By: Dan Slaubaugh
We're 13 games into the season. The Wolves are 4-9. They've blown four 15+ point leads. They're fragile, and just can't seem to figure out how to play a full four quarters of basketball.
There are many reasons that contribute to the consistent collapses. A few that come to mind immediately: The team tensing up any time they get stopped on 3-4 consecutive possessions, passing up open looks and ending up settling for forced contested shots late in the shot clock (wasn't the case Monday night, they got open looks but just couldn't hit them), and the bench being so unproductive that Thibodeau feels like he needs to ride his starters heavy.
It all adds up.
The next step is to address those issues.
Point guard play
The Wolves aren't getting nearly enough out of Kris Dunn, who appears overwhelmed far too often on the court. The rookie is currently averaging 3.7 points and 3.2 assists in 19 minutes of play while shooting 31% from the field and 27% from beyond the arc. He probably needs to see some time in the D-League, but I'm not entirely sure Tom Thibodeau trusts Tyus enough to maintain the backup point guard duties unless absolutely forced. If Thibodeau feels obligated to playing him, he should be out there with Wiggins or LaVine and letting those two facilitate the offense.
That said, Tyus Jones deserves some playing time and I think we'll start seeing him soon. Sure, the long-term benefits are probably more significant giving Kris Dunn the backup minutes. But the eye-test and numbers suggest he needs a stint in the D-League. If Thibodeau isn't in favor of sending Dunn to the D-League, then try to sprinkle him in when he can. He simply has to offer something on offense and right now it's not much, which is reason why the offense becomes stagnant with him on the floor.
Bjelica at the backup 3, not Shabazz
I'd like to see Nemanja Bjelica get some run as the backup 3 and greatly reduce Shabazz Muhammad's minutes, who has been out of control to much for anyone's liking this season. Muhammad's defense hasn't been bad, but he struggles to find an even balance between playing hard and playing smart.
Regarding Bjelica, he's been much more productive at the 3 this year as he's often overmatched at the 4. Thibs has gushed about the length of Wiggins at the 2 and Bjelica at the 3. If the opposing team matches them up with quicker, smaller guards, then that might not be the best use of them.
If I were Tom Thibodeau (and there's a reason I'm not), I would suggest a rotation such as this.
3rd-Unit: Ricky/LaVine, Muhammad-Rush/Bjelica/Aldrich
The Wolves are young, growing, and trying to learn how to win on the fly. Now, I am aware that the "young" excuse is getting old, and for good reason. However, you can't ignore it entirely. Should it be used as an excuse that it's alright to give up 19-0 runs? Absolutely not. But you can obviously see the fragile-ness, immaturity, and nervousness in their youth during opposing teams' lopsided runs.
Tweaking the bench a little -- such as what I proposed -- will help shorten the load the starters are currently carrying by allowing Thibodeau to utilize his bench for at a larger rate. Thibodeau probably shouldn't play his starters more than 38+ minutes per night such, but sometimes (such as Monday vs. BOS) he really doesn't have a choice but to play his starters big minutes if they want a chance at a victory. Tweaking the bench should only help this problem.
Things will get better. Things will work themselves out. Thibodeau will work relentlessly to make sure this stops happening.
But man, I'd really appreciate if that happened rather quickly so we can watch meaningful basketball (thinking playoffs) for a little while.