By: Seth Toupal
As 2017-18 comes to a close, the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in unfamiliar territory. The Wolves currently hold the 4th spot in the Western Conference despite having really not clicked yet offensively or defensively. In the spirit of Christmas, Timber Claus is handing out some stocking stuffers for the current Wolves roster!
Jeff Teague: More 3’s
Teague is shooting 39% on 3 pointers so far this year, which is well above his career average of 35%. When Teague has had open opportunities he has been able to knock them down. If the Wolves can tweak their offensive game plan (or develop one) by feeding the ball inside more to KAT and Taj and then kicking out to Teague on the perimeter, then good things will happen. Teague has been very good without the ball in his hands throughout his career, and it’s time the Timberwolves make that more of the game plan.
Andrew Wiggins: Self-Confidence
It’s been a frustrating season for Andrew Wiggins. Whether he feels like the third wheel next to Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, or the pressure to perform after signing his max contract, Wiggins’ numbers across the board have taken a massive dip. Wiggins thrives using his athletic ability to get to the hoop and finish strong, but with Butler offering a similar skill set Wiggins has spent most of the year camped on the perimeter. Wiggins and Butler can coexist by both being aggressive, and if Wiggins gets back to what he’s good at, then hopefully his numbers will increase.
Taj Gibson: The Fountain of Youth
Taj has been a tremendous acquisition for the Wolves. He has brought consistency and focus to the defensive side of the ball, and his offense has been a solid contribution every night as well. But as with all of the Wolves starters so far this year minutes are being called into question. Gibson is currently playing 33 minutes per game, and that figure would best his career high by 5 minutes from back in 2013. In order for Gibson to continue to play at this level some adjustments will need to be made to prevent fatigue. A reduction in minutes is the most logical solution but where’s the fun in that? Gibson gets to drink from the fountain of youth and continue to perform at his current level free of a minute restriction.
Jimmy Butler: Someone Else to Step Up
Butler has been tremendous in his first season with the Timberwolves. After a slow start, Butler has been flat out dominant over the last several weeks. Butler has shown the ability to take over games in crunch time, but can Butler carry that load for an entire season? That question wouldn’t even have to be posed if one of the other superstars would elevate their performance late in games. Butler has been critical of the team’s performance off and on during the season, and hopefully someone will get the message sooner or later.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Playing Angry Every Night
KAT is another player who has seen a large drop in his numbers this year. KAT has had several frustrating games this year, and has often seemed flustered by not getting calls from officials. One moment in particular has stood out about the season KAT is having. After the game against the 76ers in which Joel Embiid went right at Towns to send the game into overtime, KAT exploded against Sacramento for 30 points and 14 rebounds. After some trash talking on Instagram by Embiid it seemed like Towns fueled his anger onto the court and was impossible to guard. If he can keep this as a regular mentality, he will get back to his previously un-guardable form.
Jamal Crawford: More Time with the Starters
Crawford has been critical of his role with the Wolves recently, and immediately followed up an increase in minutes with two of his best games of the season. Crawford has been getting time late in games with the rest of the starters, a spot that seems like a perfect fit for him with his perimeter ability. This has come at the expense of Andrew Wiggins, but his lack of confidence in his own shot has tremendously hindered the offense. The Wolves can make Crawford a happy man and the offense better late in games if they continue to go with this look
Gorgi Dieng: Consistent Minutes
One big change heading into the season was Gorgi Dieng switching from the starting lineup to the bench. Minutes have been hard to come by consistently with Thibodeau’s reliance on the starting lineup. The Wolves saw maybe their best balance of minutes with Gorgi and Jamal Crawford both playing over 20 minutes. Dieng has proven he is great in small spurts of minutes, and with the age of Taj Gibson there are certainly minutes to be had. If Gorgi can get 20 minutes a game he will provide a great spark off the bench for the Wolves.
Cole Aldrich: An Opportunity Elsewhere
Aldrich came to the Wolves looking for an opportunity to be the backup center. Aldrich has become redundant however with the presence of Gorgi Dieng and the impending return of Justin Patton. The best case for the Wolves and Aldrich is to trade him to a team looking for an expiring contract. The salary reduction would allow the Wolves to add a much needed wing to boost their 3 point shooting. Aldrich did good things with the Clippers, but it just hasn’t materialized in a Wolves uniform and it’s time for him to move on.
