The 2017-18 Minnesota Timberwolves most likely have completed their exit interviews as they hang up their uniforms for the year. They ended an NBA-longest 13-season playoff drought with a 1-4 first-round exit loss to Houston. That should’ve left a bad taste in the players’ collective mouths, not a ‘Well, we made it’ hangover.
Increasing regular season wins from 16 a year ago to 47 victories this season isn’t and shouldn’t be considered a satisfying standard for the Wolves franchise, especially if it only results in a first-round quickie. Instead, it should raise more questions.
“They have a lot of potential,” former Wolves guard Troy Hudson told me after Minnesota’s only home playoff defeat this season. Hudson was a team member the last time the Wolves played in the post-season in 2004. “They have some great pieces” in Karl-Anthony Towns and the enigmatic Andrew Wiggins, noted the former guard.
Actually, there could be said to be three Wolves squads:
The first: Towns is the team’s franchise player. He can be an inside beast, but too often the seven-footer drifts outside the lane and hoists jump shots. And the 6’-8” Wiggins plays like the Invisible Man, disappearing too much at crucial times of the game. These are your two bankable stars, but only Towns seems to be the one you’d want to bank on.
The second: Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose were all brought in as seasoned veterans, but in reality, all were brought in because they are well aware of Head Coach Tom Thibodeau’s antics. But only Butler made the Wolves better this season as a true leader on and off the court.
Gibson provided only toughness. Teague was a shoot-first point guard, and Rose, a late arrival, in two playoff games showed flashes of the MVP Rose.
The third: Tyus Jones, Jamal Crawford and Nemanja Bjelica are reserves who should have been counted on more, but their on-court time wasn’t always assured every night.
Some observers, including this reporter and several on Sirius/XM NBA Radio, believe that Towns and Wiggins need veterans to help them improve. The Wolves had that when Kevin Garnett was brought back, but the messy firing of Sam Mitchell, who years ago was brought in to help Garnett ascend to his superstar self, ran him away.
Butler seems to have tried with Wiggins, but we don’t know how much the Invisible Man really listened to the wily veteran. And Teague is no Terrell Brandon, a point guard willing to do whatever it took to put his stars in position to shine.
“I think Tyus Jones is the future point guard for this franchise,” Hudson stressed. “I would like to see him play more. He’s young, quick with the ball, and a pass-first point guard. I think he would make these guys better if you put him on the court. They would have a lot more easier baskets.”
Then there’s the all-controlling Thibs, the head coach and president with his whine on every call, never sitting down and never recognizing his players as they enter or leave the game and walk by him. We have yet to see the defense he’s reputed for.
Minnesota, for the second year under his tutelage, again finished in the bottom half of the league’s defensive categories, including 23rd in defensive rating and 29th in opponents’ shooting percentage. Also, giving up 50 points in one quarter, as the Wolves did last Monday to the Rockets, was flat-out embarrassing.
But take heart – the downtown Minneapolis basketball center soon will be the home of championship-level basketball thanks to the Minnesota Lynx, not the no-titles Wolves.
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org