Despite the first playoff appearance in 14 years temporarily reviving the franchise, the Timberwolves are entering the season amid bad feelings and passive aggressive negativity. The Jimmy Butler saga is a huge part of this, but some revealing comments from Jeff Teague about how this team didn’t see much of each other over the summer reminds us that chemistry, for what it’s worth, is in short supply.
Many teams with fractured locker rooms have managed to overcome this by winning games and because of good coaching. Unfortunately, for the Timberwolves, this isn’t something that appears to be there in abundance. Tom Thibodeau appears more worried about begging Jimmy Butler to return to a broken and failing marriage than matching his strategies to fit with the modern NBA.
Heading into the year, there are real concerns with the team. The preseason isn’t something I read into, I just expect the squad to look competent. This team looks anything but competent, and the bad habits some of the players have developed over the years appear to be getting stronger and more problematic.
The thing that worries me most about this team is the schemes. I have written before about how the Timberwolves offensive efficiency numbers can be somewhat misleading. Despite this, the bigger problem is obviously the defense. For some reason, Tom Thibodeau continues to persist with his defensive scheme, best named the ‘strong side defense’.
Though he routinely gets clowned for trying to recreate the Chicago Bulls, I think we do need to momentarily cut him some slack. His scheme changed the NBA and was still a very good system no more than five years ago. Attempting to run it with the Timberwolves made a lot of sense, and it was personally something I was very excited for.
The problem down the line? It simply hasn’t worked out at all. The Timberwolves don’t have the players required to run it, and the strategy has been killed by opponents scheming for three pointers rather than getting them out of the flow of the offense.
Before diving into why it is such a bad fit with this roster, it makes sense to look at some of the key principles of the scheme. The first one, is that defending the paint and drives to the basket is the absolute priority. It is similar to Steve Clifford’s scheme in that sense. At times, the Timberwolves will put a five man wall around the paint in order to hopefully force teams into mid-range jump shots.
When Tom Thibodeau really emerged as an elite assistant with the Celtics in 2007, the NBA was very different to what it is now. Isolation and post ups were more common and were simply the bread and butter of most NBA offenses. Protecting the paint made a lot of sense, and it is obviously a good thing to not allow the highest percentage shot in basketball at a ridiculously high rate.