The Minnesota Timberwolves went 2-1 in their three preseason games against the Lakers, and the following two in China against the defending NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors. While the record doesn’t really matter because it’s the preseason and the starters don’t play heavy minutes, for many T-Wolves fans, it was still nice to see a winning record.
Jimmy Butler was the steal of the summer after Minnesota swiped him and a first round pick from Chicago on draft night for Kris Dunn, an injured Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen. Jimmy Butler brings everything: scoring, assists, rebounding, defense, worker’s mentality, and maybe most importantly- clutch fourth quarter play. Last year the Timberwolves were league-leaders in games lost after being up by double digits. Towns and Wiggins are so talented that they can get you double digit leads almost every night, but a combination of the team’s lackluster defense and lack of ball movement in the fourth quarter allowed for those leads to slip away time after time. Butler was one of the best fourth quarter players in the entire league last year, and now Minnesota has their closer.
Taj Gibson can shoot corner three’s now. That’s pretty neat. He went 3-7 from deep in the three preseason games. The shooting is just a bonus. His real value is his defensive versatility, rebounding and toughness he brings to the Wolves starting lineup. He is rarely out of position and never takes a play off. That’s why coach Thibs loves him, and why he took the starting role away from Gorgui Dieng.
Jeff Teague is another former All-Star the Wolves added via free agency this summer. He flashed his usual genius on the offensive end in the pick and roll and flashes of outside shooting that the Timberwolves desperately need. He isn’t the same facilitator Rubio was but he also doesn’t allow his defender to sit in the lane and double-team without making him pay for it. He will need to learn when to give up the ball to his playmakers and when to be aggressive, Teague was a definite upgrade at the PG position. Another thing that was apparent was even at 29 years old, he hasn’t lost a step. He blew by Lonzo Ball on multiple occasions in the first preseason game, and looked quick on both sides of the bal against Steph Curry as well.
Jamal Crawford looked ageless once again in his 17th year in the league. He crossed up Kevin Durant and blew by him for an easy lay-in. Jamal Crawford is going to do his thing–get buckets for the second unit. Having the worst scoring bench in the league last year, he will bring much needed help to Shabazz Muhammad and the second unit that gave away so many leads last season.
Justin Patton, the Wolves first round pick this year was injured this off-season and has yet to make an appearance. He will bring good depth to the frontcourt.
New revamped arena, new players, new jerseys, new All-Stars, new team, same old Thibs. Throughout the three Minnesota Timberwolves preseason games, you might have heard a low, gravelly, raspy voice coming from your TV yelling at people on the court to move their feet, don’t reach, and play solid defense– that would be head coach Tom Thibodeau. Frankly, I was surprised the starters didn’t play forty minutes in each preseason game as he is accustomed to doing. Karl Anthony-Towns said on media day that it is nice having a steady hand at the coaching position because for many of the young wolves on this team, they have had a new coach each year they’ve been in the league. His former players rave about him, and the newcomers appreciate the intangibles he brings and his attention to detail. His practices are going to be tough, but so are his teams.
The Wolves had no trouble scoring last season and it doesn’t look like it will be a problem again this year. When you have a guy like Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins, two guys who averaged over 23 points per game last season in a variety of ways, and you add an All-Star wing in Jimmy Butler and you are going to have no trouble scoring. KAT looks like top dog on the offensive pecking order and the offense should run through him this season. Jimmy Butler looked out of sorts for most of the three preseason games, while still putting up double-digits in each outing. This wasn’t surprising because he is one of the new guys and is trying to find his spots on the floor where he can thrive. Butler and Wiggins have almost identical offensive games and rely heavily on mid-post turnarounds and posting up smaller wings. They will need to expand their games and become better slashers if they want the offense to be more efficient. For the most part, the team was willing to make the extra pass throughout the preseason, which seemed to be a foreign concept to the young Timberpups last year. The influx of veterans should bring an unselfish attitude that will hopefully rub off on the younger guys.
The Wolves struggled last season on the defensive side of the ball ranking near the bottom of the league in most defensive metrics. Many thought bringing in Tom Thibodeau two seasons ago would automatically fix the team’s defensive woes, which didn’t happen. Now with the Butler addition, and reuniting Taj Gibson with his former head coach, all the defensive issues will magically disappear. Not so fast. The new-look Wolves are going to take some time to get used to each other on this end of the floor as well. This was apparent playing the Warriors who boast one of the best offenses ever. Their rotations were late, KAT, Wiggins and the some of the bench unit took possessions off, there was miscommunication after miscommunication, and they looked out of sorts for most of the game against the Warriors. I wouldn’t read into this too much because they did go against one of the best offensive teams ever who was returning a veteran group, plus it was the preseason, but don’t think because we have Butler, and Gibson we will be an amazing defensive team right out of the gates. The team did look vastly improved from last season, however.
Butler didn’t even guard Durant in the two games against the world champs. Thibs put Wiggins on him, which is an interesting choice. Wiggins has potential to be a great defender, but Butler is already proven in this league and should guard the best perimeter player. They Wolves did a great job of “walling up” and not fouling. This seemed to be a point of emphasis this off-season by the coaching staff. Overall, they didn’t look too bad on the defensive end, but I would have cautious optimism going into the season.
Overall, I was quite impressed with the Wolves in the preseason. They beat up on a young Lakers team, like they should have. They hung tough with the Warriors who’s core has been playing together for at least one full season. The Warriors shot the lights out in the second game, and the Wolves hung with them for most of the game. The preseason showed me that the Wolves are one of only a few teams who have the talent to knock off the Warriors. If they can do it, only time can tell.