I told you I’d get back to the NBA eventually. I’ll get around to covering the entire off season, but currently, I’d like to talk about one team specifically, the Minnesota Timberwolves. I truly believed they were going to be the breakout team of last season after watching Wiggins and Towns play together in 2015-16, especially after Tom Thibodeau was hired in as head coach/President of Basketball Operations in last year’s off season. I figured the team would improve defensively, their star duo would grow into their roles, and they would finish anywhere from the seventh to fifth seed in the West. That’s how confident I was in Kat’s talent, Wiggins’s potential, and Thibs’ leadership. None of it ever quite came together for them, and it looked like they were going to be a joke even with all this potential, starting off 11-26 before finally stringing together their first three-game winning streak from 1/9/17-1/13/17.
A big part of their failures was actually due, ironically, to their defense. I understand Towns is 21, Wiggins is 22; it takes time for young guys to fully understand defensive schemes and rotations in the league. They were 10th in the league in offensive rating, but only 27th on defense. Towns, Wiggins, LaVine and Shabazz all can contribute offensively, but if you can’t stop the other team from scoring, then you’re just hoping the other team misses. That’s not how you win games, let alone a championship.
I’m disappointed in Thibs, mostly because he didn’t improve a team at all in the one area he was really expected to. He made up for the disappointment of last season very quickly on draft day. Jimmy Butler for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and two picks? That’s it? I’ve seen large praise heaped on Thibs and the Wolves front office for pulling the trigger, and a lot of derision aimed at the Bulls front office. The fact is, Minnesota offered a decent return for a player who’s been rumored to be on the block for two years now, regardless of whether he’s a superstar or not, you have zero leverage. Rather than pretend any longer, the Bulls pulled the trigger on the rebuild, which just happened to help Minnesota pull the trigger on a star. No one won, no one lost, it’s just business people.
However, a reason I agree with most people who say that Thibs deserves credit for this trade is because he is addressing what he came in to fix. Last season he couldn’t get this team any better at defense, and it costed them late in games when they struggled to find ways to close teams out. They simply couldn’t stop opposing teams from scoring on them, and even if they had a lead, it’s unlikely they would keep it. This move quickly puts that worry to rest and doubles down on Thibs’ defensive philosophy. They will get this damn thing down, or else he wouldn’t have traded for his old defensive ace who’s blossomed into quite the offensive threat while he’s been away.
Butler’s defensive impact will be felt immediately, as he was able to help drag the Bulls 20th-ranked offense to the playoffs behind their sixth-ranked defensive unit that he was by far the best player on either end of the court of. His presence and veteran leadership should also rub off on his younger teammates, hopefully leading this team in the right direction. However, not even Jimmy can fix certain flaws in the team.
Earlier, I forgave Towns and Wiggins for being disappointing last year on the defensive side of the ball. What is Rubio’s excuse? He’s 26-years-old, can’t shoot well, doesn’t finish well at the rim, can’t defend well, and really only looks to pass. How does he fit in a team that is starting to emphasize more spacing and playing tough defense when he can’t shoot or play defense?
There’s other issues like Dieng not providing you with enough spacing or offense, not enough playmakers on the perimeter, and the personnel just not having the experience. Trading for Jimmy Butler puts you on track to correcting those issues though, and if this team still managed to scrape 31 wins together (missing the playoffs by only 10 games in the tough West), then realistically, why can’t this team make the playoffs next year? Shit, Butler just took Wade, Rondo and Mirotic to the playoffs and pushed the Celtics to six. Just imagine what Butler can do with Towns and Wiggins by his side for the next five years. It’s all about taking the first step.