October 16, 2017
In any given NBA game, each team plays 230 minutes of regulation basketball across five positions, for 46 minutes playing time per position. The individual players change, the number of minutes each individual player plays changes. However, at the end of regulation, each team will have a roster that has played 230 combined minutes. Tom Thibodeau’s job is to maximize the effectiveness of each of those 230 minutes.
During the 2017-2018 season he gave 87.2 of those 230 available minutes to Rubio, Dunn and Lavine. Three players that don’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of many NBA defenses.
During the 2017 offseason, Thibbs bid adieu to those 87.2 minutes, and replaced it with 124 combined minutes from Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford. Essentially replacing 38 percent of the Timberwolves’ available minutes, with elite-to-above average play, and adding an additional 16 percent to reduce the minutes of certain players named Shabazz.
The point is this was a completely re-invented Wolves team by the start of the 2017-2018 regular season. They weren’t going to shoot as many threes as Houston or Golden State, and they weren’t going to defend like Boston or Utah. But they were going to play an old-school style of basketball. They were going to play games close to the rim, get offensive rebounds and win close games. While other people would call them boring, most Minnesota fans were just happy to see a Wolves team with a winning record.
Then, on a December night, during a game against a young Denver Nuggets team, there was a turning point. A night most Wolves fans haven’t experienced since the KG years. This was the first night in 14 years a Wolves player would come into the game and declare:
“You can’t f*** with me” — Jimmy Buckets
This was something a lot of Wolves fans haven’t experienced, because it was something that Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio or Corey Brewer couldn’t do. It was the first time in a long time a Wolves player came in and single-handedly decided they weren’t going to lose the game.
It came easily from there. Home games were a walk in the park. The Wolves won 13 in a row at home. Jimmy Butler became a legitimate top five candidate for MVP, and the Wolves occupied the third seed going into the All-Star break.
Then regression set in.
When Jimmy Butler went down with a meniscus tear, there was a realization that the 2017-2018 Wolves really aren’t that different from the 2016-2017 Wolves: A collective of slightly above average players that settle on mid-range jumpers, streaky offense and bad defense. They aren’t a three-seed. They’re a seven- or eight-seed.
Still, there is something to be said about rooting for your team in the playoffs versus rooting for your team in the draft lottery. Regardless of which Wolves players are playing in round one of the playoffs, I would much rather watch 230 minutes of Timberwolves basketball in mid-April than accept missing the playoffs for a 14th straight year.