By: Jonah Sprinkel
The Friday evening home-opener for the Minnesota Timberwolves should be a spectacle to behold. Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau will make their first appearance in front of Timberwolves fans since the Butler saga began. There will be boos. Obscenities will fly across the hardwood. No matter how many times Thibodeau bellows, “ICE!”, fiery phrases of distrust will rain down from Wolves faithful.
And then the Timberwolves will play a basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What: Cavaliers @ Wolves
When: 7:00 PM CT
Where: Target Center
Where to watch: Fox Sports North
Where to listen: 830 WCCO
What to watch for:
Jimmy’s effect on Thibodeau: Jimmy Butler recently spoke to The Athletic’s Shams Charania regarding what he told his teammates in the players-only meeting held last week, “Don’t worry about Thibs. I got him. … Just hoop, I told them, and I think that I can get Thibs to relax a little bit.”
So long as Butler remains on the roster it should be intriguing to see if Butler really commands this type of control over his head coach. What does this look like? Does this mean Thibodeau will yell less? Or he will play his key players just a hair less? Possibly a lighter workload in practice? Only time will tell. One thing is certain, Butler continues to assert himself as alpha dog in both word and deed.
Lineups: During Wednesday night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs the Timberwolves starting lineup of Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Butler, Taj Gibson, and Karl-Anthony Towns logged 12 minutes together. They posted a -16 net-rating (they were outscored by 16 points per 100 possessions). For four minutes of that same game, Anthony Tolliver replaced Taj Gibson. That lineup checks in with a hefty +41 net-rating.
The sample size is far too small to make any definitive statements. However, the Teague, Wiggins, Butler, Tolliver, Towns lineup is much more suited to the current small ball era than the Wolves starting lineup. These two lineups are worth tracking as the season goes on. This is especially true if Tolliver shoots the three ball at the same 43 percent clip as he did last year in Detroit. I suspect both lineups to be a net positive by Jimmy's end in Minnesota, the question is simply which is more effective.
Minutes: Thibodeau could coach U10 soccer and the parents would complain about the excessive minutes the children were playing. Those 10-year-olds haven’t had multiple knee surgeries and a slew of other injuries. If Thibodeau wants Derrick Rose (who logged 30 minutes in the season opener) to make it to Christmas in one piece, he needs to dial back the minutes immediately. If Thibodeau can’t think of anyone to give those minutes to I would highly recommend the first-round draft pick sitting on the bench.
Minnesota: PG Jeff Teague, SG Andrew Wiggins, SF Jimmy Butler, PF Taj Gibson, C Karl-Anthony Towns
Cleveland: PG George Hill, SG Rodney Hood, SF Cedi Osman, PF Kevin Love, C Tristan Thompson
Minnesota: Out – Justin Patton (foot)
Cleveland: Day-to-day – JR Smith (elbow), Kevin Love (foot)
Until the Timberwolves put together a couple wins and play some variation of team basketball I won’t have much, if any, trust in them after the most recent offseason. That being said, the Cavaliers are a slightly-below-average-at-best team. Kevin Love is a borderline All-Star but after that, the roster is littered with low-end starters and middle of the rotation guys. If the Wolves play as they did in San Antonio they come out with a near double-digit win. 106-98 Wolves.