The Minnesota Timberwolves have been flirting with mere mediocrity since Kevin Garnett left town nearly a decade ago. Their highest finish in the Western Conference in the past ten years was a tenth place in 2014, after which they traded Kevin Love and won 16 games the next season.
Two years later, and everything’s changed. Historically speaking, Minnesota is a joke, but they have the most exciting young roster in the NBA, including the past two Rookies of the Year. The franchise took another step towards legitimacy today and hired deposed ex-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to coach the team and serve as president.
Thibs had reportedly been seeking this sort of deal from teams, and while consolidating coaching and personnel duties with the same person has its drawbacks, he’s an ideal coach for the Wolves.
The Minnesota roster will undoubtedly look much different next year, but as currently constructed, the team is set up to score by getting to the free throw line instead of shooting threes. Defensively, they were goddamn dreadful last year, but there is a talent in their core. Karl-Anthony Towns has the athleticism and anticipation of an elite shotblocker and rebounder. His main problem last year was that he fouled too much. This happens with all rookie big men, so it’s not terribly concerning. His range is a fun little weapon for Thibodeau to play around with, and given how his new coach turned Joakim Noah into an MVP candidate, he’ll most likely improve tremendously next year.
In front of him, Thibs has Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio, who are both long and athletic for their positions, and Zach LaVine, who I hope Thibs finally starts at shooting guard full-time. Thibodeau teams have always been among the best rebounding teams in basketball, they play slow, and they never crack the top half of the league in three-pointers attempted. The best coaches coach to the talent in front of them, and the Timberwolves are not the early 2010's Bulls, but Thibodeau is most comfortable with playing a style that best suits his new roster, and that’s only going to make the adjustment easier.
I have my doubts that any coach can miraculously turn a team around in one season, and Thibodeau has only ever coached a roster full of veterans. Going from tinkering with a roster of stars and near-stars to teaching a bunch of inexperienced twentysomethings is going to be a far different coaching experience for him. There’s also the concern that he grinds his teams down to nubs during the regular season to the point that they’re exhausted come April. Both points are valid, but neither is as important as the fact that Thibodeau is a brilliant basketball mind who changed how defense is played in the NBA. The Wolves don’t have polish, but they are young and strong and skilled, and they’re going to be much better next season.