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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Tom Thibodeau Era

The Butler saga sealed Thibs’ fate, but there’s more to remember

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Well folks, it finally happened. Thibs is officially gone.

Regardless of the strange timing, this offers us a chance for reflection on this Thibs era and what went on during his tenure. This undoubtedly is one of the most confusing eras in Timberwolves history, which is saying something. There were good times, bad times, and Butler times. Let’s dig into all of it.

The Good Times

As much flack as we all give Thibs, there still were some good moments for this franchise under his tenure.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that he did get the Wolves back to the playoffs for the first time since Kevin Garnett left. They limped into the playoffs and were forced out quickly by Houston in 5 games, but they still made the playoffs. That’s a win. While people may remember most of those games as blowouts, the Wolves actually held up better in that series than the scores would suggest. In essentially every game, the Wolves played the Rockets mostly even and were defeated at the hands of one monster Houston run.

Along with that, Thibs brought relevance to a franchise that had only been relevant in the NBA as a lottery member for 15 years. There were real expectations for this franchise to win for the first time in forever. That counts for something, I guess.

I’m trying really hard to think of a few other positives before we get to how we really feel. I guess both Butler trades were okay? Jimmy was great on the court. I have no idea what this current team would be like with LaVine, Dunn, and Markkanen without Saric and RoCo. I’d imagine maybe a hair better offensively but significantly worse defensively, and still likely not a playoff team. I’m open to other suggestions of positives from this era in the comment section.

The Bad Times

In my opinion, the “bad” mostly had to with the on-court performance of the team. Thibs, a defensive mastermind in the early-to-mid 2000s, failed to adapt to the way of the modern NBA. His defensive schemes were great when the three-point line wasn’t as prevalent and teams hadn’t figured out that the corner three was the best shot in basketball outside of layups/dunks. His refusal to change his defensive scheme left the Wolves vulnerable time and time again. It led to them bleeding away points at the three-point line to nearly every team they played.

Along with getting drilled from the three-point line defensively, he mostly ignored those shots offensively. This is the first season that the Wolves are not among the bottom dwellers in three-point attempts in the NBA. The standard is so low on that front that the Wolves current ranking of 23rd in 3PA feels like a massive step forward. Last year, the Wolves finished last in 3PA. The year before that, they finished last. That is absolutely unacceptable. There is no way in hell you can keep pace with the rest of the NBA is you refuse to adapt along with the rest of the league.

Thibs’ rigid ways hurt the team offensively outside of just the three-point line. Karl-Anthony Towns is arguably the most versatile scorers in the NBA. At 7’ tall, he can beat you in the post or from the three-point line and is incredibly efficient from all spots on the floor.

His biggest issue is getting himself into strong post position. While some of that is on Towns, Thibs did nothing to try to get Towns into easier post-up situations. They rarely used Towns in the pick-and-pop.

There was little ball movement or player movement. His offensive scheme looked like a re-run of a 1990s game on NBA TV. He didn’t need to be at the forefront of offensive innovation, but he let himself live in the past for far too long, and it ultimately doomed him.

The Ugly Times

Quite frankly, I have never seen a coach fail to embrace the young players they inherit on a team quite like Thibs did. I understand the frustrations with Andrew Wiggins, but Thibs found a way to alienate the best player the franchise has had (KAT, to be clear) since KG. How does that happen?

Taking Butler’s side in the entire deal that occurred earlier this season should’ve been a fireable offense on it’s own. I need someone to explain to me what he was thinking, especially after Butler made it abundantly clear that he was gone after this season.

I still just cannot wrap my head around that. The Wolves are incredibly fortunate Towns signed his rookie extension before that all happened.

Thibs showed far too much loyalty to his old players. I’m over the fact that he brought in Aaron Brooks, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler from his old Bulls teams. Some of those guys were/are useful. The problem, though, is that he showed favoritism to those players over Wolves players who deserved minutes. Dane Moore said it best, “In the end, Tom Thibodeau never connected to the TimberPups the way he did the TimberBulls. And that was the job.”

Lastly, Thibs failure to understand how to distribute minutes appropriately was maddening. I won’t even take a shot at him for the way he rarely used his bench players. There’s a chicken-or-the-egg argument to be made for the low bench minutes and the low-quality bench players that frequently made up Thibs’ rosters.

What there’s no denying, though, is that he left starters in for far too long in games that were already decided one way or the other. On Sunday’s matinee with the Lakers there were starters in the game, up 25, with 6 minutes left in the game. There is no advantage to that. All that is going to do is put unnecessary mileage on your key players.

The future is relatively unknown. We don’t know who’s going to be running the team in the future. Ryan Saunders obviously has the keys for the rest of the year, but nothing past that is certain. The one thing that is certain, though, is that this era of Timberwolves basketball will not be forgotten anytime soon.