Tyus Jones: An Opportunity
As with most of the Timberwolves main bench, minutes have been difficult to come by for Tyus. He has proven when given the chance that he is more than capable of being a starting point guard in the NBA. Jones filled in for Jeff Teague early in the season and responded with nearly turnover-free basketball. Jones was great at leading the offense, forming a great pick and roll offense with Towns and Bjelica. Jones needs an opportunity to show his worth, and if it doesn’t come here it will likely come elsewhere.
Nemanja Bjelica: Health
Arguably the Wolves most valuable bench asset has been Nemanja Bjelica, however Bjelica has been sidelined for all of the month of December and part of November with a foot injury. Bjelica has been sorely missed with his success from beyond the arc and his ability to play multiple spots. Bjelica is shooting a ridiculous 51% from 3 this year, and was playing so well early in the year that there was consideration to moving him into the starting lineup. If he can get back to his early season form, the Wolves will get some great versatility off the bench.
Justin Patton: A Defensive Spark
Timberwolves rookie Justin Patton has yet to play his first NBA game after undergoing surgery before the season started. Patton is getting close to returning though, and his presence comes at a great time. Adding Patton to the bench with Gorgi Dieng will allow the Timberwolves full flexibility with their bigs. The Wolves will be able to mix and match Gorgi and Patton with both starters. Patton brings great offense to the Wolves, but his shot blocking ability brings more value to a Wolves team who often struggles protecting the rim. There has been plenty of criticism of the Patton pick by many Wolves fans, but if he can come in and provide some quality minutes, all of those concerns will be quieted.
Aaron Brooks: A Massage Chair
Brooks came to Minnesota as PG depth. With Jeff Teague staying relatively healthy and Tyus taking the rest of the minutes, Brooks hasn’t been asked to do much for the Wolves. He provides value if anyone gets injured, but I think most fans are hoping Teague and Tyus stay healthy all year. So until your time comes, grab a comfy chair Aaron and enjoy the view from the bench.
Shabazz Muhammad: A Fresh Start
Shabazz took a gamble coming back to the Timberwolves on a one year deal. Not only did he pass up the potential for big money elsewhere (whether or not he got any big deals on the open market is anyone’s guess) he also has been a complete non-factor over the last 2 months. Bazz offers little in the way of defense off the bench and if he is in the game he is in to score. But even when he was in games Bazz isn’t someone who is good at setting others up for open looks. He takes the ball and either makes a brilliant play or airballs wide open looks. Thibs seems pretty set with his bench and Shabazz continues to rack up healthy scratches. Shabazz will likely get other opportunities elsewhere after this year and it’s best for him that it be with a new team.
Marcus Georges-Hunt: A G-League Confidence Boost:
Georges-Hunt has played sparingly with the Timberwolves this season. With the inevitable return of Justin Patton looming, it makes sense for MGH to get a chance to go to the G-League and play every day to hone his skills. MGH has shown some flashes when he has played. But with so many other options in front of him, it makes sense to send him where he will be able to play. That spot seems to be the G-League, and hopefully he will make it a short trip.
Tom Thibodeau: To Loosen Up
Under Thibodeau, the Timberwolves currently occupy the 4th spot in the Western Conference. Yet this Wolves team truly hasn’t reached its potential. The Wolves most commonly look tense and unsure of themselves out on the court, and it could have something to do with the guy calling the shots. Thibs gives off a very callous appearance, and can be heard yelling during every Wolves game from beginning to end. Maybe a key to unlocking that potential is the Wolves being able to play loose? And if their head coach would crack a smile or have a laugh with the team every now and again they would likely start to look like they are enjoying themselves out on the court. Because with where this team has been, we should sit back and appreciate what they have accomplished so far. That would be far easier if their coach would do the same.
BONUS Glen Taylor: Peace with Kevin Garnett
Wolves Owner Glen Taylor had a tough choice to make after the tragic passing of Flip Saunders. The decision was made to bring Tom Thibodeau in to lead the franchise. That decision may have alienated one of the cornerstones of the Wolves franchise. Kevin Garnett has been very outspoken about his desire to be a part of the team but does not seem willing to do that with Taylor as owner. Taylor has been looking into the possibility of selling the team, and if Garnett is to be part of an ownership group, then amends need to be made. Garnett provided great leadership during his final tenure with the Wolves as a player, but think about what he could provide if he was in the building every day. Taylor needs to do whatever is necessary not only for that but to ensure that Garnett gets his jersey rightfully retired. Come on Glen, make it happen! Bring Big Ticket back home!
Whether or not the Wolves get any of these gifts remains to be seen, but even a few of these would go a long way toward solidifying this Wolves team as a contender in the Western Conference.
Seth is host of The Scoop on KLGR Radio out of Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Listen to episodes of The Scoop here.