles, Brunson has been a mainstay willing to do whatever the team needs. Usually, that amounts to fierce rebounding and a sneaky scoring touch. She’s the WNBA’s all-time leader in offensive rebounds, which sums up her game perfectly. Honorable mention: Maya Moore (yes, she’s just that good that you can never appreciate her enough).
Agree? Disagree? Let’s have a strangely civil debate in the comments.