After being stuck in fourth place in the Western Conference for months, the Minnesota Timberwolves have finally overcome the San Antonio Spurs to achieve third place in the playoff race. Their hard work has clearly been playing dividends lately as many of their early season weaknesses have been turned into strengths.
Jimmy Butler’s sluggish start to the season has been rectified as the former Chicago Bull star has been taking over games and leading his team to victory. Butler leads the Timberwolves by example, taking the brunt of the scoring load, defending the opposing teams’ best wing player, and making multiple point-saving hustle plays per game with the grit of a true winner.
He has also made it a point to mentor young Andrew Wiggins into becoming the best player he can be. Butler even stated that he believed Wiggins to be the most talented player on the Timberwolves, and that he pushes Wiggins every day to become a star, to the point of getting on his nerves.
There’s no doubt that Andrew Wiggins has the potential to be a star, but sometimes he seems to be missing the necessary components. Wiggins is not a very good defender, despite being freakishly athletic, and his mid-range jumper that he relies on so frequently doesn’t drop as often as we would like. But with a veteran like Jimmy Butler pushing Wiggins to get better every day, there is still plenty of hope that he can make the jump from good to great.
The Timberwolves have also noticeably improved their defense. After the first six weeks of the season, it looked like the Timberwolves were going to be one of the bottom defensive teams in the league, really limiting their chances of success in the playoffs. But in the past fifteen games, the Timberwolves are seventh in the league in defensive rating at 104.8. This is the sort of defensive performance that Minnesota fans should expect from a squad led by defensive stoppers Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson and coached by Tom Thibodeau.
The Minnesotan’s have also achieved the third ranked offensive rating during that stretch at 113.4, trailing only the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Playing at an elite level on both sides of the floor and moving up the standings has fans foaming at the mouth, hungry for a championship.
After concerns over players’ playing time allocation, Tom Thibodeau seems to have lightened the load of his star players as of late. In the month of January, Jimmy Butler is leading the team with 35.6 minutes per game, after averaging 38.9 per game in December. This may not seem like a huge difference, but all those miles will add up by the time the playoffs roll around and any rest they can get along the way will pay dividends in May. As of right now, the Timberwolves seem like they’re in a great position for playoff success.
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