The combination of Nemanja Bjelica’s injury and Shabazz Muhammad’s recent struggles have meant major minutes for healthy starters.
This isn’t new, of course. But Bjelica’s left midfoot sprain — he missed his ninth straight game in Sunday against Dallas at Target Center — and Muhammad being out of the rotation has prompted Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau to go with just eight men in recent games. Asked if he was comfortable with that going forward, he said, “Yup, yeah. And it will be situational with the other stuff.’’
And that means minutes — lots of minutes — for the starters.
In the four games leading up to Sunday, Wolves guard Jimmy Butler led NBA players in average minutes (40.8). Andrew Wiggins was 11th (37.6), Karl-Anthony Towns 12th (37.4) and Taj Gibson 13th (37.3).
Butler, for example, has played 40 or more minutes in three of those games, averaging nearly 41 minutes a game in that stretch.
On Sunday, Butler played 41 minutes, Towns 38, Wiggins 36, and Jeff Teague 36 and Gibson 34.
“We’ll see, we’ll see,’’ Thibodeau said when asked whether he’d like to get Butler’s minutes down. “We’re concerned with the wins. That’s what we’re concerned with.’’
After the most recent game, a victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles, Butler noted that he’d have to talk to the coach about the minutes he was playing.
After practice Saturday, Wiggins said the minutes were fine. “I’m only 22,’’ he said. “I can run forever. For now.’’
Talking after Sunday’s shootaround, Gibson said he was willing to do whatever the coach asked.
“Whatever is needed for the team I’m ready to do it,’’ he said. “We have a lot of guys ready for opportunity. But until their number is called we have to wait and see. Thibs is the coach. Whatever he says, you have to go out and do it. You have to be a professional and play hard no matter how many minutes we play.’’
Through 26 games the Wolves bench was averaging 13.1 minutes per game, last in the league, and the lowest number since Memphis averaged 12.4 during the 2009-10 season.
The Wolves’ bench played 56 minutes Sunday, with only Gorgui Dieng (24 minutes), Jamal Crawford (20) and Tyus Jones (12) seeing action.