There might not be a perfect word to describe the first 17 games of this important Timberwolves season, but judging by the reactions of players, coaches and fans, this one keeps springing to mind: unsatisfying.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t like the defensive inconsistency or the recent fourth-quarter play of his team. Players look annoyed on the court as they try to figure out how the sum of some impressive parts can be a more effective whole. And fans are seeing all those fits and starts play out on a game-by-game basis.
The strange thing is all this unsatisfying frustration has come in the midst of a 10-7 start — still a 48-win pace, still far better than anything this franchise has approached since Kevin Garnett was in his prime.
But if this is the revolution, it’s not happening the way some of us might have envisioned — at least not yet.
Let’s take a spin through some of the comments off of the story summarizing the Wolves’ 118-102 loss to Charlotte on Monday to illustrate some of what seems to be bugging people about this above-average Wolves team, with some further comment from me:
*Wolves have 2 Achilles heels – can’t consistently hit the threes and can’t defend.
Minnesota has made some strides in both areas. The defense had been better until the fourth quarter of the loss Sunday to the Pistons and then Monday at Charlotte, but the Wolves still rank 25th in the NBA this year in defensive efficiency. On three-pointers, the Wolves are 16th in percentage this season (36.2), but they’re still attempting the second-fewest threes in the league.
*Can’t get excited about this team. They either take too many nights off, have not found chemistry, or, are simply not that good.
I still tend to think chemistry is the biggest factor. They are, after all, still 10-7 despite the glitches along the way.
*It is the same thing over and over again with Thibs. Excuses about how the team needs to do this and that. The this and that is the same thing it has been for a couple of years. If Thibs was so good, you would think he would have addressed these issues.
Again, it’s a process. That said, it is at least somewhat troubling that the Wolves are about to play the 100th game of the Thibodeau era and their defense still hasn’t shown signs of consistent improvement. That is what he’s known for, and if it continues to be a deficiency it will reflect poorly on Thibodeau.
*THE WOLVES NEED TO GET A MEAN BIG MAN AT THE 5 SPOT! WE DONT HAVE A TRUE 5! GET IT DONE.
This commenter was emphatic enough to use ALL-CAPS, but there is something to the point. A true three-point specialist and a true intimidating big man would help this roster a lot. Whether those things can be added via a trade or will have to wait until next year remains to be seen.
*Can’t keep playing your starters 35 minutes a night, especially on back to back games. The schedule is pretty weird also with all these single home games then on the road. I am a little worried that Thibs might not be the best coach for this team.
On the first point, there is a case to be made that Thibodeau overextended his starters in the loss to the Pistons. Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler each played 42 minutes. Jeff Teague played 40, and Karl-Anthony Towns played 38. The game was there for the Wolves to take, and the bench hadn’t provided much when given a chance, so it’s hard to say the staff should have sacrificed production vs. Detroit to save for the next night vs. Charlotte. It would have looked like a better decision to play those guys heavy minutes had the Wolves at least defeated Detroit — which they very well could have and maybe should have done.
The last point about whether Thibodeau is the right coach for the team is something that will play out over time. You can see a little battle of wills between the young players and their coach, but Thibodeau can also point to results: when the Wolves put in a strong defensive effort this season, more often than not they win.
It might take another 17 games — which would take the Wolves right to their Christmas Day game — before we can make any huge conclusions about the direction of this team. If they’re 20-14 at that point, which would mean another 10-7 stretch ahead, I would hope there’s a little more satisfaction along the way.