Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau’s commitment to a three-guard lineup that featured newly signed Derrick Rose over the past three games affirms he believes the star he once coached in Chicago remains a genuine NBA talent.
It’s also an investment aimed to pay off in the playoffs, if a Wolves team now 4-5 without injured All-Star Jimmy Butler reach them for the first time since 2004, of course.
By then, Butler expects to be back and rolling in his recovery from last month’s arthroscopic surgery on partly torn knee meniscus cartilage.
By then, Rose presumably will have played himself into a role and a rhythm with a coach who — after acquiring Butler, Taj Gibson and now Rose — has put the band back together from their years with the Bulls.
“You add a player like him, it’s good,” Wolves veteran guard Jamal Crawford said. “And then when Jimmy comes back, we’ll really see how good we can be.”
Rose’s addition to Thibodeau’s rotation with a month left in the regular season has provided both its periods of adjustment and promise, including Sunday night’s 129-120 loss to Houston, when Rose played the entire fourth quarter during a productive 14-point, three-assist, one-rebound performance off the bench.
Jeff Teague started and played nearly 37 minutes. Rose played 19 and Tyus Jones 11.
Thibodeau mixed and matched the three point guards Sunday with Crawford in a lineup that’s small, but gives the Wolves three players who can switch defensively on pick-and-roll plays and three ball handlers who can break down defenses off the dribble.
“It’s good to see it,” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said after Sunday’s game. “He has put in a tremendous amount of work in the gym and doing all the extra things to get himself ready. And you saw it tonight. He was clearly ready for the moment. That was the Derrick Rose everyone loves.”
Paired so far with Crawford and either Teague or Jones, Rose gives the Wolves another scorer alongside Crawford on the team’s second unit.
“I like it,” Thibodeau said. “Like anything else, the more they’re out there together, the better it’s going to be. I like the idea of what they can do. It puts a lot of pressure on the defense because all three guys can break you down. Then you add KAT and [Nemanja Bjelica] and that puts a lot of pressure on the defense, too.”
But it was Rose’s defense on Rockets superstar James Harden and others that Thibodeau praised after Sunday’s game.
“He has to keep doing what he’s doing,” Thibodeau said. “There are a lot of subtleties to what he does. He’s playing great defense. I don’t think people see it. He did in the Washington game. But we need everyone playing well.”
In his first interview with media members since his knee surgery, Butler before Sunday’s game praised his former Bulls teammate and the Wolves’ signing Rose for the rest of the season as well.
“He’s a winner,” Butler said. “He has done it. Obviously, he’s rejuvenated. I see him out there, working now. I’m happy for him. He’s going to help us win. He’s going to show guys what it takes to be at the top of the league. With him here, I think everybody’s going to soon find out he’s got a lot in that tank.”
Crawford calls himself a big fan of a new teammate who in 2011 was the league’s youngest MVP, but has undergone multiple knee surgeries since then and still is just 29 years old.
“Anybody who knows me personally, if you go back through my tweets or whatever, knows how big a fan I am of him,” Crawford said. “I would take his MVP year against any guard since. He was unbelievable. Anytime you can add a player like that, you do it and we’ll figure out the rest.”
To be sure, Rose isn’t the same player he was that MVP season. But Rose is back with a coach who believes and trusts in him and with each passing game he is learning his new teammates and they him.
“It’s tough for anyone to come in the middle of the season,” Crawford said. “He came through with the season almost over. I think he’s just continuing to build, each game. Just building a little more, a little better.”
Staff writer Kent Youngblood contributed to this report.