For Jamal Crawford, learning how to be effective in the playing time he's been given has been a challenge.

Crawford, three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year, signed a two-year, $8.9 million contract with the Wolves last summer.

Through 29 games the guard is averaging 17.7 minutes and 8.9 points. It is the first time in 17 seasons Crawford has not averaged in double figures in scoring. And his minutes are his lowest since his rookie season.

"It's a difficult challenge,'' Crawford said. "Because this is the lowest minutes I've played, pretty much the same minutes I played as a rookie. So you want to actually do it the right way, and play within the framework of the game. But then, if you're not out there that much, you kind of have to make something happen. So it's a balance I'm trying to figure out.''

So far Crawford is shooting 39.6 percent overall, 34.3 percent on three-pointers.

When Crawford, 37, was asked if he sees any advantage to playing fewer minutes, he said, "To be honest with you, I don't.''

Crawford also said there were discussions when he chose the Wolves over other teams during free agency. Minutes were discussed then, he said, "but 17 minutes wasn't discussed.''

He said he didn't feel the need to talk with coach Tom Thibodeau about it.

"Oh, no. It's not about me, at all,'' Crawford said. "I think as long as we're trending in the right direction and winning, the rest, hopefully, will work itself out. Just try to get wins along the way.''

Waiting for Bjelica

Thibodeau said it could be a while before Nemanja Bjelica is ready to return from a left midfoot sprain.

Bjelica has missed 11 games since sustaining the injury Nov. 22 against Orlando.

"It's probably going to be at least another week or so,'' Thibodeau said. "So you have to be patient. He's doing a lot better. But we want to make sure he's completely ready.''

Looking for defense off the bench Saturday, Thibodeau played Marcus Georges-Hunt a season-high 17 minutes, mostly to defend Kings wing Buddy Hield. Those 17 minutes were more than the 14:53 Georges-Hunt had played in nine previous appearances.

Thibodeau said Georges-Hunt could get more playing time going forward: "He'll be situational. Hopefully, we'll get Bjelica back soon. The more opportunities [Georges-Hunt] gets, and he does well? You can always use a player like that.''


• The Timberwolves "statement'' jersey will make its debut Saturday against Phoenix. The jerseys are a bright, neon green. Thibodeau's thoughts on the jersey: "Our players are excited about it. So if our players are excited about it, I'm excited about it.''

• Thibodeau had nothing but praise for Monty McCutcheon, the 25-year veteran referee who has been promoted to the NBA's vice president in charge of referee development and training. He will succeed Bob Delaney, who retired in October after 30 years with the league. "I always thought he was one heck of an official,'' Thibodeau said of McCutcheon. "I tend to judge officials by how you feel when you see them on the road. And I felt he was never influenced by the crowd or anything. … The bad part of it is you're losing one of the best officials. But it will be great for the league.''