This was the year things were maybe, possibly, going to be different for Tom Thibodeau, the Timberwolves and their bench. The Wolves had a wafer-thin bench in 2016-17, and it cost them countless times a disappointing 31-51 season. Minnesota’s reserves played the fewest minutes and scored the fewest points of any team last season. This offseason, Minnesota added Jamal Crawford to the bench, while the signing of Taj Gibson pushed Gorgui Dieng to the bench as well. Shabazz Muhammad re-signed late, adding to the depth. Add in Nemanja Bjelica and Tyus Jones and the Wolves had the look of a team that could easily go 10 deep and give starters a much-needed rest. The depth wasn’t perfect, but it was improved. Head coach Tom Thibodeau, known in past years for playing his starters heavy minutes, seemed at least to have more reserves he could trust. But here we are, 24 games into this season, and very little has changed. Minnesota’s bench production is still dismal (26th in points scored per game), largely because Minnesota’s reserves are once again playing a league-low 13.4 minutes per game — leaving almost 35 minutes, per game, on average for the starters. Sure, the Wolves have been dinged by a few nagging player absences. Jimmy Butler missed a pair of games early. Dieng missed three, while Jeff Teague missed four. Bjelica has missed the last six. Along the way, Muhammad has struggled mightily to the point that he’s been a healthy DNP (did not play) twice recently and hasn’t topped seven minutes in any of the last three games he played. With Muhammad struggling and Bjelica out Sunday, Thibodeau used just eight players in a win over the depleted Clippers. All five starters played at least 35 minutes, which isn’t surprising. Are you ready for this? All five players in Minnesota’s typical starting lineup are in the top 40 in terms of average minutes played per game this season. Andrew Wiggins is tied for third (37 minutes), Butler is seventh (36.5), Karl-Anthony Towns is 20th (34.5), Teague is 28th (34) and Gibson is 40th (32.9). Only one other NBA team even has three starters in the top 40 — New Orleans, with Jrue Holiday, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
Tom Thibodeau is playing his Timberwolves starters a ton of minutes again
Minneapolis Star Tribune | Dec 4