If you’re a Timberwolves fan, you no doubt enjoyed watching your team flex on the hapless Sixers on national TV last night. Karl-Anthony Towns undressed Joel Embiid multiple times, Andrew Wiggins hit shots from all over the floor, and the future once again looked bright. But if you watched the blowout all the way to the end, you saw something that should make you feel at least a slight twinge of dread.
Please note the time and the score, as well as the fact that four of the T-Wolves’ starters were still on the floor.
Tom Thibodeau was up to his old tricks again, which is to say he was guiding his team to a blowout win while screeching himself hoarse and refusing to take his starters out of the game. The game was effectively over at halftime, when the T-Wolves went into the locker room with a 61-33 lead, and it was definitely over at the end of the third quarter, when Minnesota led 85-58. And yet Thibs had his two young stars, Towns and Wiggins, each play 38 minutes. Zach LaVine just edged them out, playing 39 minutes.
So far this season Wiggins, Towns, and LaVine are all playing more than 35 minutes per game, which is fine in the short term given that they are young and strong and Thibodeau needs the freedom to get his team into contending shape. But nobody is going to forget how quickly Thibodeau burned out his players after a few great seasons in Chicago, and watching Joakim Noah try to move up and down the court these days should be enough to make anyone nervous about the long term effects of Thibodeau’s philosophies on his players.
It’s frustrating to see Thibodeau still grinding his players like this, not only because the Spurs, Cavs, and Warriors have spent the last few seasons demonstrating how beneficial it is to pace superstars through the regular season, but because it’s hard to even find any strategic value in the practice. The T-Wolves have started slow and Thibodeau certainly didn’t want to see another big lead slip away, but keeping your starters on the floor while up 28 on the worst team in the league is behavior that feels more pathological than anything else. All coaches have their idiosyncrasies and quirks, but Thibodeau’s have taken precedence over the health of his players for far too long.