A funny thing has happened to the Timberwolves on their way to the playoffs and maybe even 50 victories …
They won seven times in their first 25 games.
Of course, any expectations of a playoff run or such a transformational season from a team built around three 21-year-olds came mostly from pundits or peers. Some of whom, including a certain Star Tribune beat writer, predicted a breakout season after new coach Tom Thibodeau was hired.
To hear Thibodeau tell it from the day he was hired in April, he didn’t, and doesn’t, believe so.
“Those are all projections,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes they’re high and sometimes they’re low. The thing is not to get wrapped up in that and to understand where you are and the improvement you have to make. Also, every year is different. Teams change. Personnel changes on every team and you have to understand what goes into winning.
“I tell our players all the time: Don’t get lost in what others are saying. The only thing that matters is what we’re saying. We have to improve.”
Thibodeau said he studied footage of last season before he took the job, enough footage to know where his team is and how much work it has yet to do.
Others farther away looked at the Wolves with less of a discerning eye, saw gifted but undeveloped Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine and predicted great things. Or at least they predicted improvement from a season ago, when the Wolves won 29 games under interim coach Sam Mitchell.
The Wolves are behind that pace at this point with months yet to go, but LaVine isn’t one to call great expectations unfair or a burden.
“I feel like we’re good enough to have those results,” LaVine said. “We’ve been in every game and winning or really close throughout most every game we played. It shows our record could be flipped. We had a lot of games we should have won. We just have to get the whole thing together.
“Expectations are a big thing and sometimes hard to live up to, but we’re living up to our own right now and fighting through it. It’s still a long season.”
In one breath, Thibodeau marvels at what his three young stars have done by averaging 20 points a game each at their young age. In the next, he reminds “We’re not there yet,” and emphasizes “yet” because he insists his team will get there, wherever exactly that is.
“We have expectations and aspirations and goals that we need to reach and we’re not reaching them,” Towns said. “People say they’re disappointed in our team and disappointed in the results early on. I think we’re more disappointed. It’s a sign how competitive we are and how good we see ourselves being.
“We just need to come together, keep working on our game and build block by block until it’s a masterpiece.”
Whatever is expected of his team matters not, Thibodeau said. The only thing that matters is what he and his team think and how much they improve.
“I never get wrapped up in any of that,” Thibodeau said. “For me, whether it’s praise or criticism, it doesn’t matter. It’s what we think, what our group thinks. I know what these guys are doing every day. I know what I’m doing every day and that’s all that matters. If we’re doing everything we can each and every day, that’s all you can do. And when it turns and it’s good and if it turns to praise, I won’t let that affect me, either.
“So you just keep approaching and keep going, keep going, keep going. It’s all you can do.”
Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Blog: startribune.com/wolves