Tom Thibodeau was hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves amid much fanfare and media praise. Thibodeau is by all accounts a defensive genius. He was credited with putting together the defensive scheme that made the KG-led Boston Celtics so good on that side of the ball, and then he became the head coach in Chicago and continued to have dominant defensive teams.
While he hasn't turned the Timberwolves into a top 5 defense, that's obviously not his fault. Prior to the team's recent 6 game losing streak the defense had played exceptional in the second half of the season, and even with the poor play of late the defense is clearly improved from last year and the beginning of this season. There's no denying Thibs has made a significant difference on the defensive side of the ball.
Unfortunately, for all of Thibodeau's strengths on the defensive side, he's always played his best players way too many minutes. After taking over a young up-and-coming Chicago Bulls team, Thibs played Derrick Rose almost 38 minutes a night for 81 games. Rose was good enough to win the league MVP that season; he'd soon deal with knee injury after knee injury and he hasn't been anywhere close to that player since.
Thibs also played 25-year-old Loul Deng 39 minutes a game that season, and injury prone bigs Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer over 30 minutes a game. That Bulls team had less depth than the current Wolves roster, but still enough to avoid overplaying those 4 players. None of those players were really that productive following Thibs' first season as coach.
Can someone please get Tom Thibodeau to read this NBA injury breakdown that was released at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference?
The Minnesota Timberwolves recent six game losing streak has all but eliminated them from playoff contention. The team is currently 6.5 games behind both the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers for the 8th seed in the Western Conference with just 10 games left.
Despite the team's long playoff odds, Thibs continues to overwork both Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The pair has played every single game this season, and they are fifth and third respectively in minutes played across the league. Also tied at #3 with Wiggins is Zach LaVine, who was also averaging more than 37 minutes a night prior to his ACL injury. In Saturday night's game against Portland, the Timberwolves trailed throughout. They were down 27-21 at the end of the first quarter and 60-46 at halftime. They trailed 94-74 after 3 quarters. Despite the game clearly being out of reach, Towns and Wiggins remained in the game for the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, before finally being pulled when the lead didn't shrink. Towns played 31 minutes and Wiggins played 32 minutes, despite the team trailing by double digits seemingly all game.
If the Timberwolves had any kind of real chance at the 8th seed, the minutes would be less of an issue. The goal, of course, is to win. But when the season is all but over, don't risk the franchise player by overusing him in both blowout losses and overtime losses.
Remember, at the start of the fourth quarter, the Wolves were 6.5 games out of the 8th seed with 11 games to go. Repeat it with me: The playoffs are not a realistic outcome at this point. A Wiggins or Towns injury is much more likely.
Tom Thibodeau has not learned from his biggest mistake in Chicago, and it's disheartening. He constantly clashed with the Bulls front office, so he made sure he got full front office control in Minnesota, but unfortunately he doesn't seem to realize his habit for overworking his best young players played a major part in his Chicago departure.
He's putting both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Wiggins-Towns-LaVine's futures at risk so the team can win 30 games instead of 28. It's time to look at the big picture, coach. After Saturday night's loss, it's clearly time to shut down Wiggins and Towns for the rest of the year. Their minutes total is insanely high and the Wolves would benefit greatly if they can continue to lose and end up with the league's 4th worst record, which is still easily within reach. The team with the 4th best lottery odds would have a legitimate shot at winning the lottery, and putting Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz onto this roster would be so much fun.
At least until Thibs runs him into the ground and ruins his career, too.