By: Cal Colbert
Well Timberwolves fans, the team is six games into the 2017-2018 NBA basketball season. The Timberwolves current record sits at 3-3, with two tough wins coming against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and two very ugly losses to the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers.
Fans have learned a lot about the new look Timberwolves team through the first 10 days of the NBA season. This is a team that has a new starting point guard in Jeff Teague, a new shooting guard/small forward in Jimmy Butler, and a new starting power forward in Taj Gibson to go along with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. With that in mind, lets take a look at how each of the starters have performed through the first six games.
Statistics: 31.3 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 7.0 APG, 16.0 PER
One word that could be used to describe Teague so far this season would be “inconsistent.” On the offensive side of the ball he shows flashes of being competent at running the offense and the pick and roll. I have also noticed that Teague is he is very quick. His ball handling and shiftiness allow him to run the fast break and get to the rack very easily. He just needs to be able to finish when he gets there. At other times, he seems to turn the ball over with unnecessary and out of control passes. On the defensive side of the ball, where the Timberwolves struggle the most, he seems uninterested. He plays lackadaisical defense. He doesn’t like to play up on the opposing player, doesn’t fight through screens, or rotate well. He is going to need to figure out how to play defense or at least be a competent defender, especially when Tom Thibodeau is the head coach.
Statistics: 37.8 MPG, 16.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.8 APG, 15.5 PER
Even though Jimmy Butler may not be considered the best or most talented player on this young revamped Timberwolves roster. I think we can all agree that he is by far the most important player on this team. We all witnessed what this team looked like when he missed two games with an Upper Respiratory Infection, it wasn’t pretty Timberwolves fans. The Wolves lost to the Detroit Pistons and an Indiana Pacers team with Myles Turner out. Not to mention they lost both of those games by over 20 points. When Jimmy was out, to say this team looked lost on the court, would be an understatement.
Looking at Jimmy’s stats the common man would think that they are down from last year, and they are. Last year he averaged 23.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 5.5 APG, so only his scoring has taken a significant hit. But that shouldn’t be all that surprising, he is now in a “Big 3” with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins which is much different than his “Big 3” last year that included Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo. Jimmy is a great basketball player and will figure out how to score more points with less touches. Regardless, he's a smart guy. He knows Towns and Wiggins need their touches. Right now he's doing his best to keep them happy, hence serving as the focal facilitator.
Statistics: 34.5 MPG, 19.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 15.8 PER
Andrew Wiggins has played great through the first six games of the season. He is finally starting to find his stroke from the 3-point line, shooting 38.7 percent, which is above his career average of 33.2 percent and above the league average 35 percent. His effective field goal percentage is also up from 47.6 percent to 52.8 percent. However, we already know that Wiggins can score and that his struggles have been on the defensive end. His on court defensive rating is at 113.8 and his off-court rating is 115.6.
It’s helped Wiggins a lot to share the court Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, both of whom are great defenders. The addition of Butler really takes a load of Wiggins defensively. Last year Wiggins was dealt the responsibility of guarding some of the toughest players in the league. This year that will not be the case as long as Jimmy can stay healthy. Jimmy being in Minnesota not only takes that load off Wiggins, but gives him a possible mentor in Jimmy. As great as Wiggins already is, we all know that there is always room for improvement.
Statistics: 28.3 MPG, 8.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 12.9 PER
I don’t have a lot to say about Taj Gibson. His stats aren’t all that great or impressive by any means. However, Gibson has brought a much-needed veteran presence that is defensive minded, hardworking, and gritty. Taj brings a similar presence to this team that Kevin Garnett did when he returned to Minnesota. They do a little bit of everything on the court and off the court. Even though I wasn’t overly ecstatic to be paying him 2 years $28 million, I can say I have been pleased with the style of play brings to this team even if the benefits aren’t always clear in the box score.
Statistics: 34.2 MPG, 24.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 28.1 PER
Towns, like Wiggins, has always been the star on the offensive side of the ball. In two games vs. Steven Adams and the Thunder this season, he is averaging 30 points and 15.5 rebounds on 56 percent shooting. Steven Adams is probably considered one of the best rim protecting big man in the league, granted that may be all he is really asked to do, but he does a great job doing it. This may seem repetitive, but just like Wiggins, Karl needs to prove his worth on the defensive side of the ball.
After last year’s All-Star break Karl really picked up his defense, and really began to improve. I think Timberwolves fans thought that would carry over into this season too. His biggest problem that I have noticed so far is simply not getting back on defense on the fast break or in transition. I understand that he is down low with the big guys banging bodies and trying to get calls, but instead of complaining to the refs for not getting a call, sometimes he needs to just put his head down and sprint back on defense. Most believe Karl can be an elite defender, he just needs to put in the work and discipline to do so.
The Timberwolves currently have a record of 3-3 on the season. It could have easily been a 5-1 start for the Wolves if Jimmy had not missed two games due to illness. With Jimmy in the lineup they are 3-1 on the season. The success of this team, right now, relies on Jimmy. He has proven to be the difference maker, especially in two games that they could/should have easily won, had he been in the lineup.