By virtue of a 98-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs the Minnesota Timberwolves claimed their seventh victory in the last nine contests to bring them to a 9-5 record currently good for third in the Western Conference. This is a team that had very lofty expectations going into the season but after a 2-3 start some panic began to set in (because of course) and talk immediately started of the product of a very ambitious offseason potentially being wasted. Sure, even the most unrealistic of us understand that it takes more than five games for a new group to get some type of chemistry going but for some reason folks were ready to give up on this group right away. Oh, how silly this appears to be now.
During this recent fortuitous nine game stretch for the T’Wolves they have averaged 110 points per game which is nothing to really write home about although it would place them in the top third of the league. But the difference here is HOW the offense has looked. Young studs Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have performed as expected with Towns arguably taking a mini-leap thus far. Outside of a 2 point stinker against New Orleans (that the Wolves actually won) KAT has averaged 23 and 13 and is shooting the ball remarkably at a 53% clip. Wiggins has been solid as although scoring more than 20 in 5 games during this stretch. Even on nights where he isn’t much of a threat he must still be accounted for which makes sense given the recent contributions of the other Wolves.
Jimmy Butler was Minny’s biggest acquisition this summer via a draft night trade and has arguably had the hardest time finding his role with the Wolves’. Offensively he’s still experiencing issues getting fully acclimated within their system but his trademark defense has been on point. He’s emerged as somewhat of a captain on that side of the ball. And since his return from sitting out two games it has really shown in the whole team’s performance defensively. Jeff Teague, the other big get for Minnesota this summer has arguably been the player that has emerged most during this swing. He’s averaging 18 and 8 in the last nine games and is shooting the three ball at a 42% clip for the season. Him finding his place and truly taking the reigns as their floor general has really given some direction to what far too often looked like a disparate offense to open the season.
One of the major concerns around this group has been whether or not head coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive philosophy will finally set in. Admittedly, Wiggins doesn’t really scream defensive intensity to me. Hell, despite his propensity to rebound and block shots KAT comes off as a willing, yet inconsistent defender. This arguably may be where Butler as well as Teague has made their biggest mark. They have held opponents under the century mark in five of the last seven contests and has gotten very tough performances from Teague and Butler along with Taj Gibson and an improved Nemanja Bjelica. Despite not having a plethora of plus defenders it appears that the seeds of team defense have been planted and is starting to sprout some commendable efforts.
It is no surprise that this starting lineup sports some rather imposing talent there has been a lot of talk around how productive their bench mob could be. While there are still holes to be addressed (mainly in the form of a true big man and wing defender) they have progressed nicely.
Jamal Crawford, who signed with Minny specifically to lead the second unit has been solid averaging 9 points per night. Yes it’s less than the 15 to 17 we’re used to seeing him drop but in light of him playing behind two high usage wings I would say he’s doing quite well. And I imagine they’re not upset about his 41% make rate from beyond the arc. Speaking of sharpshooting Bjelica is currently making a whopping 53% of his threes on 2.5 attempts per night. Although experiencing a bit of a sophomore slum Tyus Jones is still developing into a solid backup point guard while Shabazz Muhammed and Gorgui Dieng continue to settle into their relatively new roles as reserves. Dieng looks good offensively and Muhammed (who started two games while Butler was out) provides much needed energy in spurts.
Minnesota has quite the road ahead of them as everyone does but their recent play suggests that they may have figured out some of their early challenges and is ready to throw their name in a very crowded Western Conference hat.