Tom Thibodeau isn’t having a very pleasant start to his offseason. The Timberwolves’ head coach and president of basketball operations isn’t the most popular guy in Minnesota right now. A lot of people around the Wolves’ blogosphere and fans on Twitter are calling for his head.
This is Thibs’ second season with the Wolves, and he has made little to no impact on the defensive side of the ball for Minnesota. The Wolves ranked 22nd in defensive rating during the regular season at 108.4. For reference, during the 2015-16 season, they had a 107.1 rating under Sam Mitchell which was good for 27th in the league. That’s no Bueno–especially when Glen Taylor hired Thibs to fix the defense.
Even after trading away some of their young guys (Lavine, Dunn) and bringing in defensive-minded veterans that he trusts (Taj, Teague), there has been almost no improvement.
Thibs has made some questionable roster decisions this season, and I’ve been the first to criticize him. Not to mention his terrible communication skills, lack of lineup flexibility, not putting 3 point shooters on the court, playing the starters 40 minutes a night (even in January), having a grind-it-out-defensive style of play instead of a pace-and-space mentality, not being able to draw up a play to save his life–all true.
But what I’m about to say next is going to make me very unpopular in Minnesota: Tom Thibodeau is one hell of a defensive coach, and he had a great defensive gameplan for the Timberwolves against the Rockets. Notice how I stressed “defensive”.
Now before you stop reading and message me some nasty comment on Twitter, let me explain myself.
In the Wolves first playoff appearance in 14 years, they held the Rockets to 105 points or under in three straight games–it would have been four straight if not for the freak 50 point anomaly in the third quarter of game four. That is an incredible accomplishment for this Wolves roster, who struggled all season on that end of the floor. For once, it wasn’t their defense that was the problem.
The Rockets were just better than the Wolves in every aspect of the game and that shouldn’t be news to anyone. The Utah Jazz had a top 3 defense all season and are currently getting spanked by Harden and the Rockets as we speak and probably won’t last six games. They’re just a hard team to guard. No one has been able to figure out the Harden-Capella pick and roll all season.
This isn’t to excuse Thibs or anyone else from their sub-par playoff performance, but I’d like to suggest that Thibs is the Wolves best chance at success… for now.
Jimmy Butler’s contract is up at the end of next season and has the possibility for an extension this summer. Butler loves Thibs’ mentality and his toughness. Thibodeau will probably be a large part of the sales pitch to keep Jimmy in Minnesota. Why would you fire a major asset that will help you re-sign your most valuable player?
Another thing to consider when you’re violently typing on Twitter to fire Thibs is: who is a better head coaching candidate that is on the market right now? Mark Jackson? Mike Brown? The ninth-ranked assistant coach sitting on Greg Popovich’s bench?
The Brad Stevens’ of the world don’t just grow on trees. Sure, Thibs has some faults but he is still in the upper half of coaches in the league. That’s a win in my book. For a franchise and fan base that claims to want stability, they sure are quick to throw out something completely salvageable.
Thibodeau knows he’s under scrutiny, but frankly doesn’t give a damn. “That’s part of the business, and whether it’s praise or criticism, I treat it the same,” he said. “To me, you only can control what you have, what you do, and so every day I put as much as I can into it, and I’m willing to live with the results. I’ve never concerned myself with the critics. I feel I’m gonna study the team harder than anyone else, so I’m going to have a better understanding of the team.”
To be fair, I do believe that Thibs works harder than anyone else in the organization. And for as much film study, player breakdowns, or NBA games that I or any other writer, blogger or fan does, Thibs has probably done that much work before breakfast. He’s a basketball junkie–a ‘lifer.’ So before you write that mean tweet at me or about Tom Thibodeau, let’s give him a chance to sign Butler and have another season to grow with this team.