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Progress Made For Timberwolves, But Work Still To Be Done

Reached playoffs for first time in 13 seasons, but team needs to take next steps

May 01, 2018 - 8:11 am
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The Minnesota Timberwolves found themselves in the NBA playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons, bowing out to the Houston Rockets in five games.

Now the franchise needs to figure out how to take the next step.

Going from 31 wins to 47 wins is a major accomplishment for the Timberwolves and yet when you watch Minnesota play, you get the feeling they are capable of so much more.

“You are trying to build a championship caliber team and organization and that goes across the board,” Coach Tom Thibodeau said during his season ending press conference on Monday. “You are always looking at how you can do things better, how can we improve, and what did we learn. When you don’t end up winning it, that’s how you approach it.”

As we approach the off-season there are four ways the Timberwolves can improve going forward.

 

  1. PLAY BETTER ON DEFENSE

In 2016-17, the Timberwolves had a defensive rating of 112, good for 27th overall in the NBA.

The thought after acquiring Jimmy Butler last summer was that he would help make Minnesota a much better team on defense.

The good news is the defensive rating number did go down from last year. The bad news is it went from 112 to 111 leaving Minnesota tied with Sacramento for 27th overall. Only Cleveland and Phoenix had a worse defensive rating on the season.

What is bothersome about this is when Thibodeau took the job as head coach, he had a reputation for being a defensive coach. That has not translated onto the court yet.

Maybe some of that is due to a young team learning how to play defense at the highest level but Minnesota needs to make a big improvement in that category.

 

  1. MORE TRUST FROM THE BENCH.

The Timberwolves were the only team in the NBA this past season that had three players in the top 15 for minutes played per game.

Jimmy Butler was third in the NBA with 36.7 minutes PPG while Andrew Wiggins was 10th with 36.3 minutes PPG and Karl-Anthony Towns was 14th with 35.6 minutes PPG.

That’s a lot of wear and tear to put on your body during an 82 game season.

Wiggins & Towns are young enough where their legs should be able to handle a bulk of the minutes they play. Butler will be 29 years old at the start of next season. After missing 17 games with a torn meniscus, Thibodeau should be cautious with how many minutes Butler plays going forward.

Thibodeau has a reputation of playing his starters excessive minutes during games. The Timberwolves have versatility on their bench. Nemanja Bjelica, Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones & Jamal Crawford have all shown they can play at this level.

Thibodeau needs to give the players on his bench more minutes during the season & more trust during games.

 

  1. FIGURE OUT WHAT KIND OF PLAYER ANDREW WIGGINS IS

When the Timberwolves traded for Andrew Wiggins in 2014, the thought was Minnesota had acquired an elite player that they could build their team around.

Four years later, we aren’t sure if Andrew Wiggins is capable of being that type of player.

When you look at the elite players in the Western Conference, people like James Harden, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook, they deliver game after game, night after night. You can’t say that about Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins is a very talented small forward. However, there are times on the court where he just seems to be going through the motions instead of taking a game over.

Wiggins signed a max contract that kicks in next season. The hope is with his contract situation in the back of his mind, Wiggins can just go out, play basketball and not have to focus on anything else.

At 23 years old, it’s too early to give up on Wiggins as a player. However, with free agency looming for Jimmy Butler in 2019, Minnesota needs Wiggins to take that next step. The experience playing in post-season should help.

 

  1. FIND A SHOOTING GUARD

This has actually been an ongoing issue since the franchise came into existence back in 1989. The Timberwolves have never been able to find a pure shooting guard.

Minnesota finished last in the NBA this season in three pointers, making 658 out of the 1845 they attempted. Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves in three pointers made with 120.

Your center should never be leading a team in three pointers made.

What the Timberwolves need to do is find a shooting guard who is a threat from three-point range. The ideal situation would be to find a player that could come off the bench & provide an offensive spark when the team needs one.

The Western Conference is loaded with talent and every night is a fight. Minnesota showed this year that they belonged in this fight.

It was a long time coming for NBA fans in this market but the vibe here in the Twin Cities after Houston eliminated Minnesota is that making the playoffs is no longer good enough. Now the franchise needs to take the next step and find a way to win a playoff series.

Craig Schroepfer is Producer of Sports to the Max with Mike Max, and the Al Malmberg Show

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