By Doug Upstone for ScoresandStats.com
With the NBA back to work and every team having a couple of games under their belt, let’s take a look at what the Minnesota Timberwolves look like. The T-Wolves were aggressive this past off-season in acquiring Jimmy Butler and other veterans, looking to end the 13-year playoff drought.
As of Feb. 26th, Minnesota is in fourth place just behind San Antonio. The way the West is now, the Timberwolves would have to face Golden State and Houston to reach the NBA Finals if they finish in third or fourth place. One would assume the T-Wolves would not want to slip to fifth because they would not have a half court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
But just how good is Minnesota?
Minnesota has hung around the Top 7 spots in scoring in the NBA the last couple of months. With Jeff Teague at point guard, the offense primarily flows through Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. Teague is not thought of as an elite point guard and would be ranked probably in the 16 to 20 range among starters at that position. For this team, his veteran presence works and it is someone coach Tom Thibodeau trusts, with young players like Towns and the still up and down Andrew Wiggins.
According to the Hollinger offensive efficiency rankings, the Timberwolves are third behind the Warriors and Rockets. However, they fall off some (still in the Top 10) in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. This is mostly caused by Wiggins and the bench not as efficient shooters as the rest of the starters.
Where concerns jump out about Minnesota is on the defensive end. Ranking 19th in points allowed is not the end of the world and that is fewer points surrendered than both teams that made the NBA Finals last year in Golden State and Cleveland.
Yet, what is of greater concern, especially with more half-court basketball played in the postseason season, is Minnesota’s man to man defense. The Timberwolves are in the bottom five in two-point field goal percentage allowed and bottom 10 in three-point FG percentage allowed.
Collectively as a team, Minnesota does not have the right roster to play cohesive defense and cannot really turn to the bench. Butler is an effective defender, who sometimes does not pay attention to detail. Taj Gibson at 32 does not guard as well as he used to and is most effective as a rim protector with a true shot-blocking center. Towns is more a rebounder than shot-blocker and Gorgui Dieng has not really produced in that area and at 28 and playing under 20 minutes a night, improvement appears unlikely.
Is Tibs a Championship Coach plus Breaking News
Nobody questions Tom Thibodeau’s effort and his ability to try to maximize what he gets out of players. He does everything possible to get his players to give their best effort nightly and is legendary ‘grinder’ by anyone who has covered his teams will tell you.
But is Tibs the right kind of coach that can lead a team to a title? It is hard to give a precise answer, because he’s often had bad luck with injuries, like with Derrick Rose in Chicago and now maybe Butler. Thibodeau is relentless like Pat Riley but does not give off the aura of a motivator who can make players reach the next level, that remains the real question.
Next is the Jimmy Butler news, as he underwent surgery on the meniscus in his right knee, the team announced Sunday. He is now officially out indefinitely. Sources with the T-Wolves are optimistic and hopeful Butler returns before the playoffs. Oh how quickly things can change in the NBA.