This season, we all thought we had learned our lesson. The previous season, the first of Tom Thibodeau’s tenure, many of us fell into the hype and believed that Thibs would magically transform a team of talented youngsters into one that could compete in the NBA playoffs. What better marriage was there for a young team with talent oozing out of its pores, with several young stars who seemed ready to be molded into superstars. All they needed was to learn how to play defense.
Enter Thibs, fresh off a sojourn around the NBA after being fired by the Chicago Bulls. One of the most highly respected coaches in the NBA, Olympic Coaching connections and pedigree, and the most well-known defensive minded coach that is attributed with one of the major defensive adjustments of the modern NBA era.
Year one did not work out so well, so, as we all know, the development curve was kickstarted with the additions of Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford, and, most importantly, Jimmy Butler.
Year two was likely going to be a bumpy ride, as the roster that Thibs and Layden Co. put together did not really make a ton of sense. The team was light on wings and threes, which happen to the most important part of the modern NBA.
However, the Wolves seem to be hitting a larger bump in the road than any of us expected. The team’s record does not indicate this, as I think all of us would be pleased with a 14-11 record so far and the 5th seed in the Western Conference. In fact, the 5th seed was right were many projected the Wolves ceiling to be.
The problem has been the foundation, as Eric laid out today, as the fundamentals do not point to the Wolves being a good team. They still cannot play defense, the roster construction issues are real, the young stars of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns aren’t playing up to expectations, and the rest of the schedule is only going to get much harder after this month.
If the team cannot pull it together, there is every reason to be worried. Also, when you see tweets like this from the foremost Wolves reporter, well, it’s hard not to get nervous.
Said this a week or so ago, still true: Have no idea what inside story is, but Thibs + KAT have not been good for each other— brittrobson (@brittrobson) December 5, 2017
Tellingly, today also seemed to be the day when several folks jumped on the anti-Wolves bandwagon, with the Ringer publishing a piece questioning Thibs’ minutes distribution and Kevin O’Connor going off on Thibs during The Ringer’s podcast.
Tonight, the Wolves face off against the foe that seemed to start this whole recent mess, the Clippers. The Clippers, when the Wolves played them a few nights ago, were destitute, starting a murderers row of Austin Rivers, Lou Williams, Wesley Johnson, and Jamil Wilson. They have been without Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverly, Milos Teodosic, and Danilo Gallinari. The Wolves barely beat that Clippers team, reliant solely upon some late game heroics from Jimmy Butler.
The team seem winded then and have only been more gassed after another game with an 8-man rotation, with all the starters playing heavy minutes. With Nemanja Bjelica out again and an expected DNP-CD from Shabazz, the Wolves only go a very light 8-deep, with the three bench players getting limited run.
That places an incredible burden upon the starters, with more pressure mounting on Karl-Anthony Towns to anchor the defense. DeAndre Jordan tonight be another challenging matchup for him, as Towns seems to play the worst against big men who are physically stronger in the post.
Gallo is expected to return tonight as well and it will be interesting to see how he fits in. Gallo played at the power forward spot at times for the Nuggets, so he may be slotted in there tonight coming off the bench.
So it may seem odd that tonight is a big game for the Wolves. Even though the game will be nationally televised, it is against a Western Conference team that is ravaged by injuries and likely won’t make the playoffs. This should be an easy win.
However, if the Wolves play strong tonight and blow out this Clippers team, some solace will be restored and the team will hopefully be back on track. If the Wolves struggle again, or even lose, the negative stories about the Wolves will continue to mount.
Projected Starting Lineups
Prediction - No breaks for the starters, who will all go over 35 minutes yet again, but the Wolves blow out the Clippers 110-87.