The Minnesota Timberwolves have their 40 win season since the 2004-2005 season. The team is in a heavily contested battle for a playoff spot, which would break a 13 year drought for the team. Despite this, some are calling for coach Tom Thibodeau to be fired.
During his coaching stints in Boston and Chicago, Thibodeau earned himself the reputation of a defensive genius. Before his hire, the Wolves finished the 2015-2016 season at 28 of 30 teams in defensive rating. Thibodeau was brought in to help the team grow defensively. During Thibodeau’s first season, the Wolves moved up a whopping one spot in defensive rating. So far this season, the Wolves are still 27. This is not the improvement that everyone expected with a supposed defensive mastermind taking over.
Before coming to the Wolves, Thibodeau was also known for playing his players a lot of minutes. Many hoped that would change. It hasn’t. Jimmy Butler averages the most minutes in the NBA, Andrew Wiggins is 10, and Karl-Anthony Towns is 14. There are serious concerns that Thibodeau runs his players into the ground, making injury more likely. There are also concerns that the team will run out of gas if they make the playoffs. On top of that, there are quality players on the bench like Tyus Jones who deserve more playing time.
It’s worth mentioning that Thibodeau was hired not only to coach, but to make personnel decisions as president of basketball operations. Very few coaches have this kind of power, Gregg Popovich and Stan Van Gundy are the only two coaches besides Thibodeau that have both titles. Striking a good balance between both jobs has proved difficult, Doc Rivers and Mike Budenholzer both had the title of president of basketball operations stripped from them. Really, this should be two separate jobs. The coach should focus on coaching, and the president of basketball operations should decide personnel moves. However, for all of the fair criticisms of Thibodeau, it appears he has made some good moves as president of basketball operations. He traded for Butler, and signed Jeff Teague and Taj Gibsons, all of whom have been good additions. The way Thibodeau has filled out the end of the bench has been questionable (Aaron Brooks, Derrick Rose, and an empty roster spot are the most puzzling), but overall his personnel moves have made sense.
The Wolves haven’t gotten the boost defensively they thought Thibodeau would bring, and it appears he is overworking his players. However, he still brought in Jimmy Butler, and without Thibodeau, it’s possible Butler will leave in free agency in 2019. The Wolves are in a tough situation, but the franchise is finally having some success. Thibodeau has his downfalls, but it’s too early to give up on him.