The Timberwolves reached their season’s midway point Saturday with a 24-16 record, on a pace to approach 50 victories.
Yet sometimes it has been difficult to decipher if Wolves Nation is more miserable now than when its team lost 50 games almost annually.
They play too slow and play no defense. The NBA passed coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau by his season away from coaching two years ago. Young star Andrew Wiggins’ guaranteed max contract is salary-cap space spent foolishly. Their starters play too many minutes.
Considering the franchise lost at least 50 games nine times since it last reached the 2004 playoffs, all the chatter seems a bit overboard.
It’s January, 50 wins remain viable and Friday’s loss at Boston was the Wolves’ first consecutively in nearly seven weeks.
To be sure, issues persist for a team still integrating young stars Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns with veterans Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford.
Their bench too many nights remains either underused or incapable, placing a burden on starters Butler, Wiggins and Towns. They’re second, ninth and 13th respectively in minutes played per game this season.
They remain far behind in the NBA’s three-point arms race, ranking in the bottom three in three-pointers made, attempted and percentage, while their offense hums along with the fifth-highest efficiency.
Towns has found his place next to Butler particularly these last few weeks, Friday’s 25-point, 23-rebound game the latest proof. Wiggins’ defense and rebounding improved at times, he hasn’t found his way on the wing since Butler asserted himself there with two-way play these last five weeks. That led Thibodeau, who downplays such individual things, to declare Butler is playing “at an MVP level.”
In a perfect world, the Wolves add through trade, G League promotion or free-agent signing — the NBA’s 10-day contract period started Friday — a rugged, rebounding 7-footer to play alongside Towns and a wing three-point shooter who also defends.
When asked before Wednesday’s game at Brooklyn how much three-point shooting remains a need, Thibodeau did what he insists his players do: He struck a defensive pose.
“Well, again, I would say if you study our stats, which I’m sure you do, I hear how guys don’t fit and all I see is we’re top five in several offensive categories,” Thibodeau said. “Points scored, offensive rating, assists, not turning the ball over.”
Thibodeau coached in Boston with Doc Rivers when the Celtics combined 30-something stars Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen for a championship their first season together. The Wolves’ “Big Three” includes two 22-year-olds.
“It’s harder, much harder,” Rivers said. “You’ve got be ready to win. Everyone says they want to win, but not everyone’s ready to win. It comes at a time. A lot of young guys want to chase whatever their goals were as a kid: making the All-Star team, being this or that. Ray, Paul and Kevin were ready to win. They had gone through everything and won nothing.
“It takes a little longer with this group. Their two young guys last year could just play. Now this year, there are expectations to win and they’re targeted, so that’s an adjustment. They’ll be fine. Trust me.”
• Timberwolves teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are consecutive No. 1 overall picks who have played their way through youthful errors for losing teams to start their NBA careers.
Celtics Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum are lottery picks finding their roles on a winning team.
“It’s two different roads traveled,” Towns said. “But hopefully we all meet at the end being some of the best players to play.”
• Ever seen this and wonder why?
Timberwolves veteran guard Jamal Crawford blows on his hands, kicks up one foot behind him and touches it, then kicks up the other foot and touches it, too, before he spins 360 degrees while a teammate handles the ball on the floor’s other side.
Just what is that?
“It’s a habit,” he said. “I have a few of those.”
• The first time the Wolves and New Orleans played this season, Kentucky coach John Calipari intended to attend so he could watch his former players DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Towns play.
But he knows better.
“I know DeMarcus and Anthony and I know how they are,” Calipari said. “What’s the word above competitive? Whatever that is, they are. They’re prideful in who and what they are vs. everybody else and I didn’t want to sit there and watch them torture Karl.”
Towns scored two points, went 1-for-7 from the field and Davis lured him into foul trouble during that Nov. 1 game that the Wolves still won, 104-98. The two teams and three players met again Saturday night at Target Center.
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Monday: 7 p.m. vs. Cleveland
Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. OKC
Friday: 7 p.m. vs. New York
FSN each day (plus ESPN on Wed.)
Player to watch: LeBron James, Cavaliers
The King makes his only Target Center visit of the season with a Cavs team that righted itself after a 5-7 season start.
“I didn’t make a shot. It’s OK. I’ll get another opportunity at that.”
Wolves star Jimmy Butler after missing a 22-foot shot at the buzzer that would have beaten Brooklyn on Wednesday.